Parashat Vayelech/Shabbat Teshuvah

Dedicated Le'ilui Nishmat Beracha Bat Rina, Beverly Sasson A'h by Her Family

Parashat Vayelech/Shabbat Teshuvah

This week, on Shabbat Teshuvah the haftarah for Vayelech reads, “Dirshu Hashem behimatzo, kerauhu behyoto karov… ki yirbeh lisloach – Seek Hashem when he can be found, call upon Him when He’s near… for He is abundantly forgiving.” Chazal says the time that Hashem is near refers to this week of Aseret Yemei Teshuvah (Rosh Hashanah 18a). But the question is asked, what does “abundantly forgiving” mean? Why abundant?

The response given is, when someone does teshuvah one time, Hashem will forgive the person for everything. But isn’t one sin’s forgiveness sufficient? “Abundant” implies there is more forgiveness given than necessary.

The Rema from Fano writes that someone who commits a sin makes two mistakes. The first mistake is the actual sin that was committed. The second error is the waste of time it entailed, because he could have been doing a mitzvah in the time he used to commit a wrongful act. For example, a person could spend an hour watching TV on Shabbat, when instead he could have gone to shul or learned with a friend. When a person repents for a sin, he would still have to worry about repenting for the indirect sin and missed mitzvah opportunity. Yet the passuk says Hashem is “abundantly forgiving,” thereby absolving the person of any sins related to the original one when someone does teshuvah.

In his book Yom Kippur: Atonement and Opportunity, Rabbi Yaakov Hillel says we should be using the days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, when Hashem is near, to evaluate where we fall short and try to do better, be better. He suggests looking in the mahzor at the Viduy Gadol, taking notes and truly understanding where we should be holding spiritually, and what we need to fix in order to be inscribed in the Sefer Haim.

Teshuvah

We are now approaching the upcoming Holiday of Yom Kippur. Hashem knows that we're all human beings and that we will sin, but He gave us the great gift of teshuvah. Every year we can pray with our hearts to Hashem, and He will forgive us and grant us another year of life. So now that we understand that Hashem is and has always been there to protect us, as He has done since Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov, let's prepare for that awesome and great day of Yom Kippur that's approaching!

Hashem loves us so much, He gave us a designated day we can atone for all our sins from over the course of the past year. Whether the sins were on purpose or by accident, the most important thing to do is to admit we had sinned. When Adam ate from the Etz Hadaat and Hashem asked him about it, he blamed Chava. When Cayin killed his brother Hevel and Hashem asked him “Where’s Hevel?” Cayin answered, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Instead, we must learn from David Hamelech, who did not avoid blame. As soon as Natan the prophet told him that he had sinned, David admitted his error right away. He did not look to make excuses and he accepted the blame on himself. Later, he wrote in Tehillim “I acknowledge that my transgressions and my sins are always before me (51:5).”

Rabbi Akiva says in the Mishnah (8:9), “Praiseworthy are you Israel, before whom do you cleanse yourselves?... Your father in Heaven! … And I will sprinkle pure water upon you, and you shall be cleansed. The Mikveh of Israel is Hashem. Just as a Mikveh purifies the contaminated, so does Hashem purify Israel.” Rabbi Akiva is saying, just as we may go and submerge our whole body in a Mikveh to make a complete change, it is also beneficial to just sprinkle the pure water. Rabbi Akiva is saying from this mishnah, take upon ourselves to make small changes of growth each year, and it will have a tremendous impact on our growth throughout our lifetime. Small, subtle changes will lead to big ones.

Ben Adam LeMakom

Rabbi David Ashear tells a story in Living Emunah 2 about Rav Saadia Gaon, who would make a point to seclude himself in a private room for 20 minutes every day. One of his students, overcome with curiosity, hid in a closet in that room one day. The Rabbi came in and proceeded to lower himself to the floor, crying, “Hatati, aviti, pashati Lefanecha – I have sinned before You….” The student could not understand why this great rabbi could possibly cry for forgiveness and do such an intense teshuvah daily.

The student approached his rabbi and confessed to having watched him and asked why he begged Hashem for forgiveness each day. Rav Saadia explained that once he was traveling and he stopped at the home of a very kindhearted Jew. The host was generous and hospitable, offering meals and a room to the rabbi. Rav Saadia warmly thanked him and went on his way, but after a few minutes, the host ran after him, threw himself on the floor and begged the Rav for forgiveness. The rabbi inquired, asking why he was so upset, when the host provided such generous hospitality. The host cried, “I did not know you were the Great Rav Saadia Gaon. If I had known, I would have showed you so much more respect and honor.”

