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Parshas Ki Savo 5759

Outline Vol. 3, # 31

by Rabbi Yaakov Bernstein

The Honor of the King

The forty days from Rosh Chodesh Elul until Yom Kippur constitute the special time for teshuva, repentance. Historically, this was the period in which Moshe ascended the mountain the second time, and received the second set of luchos (tablets). Moshe descended on the fortieth day -- corresponding to Yom Kippur -- and so it was established that Yom Kippur would forever be a day of forgiveness and atonement.

How does one approach teshuva? In order to improve, we must find areas which need improvement. It often happens that a person can't find sufficient faults, or else he becomes overwhelmed with his failings, and falls prey to depression.

Years ago, it occurred to us that the place to begin is with the mitzva of teshuva itself. Since teshuva is itself a mitzva, one has to do teshuva for not doing teshuva!

This year, we found such an idea in the writings of the Slonimer Rebbe -- Nesivos Shalom.

The Rebbe explains with an analogy. A person offended the king. He was so thick-skulled that he was insensitive to the mighy ruler. Should he come to realize the extent of his insensitivity -- that he insulted someone -- this will hardly do. He did not merely insult someone, but he offended the king himself. Until such time that he understands the honor of the king, he cannot sufficiently atone.

This story approaches the ways of teshuva. Our faults have removed us from closeness and adherence to the King Himself. Until we recognize our faults, there can obviously not be any atonement. However, even upon such recognition, we must see the full extent of the consequences of our actions. We must perceive the Honor of the King, and realize how we have degraded it.

The story is told of a man who approached Rav Levi Yitzchak of Berditchov, and asked to be shown the paths of teshuva. Rav Levi Yitzchak told him to return the next day, after eating and sleeping. In the morning, they began the kabalistic study of the heavenly spheres. Afterwards, Rav Levi Yitzchak indicated in was time to begin the recital of the vidui (the confession of Yom Kippur). At the first word, the man fainted. Rav Levi Yitzchak woke him, and returned to the study of the heavenly spheres. Again they returned to the vidui, starting with the second word. Again, the man fainted. They continued in such a manner until the vidui was completed.

The recognition of the extent of the damage is the key to the entire teshuva process.

This being the case, what good is our saying that we're sorry? Until we truly perceive the extent of the damage, we cannot be forgiven.

On the other hand, we find that lost status can be recovered very quickly and simply. The Talmud in Kiddushin says that if a wicked man makes a transaction on condition that he be a totally righteous person, the transaction takes effect -- "perhaps he had feelings of remorse in his heart."

Further, the Slonimer Rebbe quotes that a criminal who demonstrates remorse becomes acceptable as a witness (the quote is from Teshuvos Ohr Zarua 102, but we were not able to find the exact source.)

These quotes seem quite problematic. It is important to feel remorse, but one must pay damages, suffer punishment, or in some way tangibly make up for the harm done. How can it be that remorse alone changes a person's status in such a dramatic way?

The Rebbe explained: since moving apart from Hashem lowers a person's status, the remorse alone returns him to the original status, even before he has accomplished the various aspects of atonement. Even before he has paid the damages, the penitent has returned to a closeness, an adherence to Hashem.

Here, the Rebbe mentions the idea that we began with today. We need to do teshuva for not doing teshuva properly...

Rabbi Yaakov Bernstein
11 Kiryas Radin
Spring Valley, NY 10977
Phone: (914) 362-5156

Good Shabbos!

Text Copyright © '98 Rabbi Yaakov Bernstein and Project Genesis, Inc.



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