Summertime brings thoughts of rest, relaxation, and recharging. The kids go to camp, families plan vacations, and schools close for the season. The weather is enjoyable. The sun shines longer each day, and flowers bloom. This is a great time to appreciate life, its blessings, and all the special things you are fortunate to have in your life. Just think about the natural beauty created by Hashem. The scent of a crisp summer day, or just after a rain shower, is unmatched. The symphony of birds singing, crickets chirping, and wind rustling the leafy trees is incredibly calming. The crash of ocean waves against the shore is both mighty and soothing. It is a time of lighter moods, happier people, and friendly greetings. It can feel very freeing and restorative.
However, unless we plan ahead, this can also be a time when the positive routines we have developed over the year can lapse, including regular prayers and learning times. With fewer responsibilities such as carpools, homework, and extracurricular activities, we should have additional time to devote to the most important things. There is nothing wrong with recharging and relaxing. I am only talking about a small slice of the abundant free time most of us have during the summer. This is an excellent opportunity to choose something you have always wanted to do. Perhaps join a local Tehillim group or start a new seder in learning. You can knock out at least one tractate of Mishnayos. There are so many options, from Rabbi Eli Stefansky’s Daf Yomi, to 2-a-day Mishnayos, or Dirshu’s Mishna Berurah Yomi. Many of these are quick. The idea is to commit regularly even as you plan trips and outings. Even a tiny commitment that is regular and consistent can transform your life.
If the idea of spending a few extra minutes learning doesn’t speak to you, I would like to suggest an idea that takes less than one minute yet can truly elevate your daily prayers. The Shemona Esrei is the pinnacle of every daily prayer service. Buried deep inside this monumental compilation of the “18 prayers” is a small paragraph near the end of Shema Koleinu. It offers the opportunity to single out one deeply personal transgression – the one you just can’t seem to control. You know the one. No one else has to know it – this is strictly between you and your Creator. By admitting to Him that you are aware that this is a problem for you, by asking for His help, and acknowledging that you really hope to do better, you thereby offer up the most meaningful repentance. This powerful paragraph allows you to make that first baby step toward perfection. You get to come clean with Hashem and feel like you are no longer a slave to that desire. It does not control you anymore. You control it and thereby control yourself. Hashem will help you master that troublesome transgression. Even if you slip, you will think of that paragraph and use that to hold onto, so you don’t fall in the moment. Knowing that you plan to face Hashem in a few hours during the next prayer service and that you will discuss that same sin might give you pause before you do something that you have been specifically praying to avoid. We are human. We are not perfect. But the goal is to point ourselves in the right direction, to be honest about our shortcomings, and to keep trying to do our best.
The smaller prayer near the end of Shema Koleinu is for kapparos avonos, atoning for transgressions. It begins “Ana Hashem, Chatasi…” and it is just over 40 words, not counting naming the sin in question. ArtScroll siddurim show two prayers mentioned by the Chayei Adam, and this is the shorter one. I challenge you to try saying it during your Amida prayers this summer. You don’t have to wait for the High Holy days to let Hashem know you are thinking of Him, and that repentance is already on your mind and in your prayers. He will be so very proud of you. Have a wonderful and healthy summer!