The rabbi explained to his student, “Each day I find out something new about the greatness of Hashem. I feel so guilty; if I would have known, I would have served Hashem with much more respect and care. And so, each day I have to beg Hashem for forgiveness for not treating Him properly.”

Ben Adam Lehavero

We learn from Rambam's Hilchot Teshuvah (2nd perek teshuvah 9) that, "Teshuvah and Yom Kippur only atone for sins between man and God.” Meaning, Yom Kippur will only allow us to atone for sins between man and Hashem like eating unkosher or not keeping Shabbat. So, it is crucial to acknowledge the sins between man and man before the Day of Judgement. We must make sure that we clear up any disputes that we may have with our fellow Jews. For example, if you injured someone, or stole, or if you embarrassed your friend in public, Yom Kippur prayers will not help your case. A person will not be forgiven for those sins until he takes care of his error with the person he wronged. He must apologize, or appease his friend, or pay back his debt.

Hacham Ovadia A'h, quotes a chazal that says, “If a person doesn't satisfy and appease his friend if he had sinned against him, then Hashem may not accept his atonement between man and Hashem on Yom Kippur!” That's a very strong statement! It shows us just how important it is to get along with our neighbor and fellow Jew.

Rabbi Benoliel related a story about a man who went to visit Hacham Ovadia A’h complaining that he wasn’t feeling well. He had been to many doctors, but no one was able to figure out exactly what the cause of his ailments were. Hacham Ovadia looked at the man and asked him, “Did you ever hurt someone or embarrass anyone and fail to ask for forgiveness?” The man could not immediately recall, but after a few minutes of thinking through his whole life about who he may have wronged, he remembered a young boy in school. “When I was a little boy in school, there was a kid in my class who used to come to school with torn shoes and tattered clothing. I teased him and made fun of him. But how can I ask for forgiveness? I don’t remember who he was! I think Yosef was part of his name.” Hacham Ovadia said, “That boy was me, and you are forgiven.” It is extremely important to settle any disputes, disagreements, or wrongs between two friends. Once the man profusely apologized for his behavior, his illness was healed.

Let It Go

It says in Masechet Rosh Hashanah, “Kol hamaveir al medotav, maavereyn lo kol pashav – Anyone who relinquishes his measures of retribution (tolerantly drops a disputed matter – Rashi), the Heavenly courts will relinquish all his sins for him (17a).” In other words, “If one doesn't judge others and is able to walk away, Hashem will also judge him favorably!”

The very fact that the chance to do teshuvah was gifted to us by Hashem teaches us to take advantage of that opportunity. There's a story in Gemarah Yoma that illustrates this point. When Rav Zeira would have grounds for a grievance against someone, he would repeatedly pass by the offender, thereby making himself available to him to appease him and ask forgiveness. Rav had grounds for grievance against a certain butcher and the butcher had not come by to ask forgiveness. So on the day before Yom Kippur, the Rav went by the butcher to make himself noticed in order to catalyze a reconciliation. When the butcher saw him, he said “Go away, I have nothing to discuss with you!” as he was breaking the bones of an animal’s head. A bone then shot out and hit him in the throat, and the butcher died on the spot! The story teaches that when you have the chance to appease your friend and make peace, take advantage of the opportunity! The butcher had to face Hashem with that unresolved dispute ben adam lehavero – between man and his friend.

Over the next few days, please take an opportunity. Pick up the phone and make the call to a family member, a neighbor, an old friend who might have been hurt by something you said or did, I guarantee you will feel it is the right thing to do. It will also help bring out all the blessings Hashem has in store for you this coming year.

May we all appreciate the amazing gift of Yom Kippur and teshuvah that Hashem gave to us. May we take advantage of this wonderful opportunity to get closer to Hashem and our fellow Jew and make a complete atonement for all our sins. And may we bring on all the beautiful blessings of health, happiness, success for all of B’nei Yisrael! Amen!

Shabbat Shalom and Tizku Leshanim Rabot!

Rabbi Amram Sananes as written by Jack Rahmey

Discussion Points:

  • Do we take advantage of the Aseret Yemei Teshuvah to do teshuvah when Hashem is near?

  • Is there someone we wronged who we need to ask for forgiveness before Yom Kippur?

Le’ilui Nishmat....

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