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How to Make a Yom Kippur Breakthrough

October 4, 2011 | by Azriel Hirsh Friedman

3 practical steps to becoming great.

Did you ever have a waiter with a big fake smile? Your reaction may have been: "This guy has no interest in serving me. I'm only tipping him the minimum."

I used to show up on Yom Kippur acting like that waiter. I was willing to play nice. But really I couldn't wait to get out of shul, and on with my life. God was probably not thrilled with my service.

The first step to preparing for Yom Kippur is to know that God is interested in you exactly as you are now. Pretending doesn't help. God is acutely aware what is wrong with each one of us and wants to help us get better. He wants us in synagogue for one reason only – to help us become bigger and happier people. Yom Kippur is about being “real” with who we are.

Imagine having a hernia and telling the doctor you are suffering from indigestion. Not only can't he help, he may even prescribe a medicine that makes you sicker. The same is true on Yom Kippur. We only get the full impact of the day when we make a sincere and honest effort to discover what we can do to be bigger people.

When it comes to making real changes our Jewish sources quote God as saying: “Open for me a hole the size of a needle, and I'll open it as wide as a huge hall."

This tells us that we don't need to make impressive-yet-cosmetic changes in our life. We need to make a small and very real change that will remain permanent. Because when we make even a small-yet-honest effort to change, we get unbelievable help from above.

Below is a short Yom Kippur preparation guide. I hope it will us honestly help us face who we are to become greater people.

The Principle

Everybody wants to feel that s/he is “good."

Often this blinds us to objectively diagnosing where we are actually holding in life. In order to achieve genuine growth, we need to ask: "Where am I holding?"

For example, I may say: "I'd like to become a giver." First, I have to diagnose what kind of giver I presently am. Let’s say that whenever anyone asks me for help, I cringe, and my stomach gets heavy at the thought of dedicating even an extra second to anyone but myself. So showing up on Yom Kippur resolute that I am now going to “become a giver” shows God only one thing: I am daydreaming and totally out of touch with myself.

The solution to this fake-out is to identify my point of personal “free choice” when it comes to giving. In other words, where exactly do I sense my struggle to be a giver? Then resolve to achieve something small to move forward in this area, to open that “eye of the needle.”

For example: Someone at work is constantly asking me for favors – resolving a computer issue, borrowing office supplies, whatever. My resolution will be: When this person approaches me to ask for my help, I resolve to stop whatever I am doing and smile. That’s it!

If you’re really intent on changing, have a little notebook and give yourself a daily checkmark depending on that day's performance of “stopping and smiling.”

You'll be amazed at how challenging it is to maintain this over time. You may feel like giving up. You will get in touch with all sorts of inner voices that force you to deal with your conflict between being a giver and being selfish. Every time you choose to “stop and smile,” you will be building the real “giving muscles” that you need at your level. If you get through one year of this, you will have achieved a permanent breakthrough in becoming a giver.

Now let’s get totally practical:

Breakthrough Step One

Think through what is the absolute minimum action you can take to improve. To help you out, I have given some examples.

(A) My Relationship with Others – spouse, parents, friends, co-workers

  • Example: Call home before I am already late
  • Example: Whenever I want to voice a complaint, ask myself if it’s absolutely necessary and then hold back.

My resolution: _____________________________________.

(B) My Relationship with Myself

  • Example: One quality I have that makes me feel good is my sense of humor. A way I can use this quality even more beautifully is by making myself laugh when everything seems to be going wrong.

My resolution: One quality I already have that makes me feel good about myself is _______________. A way I can use this quality even more beautifully is by _______________________.

  • Example: One quality I have that makes me feel bad is my being messy. If I could place my shoes neatly under the bed each night, I would feel better about myself.

My resolution: One quality I already have that makes me feel bad about myself is _______________. If I could ___________________ I would feel better about myself.

(C) My Relationship with God

  • Example: I feel that my relationship with God is (choose one): strong / weak / don't know whether God exists / don’t care. One small thing I could do to improve this is to ask someone who has a good relationship with God to recommend a book about God, and then buy and read it.

My resolution: One small thing I could do to improve my relationship with God is: ________________________

  • Example: One way I can acknowledge God's role in my life is to ask Him every day for help in one key area of my life.

My resolution: I can acknowledge God's role in my life by: _______________________.

Breakthrough Step Two

1) Now look over everything you filled out. Do you see any common denominators? What excites you most out of everything you marked down?

2) Ask yourself: How likely is it that I will do this? If not so likely, then modify it, or make it less ambitious, or chose something else.

3) Now ask yourself: Is there anything I can do to make the resolution even simpler, in order that to ensure success over the long term? To determine this ask yourself what obstacles could come up that would cause you to fail. Then modify your goal.

  • Example: Every day I'll write something down that I am grateful for. But since I sometimes forget my notebook, I'll modify my goal to: "The days I have my notebook, I'll write down something I am grateful for – minimally 4 times a week for the next 6 months."

4) Once you are satisfied with your resolution, ask a close friend for feedback.

5) Write down your resolution on a piece of paper and stick it in a prominent place – e.g. your nightstand, on the fridge, etc.

Breakthrough Step Three

On Yom Kippur, read out your resolution:

Dear God,

Thank you for the opportunity to become a bigger person. I have made an honest attempt to be real with where I am holding. Please help me to take a step to becoming a new person this year by committing (without taking any vows to): _________________________. Please assist my efforts and help guide me to become a person we can all be proud of.


Yours Truly

Have a wonderful year full of real growth!

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