In his book Menorat HaMaor, Rabbi Isaac Abohab mentions seven levels of Teshuba, repentance. Yesterday we explained the first level, the highest: when a person immediatelyrepents of a wrong action he or she committed.
When this does not happen, and the individual persists in his error and repeats his transgression again and again, we are dealing with what would potentially be the second level of Teshuba mentioned by Rabbi Abohab.
When a person does not immediately realize or repent from what he did wrong, he may repeat this behavior over and over again, until this behavior becomes a habit. And once the habit is formed and installed in the brain, it is very difficult to change it. I think the second level of Teshuba mentioned by Rabbi Abohab is the most common. The one that concerns most of us, who are NOT so sensitive or studious to immediately realize our mistakes.
Consider, for example, a person who has developed the habit of saying bad words. If we were talking about the first level of Teshuba, when one says a vulgarity he should repent immediately, by himself, apologizing and turning the page for good. But when this does not happen, and we repeat those insults, we “adapt” ourselves to vulgarity to the extent that cursing seems to us”normal”.
Psychologists explain that habits, bad and good, are formed when our brain has learned and repeated something new. And there is a point at which the brain feels “comfortable” with the new behaviors and stops evaluating or judging them. This happens in issues like eating unhealthy, smoking, overusing internet or our cell phones, etc. There are also some subliminal matters which affect our spirituality very much. For example: the obsession of modern society with promiscuity, in all its variables. Unfortunately this is more and more common because it has become an integral part of the hyper materialistic society with which we interact daily. This interaction contributes subliminally to the fact that we are unable detect that certain behaviors, of others or our own, should not be tolerated. “Man is a creature of habits,” said the famous English writer Charles Dickens. Modern man is becoming less rational and more automated. We surrender to what our senses find pleasing, putting aside everything that costs us effort. Our will is totally tied to what our nervous system (yetser hara) dictates, and we abandon ourselves to it. In this state, when we are immerse in a culture that promotes this type of behavior, our conscience no longer awakens on its own, as on the first level. The conscience becomes numb, and in need of an external stimulus to wake up and realize the nature of the “new normal”.
How do we do it?
In the Hebrew calendar, the month of Elul is precisely the time we devote to the repentance of this type of situation: bad habits. For this, to reach the second level of Teshuba, we get up every morning an hour earlier during this month and spend that time reciting the Selihot (prayers where we ask for forgiveness. In the Ashkenazi tradition the Selihot begin later, but during the month of Elul, to awaken our consciences, the Shofar is played every morning at the end of the Tefila). The words of the Selihot, particularly the Viduy (confession) invite us to reflect in a special way on our action. Observing from the outside, from the balcony, our own behavior to identify the bad habits and bad values that are installed in our personality without us have realized. Only when we are able to recognize these habits (hakarat hahet) will are capable to overcome them