Rav Kook Torah

Psalm 34: Freeing Ourselves from Bad Habits


After recounting God’s assistance to the righteous - and those struggling with impulsive behavior - the psalmist offers guidance how to grow spiritually and free oneself from bad habits.

פּוֹדֶה ה’ נֶפֶשׁ עֲבָדָיו וְלֹא יֶאְשְׁמוּ כָּל הַחֹסִים בּוֹ.

“God redeems the life of His servants; all who trust in Him will not be condemned.” (Psalms 34:23)

This advice, Rav Kook explains, relates to one’s self-image. Everyone suffers from character flaws. We can easily become trapped by our weaknesses, captive to our desires.

The psalmist suggests that we gain positive change by a resolute decision: We resolve to live a life of serving God, a life dedicated to holy aspirations, a life infused with acts of kindness and generosity. We identify ourselves as an eved Hashem, as “a servant of God.”1

With this transformation of mindset, we free ourselves from the tyranny of negative desires and impulses. When we commit to live the life of Divine service, we are liberated from enslavement to our vices. “God redeems the life of His servants.

The psalmist, however, adds a caveat.

We tend to trust our natural inclinations, even though we know we are attracted to certain negative habits. If we fail to question our motives, we may stumble into the pitfall of undesirable conduct.

We should be circumspect of our impulses, guarding against destructive tendencies. We must place our faith, not in our own virtue, but in God. If we trust that God will direct our hearts, we can be assured of not stumbling.

By placing our trust in God and His Torah, we raise our lives from undisciplined habits and poor choices to the rare quality of holy splendor. Redeemed by the Divine light shining over us, our actions will be straight and true. “All who trust in Him will not be condemned.

(Adapted from Olat Re’iyah vol II, pp. 68-69)

1 James Clear called this building “identity-based habits.” He explained that “The key to building lasting habits is focusing on creating a new identity first. Your current behaviors are simply a reflection of your current identity... To change your behavior for good, you need to start believing new things about yourself.” (Atomic Habits, Avery 2018).