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Thought for the Day: Thoughts On Preparing for Yom Kippur Gleaned from My Bicycle Commute

Last night I wired up a water-proof fluorescent light fixture for our Sukkah.  I knew what to do because my grandfather (he should rest in peace) taught me how to wire things up.  Getting a degree in physics didn't help me with wiring the fixture.  (In fact, ask me sometime about the time I tried to install a dimmer in a friend's dorm room based on my vast knowledge -- I was a junior in college at the time -- of physics.  Let's just say it sparked quite a round of well deserved jeering, including my name and description of my spectacular failure being enshrined around the door frame.)

With יום כיפור bearing down in less than a year (orginally, I had written "in just a few hours"; but stuff happened), I am focussing on very practical application of the general principles of change that Chazal have taught us.  R' Yisrael Salanter said that it is easier to learn ש''ס (the entire Talmud) than to change on character trait.  I reason that changing my conduct vis-à-vis my biking -- something I do nearly every day -- as an expression of deeper principles will help to inculcate those principles into my character.  Feel free to disagree or roll your eyes, but that's my story and I am sticking to it.

First: Prefer permanent repair over replace.  The philosophical principle is that we were put in this world to perfect ourselves.  When the first murderer (Kayin) told HaShem that he couldn't live with himself, HaShem told him that it was entirely in his hand; if he wanted to improve, he could.  The scenario for me was riding home one evening I found that even after adding air several times, I finally arrived home with a flat rear tire.  Continuing to add air ever few minutes of travel was not a viable option; that was obviously treating the symptom and not the problem ("root cause" in modern parlance).  However, to just replace the tube was also not a good idea.  First, the tube looked really good except for the one tiny leak.  Replacing the tube risked getting a tube that had other issues -- defects in manufacture -- that could be even worse (a blow-out, for example).  Second, and more to the point, simply replacing the tube would not be addressing whatever caused the flat in the first place, so I'd be in this position again, anyway.  (Sound familiar?  יום כיפור you say, "Well; I just won't do that again!" -- repeat annually; it'll work eventually, right?)  So I carefully felt the tire (מפשפש במעשיו) and found a tiny wire sticking through the wall.  I removed the wire (removed the root cause), patched the tube (adding strength to a weak point), and reassembled the wheel.  So far, so good.

Second: Changing behavior to avoid the pitfalls.  I lost my keys one day.  The keys for my bicycle lock, the bicycle parking cage, and my car (a $300.00 key... don't ask).  It was found and I was able to get it back from security at the parking facility the next day, but I spent a night of self-recrimination for letting it happen in the first place.  The M'silas Yesharim says that regret is part of the repentance process as a motivator to changing future behavior.  (He stresses that "crying over spilt milk" is not what the Torah means by regret.)  I have now separated my keys to separate rings. One keeps the car key at home when I am riding my bike.  The other holds just the bike lock key and parking cage fob onto a single ring.  By keeping them separate, I have more attention on the one I am using.  Again; so far, so good.

Not big things, to be sure; but that is precisely the point.  Change comes from small, incremental steps that are easily, successfully, and consistently applied.

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