Dear Rabbi and Susan,
Please, what can someone do to break away stubborn yokes of many years, that has defied fasting and prayers?
First of all, accept our admiration for being the rare person who evaluates himself morally and works upon himself for improvement in the eyes of our Heavenly judge. The timing of your question is fortuitous. In just about two weeks millions of Jews around the world will observe Yom Kippur, known in English as the Day of Atonement. Yom Kippur is celebrated with a 25 hour fast and the day is spent in prayer. Ten days of moral introspection lead up to the climax of Yom Kippur, the day upon which we lock in our resolve to make meaningful changes in our life.
It is not a sad day, although some Jews, who have minimal knowledge of their faith, think that it is. It is a festive day. As you recognize, little makes one happier than being able to put bad traits and habits behind and move forward in a more positive direction.
However, the fasting and praying are not, in and of themselves, the whole picture. Yom Kippur is one day out of the year. The rest of the year, and especially in preparation for Yom Kippur, action is called for. (Prayer is admittedly one action that should be frequently utilized, but not an exclusive one.)
In Exodus 14:15, when the children of Israel call out in fear as they are trapped at the Red Sea, God tells Moses to tell them to get moving and directs Moses to be active. “What are you doing calling out to me?” He says. This isn’t the time for prayer, it is the time for action.
So it is for all of us. Breaking bad habits and replacing them with good ones requires us to take practical, physical steps. We certainly can and should request God’s help, but He isn’t going to do the heavy lifting for us. That would impede our growth.
Whatever you are struggling with, make a concrete plan for tackling it. Often, the help of others is needed to make sure you are being realistic and to hold you accountable. Depending on what type of “stubborn yoke” you are battling, there may be those who will be needed to provide necessary advice and guidance.
We think you might find some support in our audio CD, Day for Atonement: Heavenly Gift of Spiritual Serenity. (We have placed it on sale) However, the bottom line is that prayer and fasting need to be buttressed with determination, action and a commitment to work hard and not be greatly discouraged by failure. You need to get moving!
We have faith that you can build a better future,
Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin