Principle 17: Don’t dwell on the past
Although the spiritual damage we cause by acting out is very great, we must accept that Hashem brought us into this situation and that it is not all our fault. Let us never dwell on how it happened, or on past falls. This will cause us to feel down and lead to future falls. The Chidushei Harim (in Likutei Yehudah) tells his followers never to look back, claiming that if we look back, we remain in the mud. Everyone has dirty laundry. We don’t have to be ashamed of our laundry, unless we let it pile up and never clean it.
We must also realize that we didn’t always have free will in the past. This is clear from various Sefarim and in various places in Chazal. To quote one of the foremost baalei mussar of our times, Rav Shlomo Wolbe, [zt"l]:
The great [Jewish] philosophers established bechira as the cornerstone for the whole Torah.... But from this resulted a common misperception among the masses; that all people actively choose their every act and every decision. This is a grievous error. (Alei Schur, Vol. 1, p. 156)
What, then, is bechira? To answer this question, Rav Wolbe refers us to Rav Eliyahu Dessler's "phenomenal essay on bechira” (Michtav MeEliyahu, Vol. 1, pp. 111-116). In this essay, Rav Dessler describes how the “nekudas habechirah – the point of free choice” is different for different people and in different situations. He explains that bechira is not a theoretical concept that can be applied to any circumstance where a person can hypothetically choose between two options. Rather, it only applies to moral conflicts where the two opposing forces are of approximately equal strength, the person is aware of the internal conflict, and he makes a conscious decision in one direction. When a person does something over which he does not experience conscious conflict, or if the compelling force on one side is significantly stronger than the other, the fact that he is theoretically able to decide either way does not qualify his act as an expression of bechira.
“Ain Hakadosh Baruch Hu ba beterunya im habriyos – Hashem doesn’t come with complaints to his creations.” As the Pasuk says: “He created together all their hearts and understands all their deeds,” and he knows that almost all men stumble in this sin at some point in their youth.