Shinui Ma’aseh Commitment Ritual

This is a ritual I’ve created to assist in the work of Shinui Ma’aseh – Changing our Actions. Whether you are doing this during the Days of Awe, or any other time of year, it’s good to have a ritual to help you begin the transformation of a bad habit to something that is healthy and life-affirming. Heshvan is a great month to try out new practices and make a change, as there are no holidays, but any moment is a good moment to make a positive change in your life.

Ritual to Affirm Commitment to Shinui Ma’aseh

Find a quiet place and give yourself about half an hour, at least.  Add any additional elements that you feel will enhance the experience for you, whether that is wearing a tallit or other ritual clothing, using incense, drumming, etc. Think about what symbols will enhance this experience for you.

Kavannah: Opening Meditation (Psalm 118:19):  
The kavannah, is the intention of the ritual. Repeat this phrase four times. Four is a number of gateways and doors, so we say this four times to open a doorway “between the worlds.” You also might want to sing the Hebrew using one of the many chants created for this verse. If you use a chant, don’t just listen—it’s important that the words come out of your mouth.

Open to me the gates of Tzedek; I will enter into them, I will give thanks unto the LORD.

פִּתְחוּ-לִי שַׁעֲרֵי-צֶדֶק;   אָבֹא-בָם, אוֹדֶה יָהּ 

 Pitchu li shaíarei tzedek avo vam odeh ka

Teaching (Aggadah):
The aggadah is the section or element of the ritual that brings in the myths, stories, and symbols of Jewish tradition. Read the following teaching from Pirkei Avot, Ethics of the Fathers, and remember that you are only committing to 30 days. You don’t have to do this for life, but you should do your best to see it through the 30 days. Judaism has never been and all or nothing religion, as this teaching shows us.

It is not incumbent upon you to finish the task,
but neither are you free to absolve yourself from it.
(Rabbi Tarfon, Pirkei Avot 2:21)

Working (Peulot):
The “working” or “peulot” (פעולות) is the central activity or activities of the ritual. It brings the kavannah or intent out of the realm of the mind and into the body. Part of this working brings in the practice of speaking aloud, directly to the Holy One and listening for answers. If you just can’t bring yourself to speak aloud, then have a journal handy to write out your thoughts. Don’t just keep this in your head. Light a candle in each of the six directions as you do the following:

 — Center (up): Speak (or write) what practice you will be taking on during the month of Heshvan

 — East: Speak (or write) about what EXCITES you about the practice

 — South: Speak (or write) about your STANCE or intellectual, non-emotional, reason for taking on this practice?

 — West: Speak (or write) about what WORRIES you about the practice?

 — North: Speak (or write) about what you NEED or need to know to engage in the practice

 — Center (down): Speak (or write) again what practice you will be taking on during the month of Heshvan, and any final thoughts

Sit in quiet meditation for a few minutes, visualizing yourself doing the practice you’ve committed to. Ideally stay in meditation, visualizing the practice until the candles burn down. When you are ready to bring the ritual to a close: stand, strong, straight and true, and say aloud three times:

If I am not for myself, who is for me?
And if I am only for myself, what am I?
And if not now, when?
(Hillel the Elder, Pirkei Avot 1:14)

Closing Meditation
Say or chant the opening verse, this time seven times. Seven is a number of wholeness and completion. Saying the verse seven times sets a “seal” on the ritual.

Open to me the gates of Tzedek; I will enter into them, I will give thanks unto the LORD.

פִּתְחוּ-לִי שַׁעֲרֵי-צֶדֶק;   אָבֹא-בָם, אוֹדֶה יָהּ

 Pitchu li shaíarei tzedek avo vam odeh ka

Source & Reference Material

Inspiration from:


Breaking Bad Habits :

Pirkei Avot :

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