I am still in shock over something I did last week as Shabbat was coming in. I was running late, and lit my candles a few minutes later than usual. So it was already Shabbat for me, right? I then noticed that the stove was on a setting too high for the soup. I stopped for a split second—and quickly reduced the flame. Just minutes later, I realized what a mistake I had made—you can’t do anything with fire on Shabbat unless there’s a real danger! My spirit was crushed and, needless to say, I had the worst Shabbat of my life.


Wanting to make up for a mistake is a good thing. Getting depressed about it is not. After all, mistakes, like everything else in the world, present crossroads in life—and you can take them up or down.

Let me explain: Serious regret is the first component of teshuvah, repentance. But there’s a dark force inside each of us that tries to use this to his advantage. It will shrewdly convince you to spend the entire Shabbat in misery. Stay at home instead of going to shul. Pray without your usual passion. Get angry at the kids. I think we’ve all been fooled by these tactics at one time or another.

The Torah’s approach to regret—teshuvah—is to immediately channel those strong feelings into something positive. That way, proper teshuvah not only erases what happened, but actually uses the accident as a springboard to propel you even higher.

Let’s discuss your particular situation. You already regret what happened, and you’ve pledged to never do it again. Now, think of what you can do to grow from this experience:

  1. Be careful about lighting before the latest “candle-lighting time.” This might require some advanced planning—getting the Shabbat preparations done earlier in the day.
  2. Review the laws of cooking on Shabbat.

(Giving some extra charity is always a good thing to do after a messup of this sort. Giving charity is like bringing a sacrifice: you give away something precious to you, taking with it those things you don’t want to be part of.)

See what you’ve done: You have now taken an incident where Shabbat was weakened, and created a reality where it is actually strengthened. And why did all this happen? Because of an incident that was originally a failure. But now, that incident becomes a positive force in your life. It’s because it happened that your commitment to Shabbat is actually stronger. And most likely, your Shabbat will be all the more beautiful.

Yours truly,

Rabbi Yisroel Cotlar