Every year, before Rosh Hashana comes along, I make קבלות about improving myself in various areas of my service of Hashem. But here I am, the same schlepper that I’ve always been.
Let me tell you something. You’re not the same. Don’t think you’re the same. You’re getting worse. As time goes on עבר אדם עבירה ושנה בה נעשית לו כהיתר- “One who does a sin, and then repeats it again and again, it becomes permissible in his eyes” (Yoma 87a).
When you make a קבלה בלי נדר you have to have something specific. At least one specific thing that you’re going to work on changing. תפסת מרובה לא תפסת. To say in general, “I’m going to be good this year,” is better than nothing, but not much better. You have to specify something clearcut. Say, “This year, no matter how mean my wife is to me, and how much she’ll bother me and criticize me and nag me, I won’t say anything impolite to her. I’ll keep my mouth closed.”
The posuk says תולה ארץ על בלימה (Iyov 26:7). And Chazal tell us that it means the following: אין העולם מתקיים אלה בשביל מי שבולם פיו בשעת מריבה – “The world exists only on account of the person who keeps his mouth closed at a time of provocation” (Chulin 89a). The zchus, the merit, of keeping your mouth closed when people are insulting you is a very big zchus. So start with your wife. You can start with somebody else as well. Let’s say you have an employer who insults you, keep quiet. You want to keep your job don’t you? So keep your mouth closed. Make a קבלה, “I’m going to keep quiet. I won’t answer back.” It’s a tremendous thing to do that.
So you have to pinpoint it, something clearcut. And then you’ll be able to carry it out. Don’t talk in general. General means nothing at all.
Let’s say you want to daven with kavana. Make up your mind that you’re going to fight to get that first bracha. Every word in מגן אברהם – that first bracha you’re going to get down clearly. And don’t let go of it. Hold on to it. תפסת מועט תפסת. Take a little bit at a time and hold on to it. תפסת means that you’re holding on to it. Hold on to that little bit very tightly.
Let’s say you made a kaballah to learn תורה. Learn every night, fifteen minutes, it’s better than nothing. At home, fifteen minutes. No matter what. Take out a sefer and learn for fifteen minutes. You want to learn an hour, very good, I’m not stopping you. But every night, learn fifeeen minutes. Or go to a shiur every night. Even better. That’s a קבלה that’s a דבר שיש בו ממש.
Now even though sometimes there’s so many more things that you should be doing as well, that you didn’t do, but at least there’s one thing you’re doing. And Hashem sees that you’re headed in the right direction and הבא ליטהר מסעיין אותו – If you’re headed in the right direction, He’ll help you go further and further” (Menachos 29b). But you have to at least do one thing! And then you’ll get סייעתא דשמיא to do more and more.