Volume 32, No. 47
6 Tishrei 5779
September 15, 2018
Aaron and Rona Lerner
in memory of their mothers
Fayga Reva bat Yoel Aharon a”h (Fay Lerner) and
Elke bas Binyamin Zvi a”h (Elinor Cohn)
Please watch for our Yom Kippur issue!
Every year, the first ten days of the month of Tishrei are set aside as the “Aseret Yemei Teshuvah” / “Ten Days of Repentance.” R’ Avraham Halevi Horowitz z”l (16th century; father of the Shelah Hakadosh) explains that this period was designated as the time for Teshuvah because Rosh Hashanah is the anniversary of [man’s] creation. Our Sages teach that G-d knew at the time of creation that mankind could not be perfect and would sin. Therefore, He created the concept of Teshuvah even before He created the physical world. However, writes R’ Horowitz, it would not have been seemly for Rosh Hashanah itself to be the day of forgiveness; after all, that is the Day of Judgment. Therefore, Hashem has given us a period after the Day of Judgment to mitigate the harshness of the judgment through repentance. This is the meaning of the verse (Yeshayah 55:6), “Seek Hashem when He can be found” (which our Sages say is a reference to Aseret Yemei Teshuvah). When “can He be found”? Only after He shows Himself by creating the world!
Therefore, continues R’ Horowitz, on each day of the Ten Days of Repentance, one must turn aside somewhat from his mundane affairs — or even better, at night, when he is in any case free from the interference of other people — to reflect on his sins and confess about them. This should be done with crying, tears and heartbreak as if a close relative had died, as we read in Tehilim (119:136), “My eyes shed streams of tears because they did not keep Your Torah.” A repentant person should not underestimate the importance of tears, for our Sages have taught that the “Gates of Tears” are never locked. (Emek Berachah p.200)
“He said to them, ‘I am a hundred and twenty years old today; I can no longer go out and come in . . .’” (31:2)
Rashi z”l writes (in his second explanation of the verse): “I can no longer take the lead in the matter of the Law. This teaches us that the well-springs of wisdom were stopped up for him.”
R’ Nosson Sternhartz z”l (1780-1845; foremost student of R’ Nachman of Breslov) explains: Moshe was saying that he was unable to advance any further in his spiritual growth. And, since a Tzaddik lives only to grow — he cannot stand still — Moshe necessarily had to pass away. (Likkutei Halachot: Hilchot Tefilin 5:36)
“I will surely conceal My face on that day because of all the evil that it [i.e., the Jewish People] did, for it had turned to gods of others.” (31:18)
R’ Ben Zion Nesher shlita (one of the senior rabbis in Tel Aviv, Israel) writes: We read in Megillat Esther (3:8), “Yeshno am echad / There is a certain people . . .” The Midrash Yalkut Shimoni comments that Haman intended two things when he said the words, “Yeshno am echad.” First, “The One who is called ‘Echad’ (i.e., Hashem) is yashein / asleep.” Second, “The Jewish People are asleep when it comes to fulfilling their obligations to perform Mitzvot.” These two interpretations are not mutually exclusive, R’ Nesher notes. Rather, the reason Hashem appears to be asleep — whereas, in reality He never sleeps — is that we are “asleep” and are neglecting our obligations.
R’ Nesher continues: This is the condition that our verse describes as Hashem “concealing His face.” He quotes R’ Moshe Chaim Luzzato z”l (Ramchal; 1707-1746; author of Mesillat Yesharim and other works), who writes in Ma’amar Ha’geulah: When we are not deserving, Hashem does not reveal Himself, and that causes Him to appear as if He is not paying attention to us. When He does “awaken,” i.e., when He appears to have awakened because we will again see Him taking note of us, it will be a sign of the coming redemption, Ramchal writes.
