In instructing us how to approach the process of Teshuba (repentance), our Sages teach us that the Almighty says, “Open for Me an opening like a pinhole,” promising that He will then expand it into an enormous space. The message is that once we take the first small step, even the size of a “pinhole,” G-d will then come to help us move much further and take great strides in improving ourselves and growing. We do not have to, and should not, try right away to make drastic changes and to become dramatically better. Our challenge is to make a small “opening,” to inch forward, and G-d will then help us move even further.
I once asked a certain Rabbi if he had an explanation for why our Sages used specifically the metaphor of a pinhole. There are many other common examples of small holes that we can make, such as by thrusting a finger in the sand. Why did our Sages choose the image of a needle puncturing a surface?
The Rabbi suggested that the hole produced by a needle is tiny, but permanent. And this is precisely the message that our Sages wished to convey. The process of Teshuba requires us to make small, modest commitments that we plan on keeping on a permanent basis, forever. The commitment does not have to be big, but it does need to be sincere and permanent. Too often, I have seen people make dramatic lifestyle changes that don’t last for more than several months. This is not Teshuba. This is making a very large hole in the sand, which makes a very significant change in the surface, but that change is reversed very soon afterward. Teshuba is about a pinhole – making very small changes that are permanent and last forever.
This is a vital message that we need to remember as we now begin the month of Elul and begin to prepare for High Holiday season. Preparing for the High Holidays does not mean thinking in grandiose terms of the drastic changes that we would ideally like to make in our lives. Such thoughts will get us nowhere. Nor does it mean trying to make drastic changes. The process of Elul is about making “an opening like a pinhole,” deciding upon small changes that we can realistically expect to maintain on a permanent basis. If we make these modest, pragmatic commitments, then G-d will do His part and expand that “pinhole” into greater and more significant achievements in our spiritual development.