Rav Avigdor Miller on Starting the Year Off on the Right Foot

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Q: 
Every year, before Rosh Hashana comes along, I make kabolos about improving myself in various areas of my service of Hashem. But here I am, the same schlepper I’ve always been. 

A:
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). So if you’re not improving, you’re getting worse.

When you make a kabalah bli neder you have to have something specific; at least one specific thing that you’re going to work on changing. תפסת מרובה לא תפסת – If you try to grab too much at one time, you’re going to grab nothing at all. It’s all going to fall out of your hand. 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.” That’s already something specific, something you can grab on to. תפסת מועט תפסת. It’s something limited, something that you can grab onto.

And actually, even though it’s something specific, it’s not so small in Hashem’s eyes. The possuk says תולה ארץ על בלימה – “The world hangs on nothing”  (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 kabalah, “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. You can’t just say,  “This year, I’m going to daven with kavana.” It’s too much to grab onto at once. 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 kabalah to learn Torah. So don’t say, “I’m going to start learning more seriously this year.” It’s too big, too vague. Do it like this: “Bli neder, I’m going to learn fifteen minutes every day no matter what.” And then, do it. 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. That’s even better. Every night no matter what. That’s a kabalah that’s a דבר שיש בו ממש, it’s clear-cut, it’s something you can sink your teeth into.

Now even though sometimes there’s so many more things that you should be doing as well, that you’re not doing, but at least there’s one thing you are doing. And Hashem sees that you’re headed in the right direction. And if you’re headed in the right direction then הבא ליטהר מסעיין אותו – If you’re trying to get better, He’ll help you go further and further” (Menachos 29b). But you have to at least do one thing! And then you’ll get siyayta dishmaya to do more and more.
TAPE E-157 (September 1998)