The Talmudic Sages ask: “Who is the wise man?”
The answer: “One who sees (i.e., thinks about) the outcome of his actions.”
Keep asking yourself, “What is the goal of my present behavior?” and “What are the potential harmful consequences?” These two questions will enable you to have greater control over your behavior.
(Talmud – Tamid 32a; Rabbi Pliskin’s Gateway to Happiness, p.258)
-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
Daily Lift #222: “Outcome Thinking”
I would be wonderful if we all did this, especially when faced with a morally questionable decision or one that otherwise has the potential to hurt another person, but human nature seems to dictate that we consider the outcome of our actions only after we have acted.
The value of this principle is greatest when a person is in the process of making teshuvah and attempting to repair the damage his or her sins have already done. No, repentance doesn’t change the past, though we often wish it would, but considering the outcome of our actions can work to prevent us from repeating our mistakes.
In other words, we can’t “undo” previous sins, but we can consider the impact of present and future actions and keep ourselves from sinning again.
Our problem is how to live what we pray, how to make our lives a daily commentary on our prayer book, how to live in consonance with what we promise, how to keep faith with the vision we pronounce.
-Abraham Joshua Heschel
from “The Goal and the Way,” p.94
Man’s Quest for God
However, a sort of strange paradox can occur. As I said, we can’t change the past but we can change the future, so to speak, by considering our actions in the present. But what about all the damage we’ve done up to this point? What about all of the hurt we’ve caused, all the disappointment that’s already a result of what we’ve done? How can we possibly lift that kind of weight off our backs in order to even begin to move toward the future?
The very first prayer of the day is Modeh Ani, which is recited immediately upon awakening. The prayer ends with the words, “great is Your faithfulness.” This praise underscores the fundamental importance of our trust in Hashem’s faithfulness in watching over us. Iyun Tefillah relates this phrase to the verse in Eichah (3:23): “They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness…
-from “A Closer Look at the Siddur,” p.63
Commentary for Sunday on Parashas Va’eira
A Daily Dose of Torah
Or, in other words…
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity
And cleanse me from my sin.
For I know my transgressions,
And my sin is ever before me.
Against You, You only, I have sinned
And done what is evil in Your sight,
So that You are justified when You speak
And blameless when You judge.
Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
And in sin my mother conceived me.
Behold, You desire truth in the innermost being,
And in the hidden part You will make me know wisdom.
Purify me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Make me to hear joy and gladness,
Let the bones which You have broken rejoice.
Hide Your face from my sins
And blot out all my iniquities
–Psalm 51:2-9 (NASB)
In terms of cause and effect in the present world, what we’ve done in the past is done and cannot be undone. But once a person has repented sincerely of his or her sins, God does not simply put them in the past, but it is as if the person had never sinned at all. Each new morning you wake up a completely new person with no debts to be repaid as far as God is concerned. God is faithful to forgive and to treat us as if we had never sinned, as if we were pure, faultless, and blameless.
And on that basis, we can wake up and consider ourselves a new person (2 Corinthians 5:17) with a brand new life waiting to be lived. Then, as we proceed throughout our day, at the point where we are making decisions, we can feel free to stop and consider the consequences of each action. Since we have a brand new life to live, using our experience with past failures as a guide, we can choose to avoid certain decisions in favor of others that will have a better outcome.
Going back to the Modei Ani, it’s not just that God is faithful in returning our souls each morning, and it’s not just that we put our faith in Him, but God has faith in us:
Chasam Sofer, commenting on this phrase, translates it to mean, “great is your faith in us.”
Though we are careless and abusive in the treatment of our souls, which Hashem has entrusted to us, He returns them to us again and again, confident that we will use them properly in His service.
-“A Daily Dose of Torah,” ibid
Shout joyfully to the Lord, all the earth.
Serve the Lord with gladness;
Come before Him with joyful singing.
Know that the Lord Himself is God;
It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves;
We are His people and the sheep of His pasture.
Enter His gates with thanksgiving
And His courts with praise.
Give thanks to Him, bless His name.
For the Lord is good;
His lovingkindness is everlasting
And His faithfulness to all generations.
No matter what sort of past we’ve led, we can still have a bright future with God in His service. Only God can untie us from the tyranny of guilt and shame and free us to serve Him in joy and boundless gratitude, for great is His faith in us.