R’ Nesher continues: Although there is a state in which Hashem appears to us to be sleeping, Midrash Shir Ha’shirim Rabbah teaches that He “sleeps” with “one eye open.” He is always looking out for our best interests. And, it goes without saying, that to the extent Hashem ignores us, it is not to be vindictive. Rather, His intention is to motivate us to repent. (Haggadah Shel Pesach Shir Tziyon p.106)
Teshuvah in the Aseret Yemei Teshuvah
“Three books are opened on Rosh Hashanah–one of the completely wicked, one of the completely righteous, and one of Beinonim [defined below]. The completely righteous are inscribed and sealed immediately for life. The completely wicked are inscribed immediately for death. ‘Beinonim’ are left hanging from Rosh Hashanah until Yom Kippur. If they merit, they are inscribed for life. If not, they are inscribed for death.” (Rosh Hashanah 16b)
Rambam z”l (1135-1204) writes: “Just as a person’s sins and merits are weighed at the time of his death, so the sins of every human being and his merits are weighed every single year on the Yom Tov of Rosh Hashanah. Whoever is found to be a Tzaddik is sealed for life. Whoever is found to be a Rasha is sealed for death. The Beinoni is given time until Yom Kippur. If he repents, he is sealed for life, and if not, he is sealed for death. (Mishneh Torah: Hilchot Teshuvah 3:3)
R’ Yitzchak Blazer z”l (1837-1907; one of the three primary students of R’ Yisrael Salanter, founder of the Mussar movement; rabbi of St. Petersburg, Russia, because of which he is known as R’ Itzele Peterburger) writes: Rambam appears to understand the term “Tzaddik” as referring to a person who has done more Mitzvot than Aveirot / sins and a “Rasha” to be a person who has done more Aveirot than Mitzvot. Thus, a Beinoni must be someone whose Mitzvot and Aveirot are exactly balanced. If so, asks R’ Itzele, why is his judgment dependent on Teshuvah? Why can’t he just perform another Mitzvah or two and thereby be judged a Tzaddik?
He explains: When Hashem makes Himself “accessible” to accept man’s repentance, as He does during the Aseret Yemei Teshuvah / Ten Days of Repentance, and a person does not avail himself of that opportunity, that sin is so great that it outweighs any extra Mitzvot that a person might do. Thus, only Teshuvah can get the Beinoni sealed in the Book of the Living.
R’ Itzele continues: The work Reishit Chochmah [R’ Eliyahu de Vidas (1518-1592; Eretz Yisrael)] explains this with a parable. A band of thieves was caught and thrown in prison. Over time, they dug a tunnel and escaped. However, one member of their group chose to stay behind in the cell. When the king discovered the escape, he said to that one prisoner, “You fool! You could have escaped!” So, too, Hashem exclaims, “Teshuvah is before you, yet you are not returning!” [In another version of this parable, the king punishes the thief who did not escape because, by remaining behind, the thief showed that he did not fear the king’s ability to punish him. So, too, when people do not repent, they show a lack of awe of Hashem.] (Kochvei Ohr: ma’amar 5)
R’ Yitzchak Hutner z”l (1906-1980; Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshiva Chaim Berlin in Brooklyn, N.Y.) offers a different explanation: The terms Tzaddik, Rasha and Beinoni do not refer to the quantity, or even the gravity, of a person’s Mitzvot and Aveirot. That would not be logical, for it would mean that a person could be a Tzaddik one moment, a Rasha the next moment, and, just as suddenly, a Tzaddik again. Rather, these terms refer to a person’s attitude toward good and evil. A Tzaddik is a person who consciously chooses to live a life that is “mostly merits.” Even if he performs mostly sins one day, he will remain a Tzaddik if he has not changed his overall attitude. He may be compared to someone whom the world views as a calm person; even if that person sometimes loses his temper, that doesn’t change the fact that his nature is to be calm. [A Rasha, then, is a person who chooses to live a life that is “mostly sins.”] A Beinoni is a person who does not identify with either good or bad. He performs good deeds and bad deeds, but does not identify either category with his “self.” This explains why he cannot get into the Book of the Living just by performing a few Mitzvot. Performing Mitzvot won’t change his nature as a Beinoni. Rather, in order to “merit,” a Beinoni must repent, meaning that he must abandon his Beinoni nature and consciously adopt the philosophy of “mostly merits.”
R’ Hutner continues: With this understanding, R’ Itzele’s question (Why is Teshuvah necessary for the Beinoni rather than just performing more Mitzvot?) is not a question. Also, we now understand why Rambam replaces the Gemara’s phrase, “if they merit,” with the phrase, “if he repents.” Repentance is the only way a Beinoni can merit to be inscribed in the Book of the Living, for only Teshuvah alters the Beinoni’s worldview and turns him into a Tzaddik. (Pachad Yitzchak: Rosh Hashanah, ma’amar 18)