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Every year, before Rosh Hashanah, I make commitments to improve myself in various areas of my service of Hashem. But here I am, the same “schlepper” I’ve always been. What do you advise?

Let me tell you something: You’re not the same. Don’t think you’re the same. You’re getting worse!

“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 kabbalah bli neder(a formal commitment, albeit without a formal oath), you need to have something specific, at least one specific thing that you’re going to work on changing. If you try to grab too much at one time, you’re going to grab nothing at all. It’s all going to slip 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 clear-cut. Say, “This year, no matter how much my wife criticizes me, I won’t say anything impolite to her. I’ll keep my mouth closed.” That’s already something specific, something you can grab onto. It’s something limited, something that you can stick to.

And even though it’s just one thing, it’s not so small in Hashem’s eyes. Our sages comment (based on a pasukin the Book of Iyov), “The world exists only on account of the person who keeps his mouth closed at a time of provocation” (Hulin 89a). Themerit of keeping your mouth closed when people are insulting you is great. 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 yourmouth closed. Make a commitment: “I’m going to keep quiet. I won’t answer back.” It’s a tremendous thing to do that.

You have to pinpoint something clear-cut. And then you’ll be able to carry it out. Don’t talk in general. General means nothing at all.

Let’s say you made a commitment to learn Torah. Don’t say, “I’m going to start learning more seriously this year.” That’s too vague. Instead, say something like, “Beli neder[without a formal oath], I’m going to learn for 15 minutes every day, no matter what.” And then, do it. Learn every night for 15 minutes, no matter what! Take out a book and learn for 15 minutes. You want to learn an hour? That’s very good; I’m not stopping you. But every night, learn for 15 minutes. Or go to a shiurevery night. That’s even better. Every night, no matter what. That’s a clear-cut commitment, something you can “sink your teeth” into.

There might also be so many more things that you should be doing 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, He’ll help you go further and further. But you have to at least do one thing! And then you’ll receive siyayta dishmaya(divine assistance) to do more and more.