Talmud this Shabbat: Towards a New Understanding of Self-Control, Self-Mastery and Deep Change


As Yogi Berra put it, “It’s déjà vu all over again.” It is Elul, time to wonder why it seems like we can never change.

Each of us has some version of this conundrum: I no longer want to be X. X can be angry, petty, jealous, critical, negative, hard-hearted, ungenerous, self-indulgent, etc. I am going to work on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur on overcoming my tendency towards being X. I will pray on it, repent of it, be mindful of changing it. A year comes. A year goes. And again we confront the fact that we still struggle with X. It is as if last year’s High Holidays effected little to no change. Rabbi Milton Steinberg termed this “the problem of our persistent sin.” We cannot seem to change.

Why is that? What do we do about it?

Tomorrow I want to examine two sources. In a lecture at Hadar, Rabbi Shai Held shared sources that speak to why there is such a thing as character, and why our character is so very hard to change. And in The Road to Character (2015), David Brooks offers what feels like a new idea, a new way to understand trying to overcome the parts of ourselves that we like least.

Can you overcome X?

It depends on how you define “overcome.” I believe you can walk away from this class with an idea that will help you feel better about the high holiday project and the endlessly incomplete mission of becoming a better version of yourself.

Shabbat shalom,
Wes