Parashat Vayelech / Yom Kippur
Dedicated for the Refuah Shelemah of Moshe ben Rachel, Yehudah ben Rachel, Miriam bat Rachel, Leah bat Rachel, Daniel ben Rachel, and Rav Eliyah Dov Ben Chavah Esther
Parashat Vayelech/Yom Kippur
The Jealousy Of Moshe Rabbenu
This week, in Parashat Vayelech, Hashem informed Moshe of the sad news that “The day of your death is approaching (31:14).” Moshe Rabbenu did not want to die, and on that last day, he wrote 13 Torah scrolls, one for each tribe plus a master copy that would remain in the Ark. Moshe reasoned, “Since I am occupying myself with Torah which is the source of life, the day will pass and the decree that I am to die will be nullified.”
Rabbi Frand quotes a midrash that says that Hashem instructed Moshe to call Yehoshua. Moshe offered Hashem a deal. “Let Yehoshua take over my role and lead the Jewish people but allow me to live.” Hashem responded, “If so, you will have to relate to Yehoshua as he related to you. He will be the leader, and you will be his disciple.” Moshe agreed to this offer. He went to Yehoshua’s house (as opposed to the former arrangement that Yehoshua came to him). From there they both went into the Tent of Meeting – Yehoshua as the Rav and Moshe as the disciple. The Shechina descended and spoke to Yehoshua. When the Shechina left, Moshe asked Yehoshua “What Word came to you?”
Asking such a question for the first time in his life must have been a most humbling experience for Moshe. Yehoshua answered, “When the Word came to you, did I know what was spoken to you?” This was a very gentle way of telling Moshe “It is none of your business. I am the Rabbi, and you are the disciple now.”
The midrash concludes that at that moment, Moshe began to scream, “Let me die 100 times rather than suffer this pang of jealousy that I am now feeling.” He was envious of Yehoshua. How is that possible? We are taught that a person is jealous of everyone except for his son and his student (Sanhedrin 105b).
Chiddushei Harim says that if I am a Rabbi and my son becomes a Rosh Yeshivah, I will not be jealous; I will be proud of him. If he becomes far more successful than I ever was, I will take it in stride and with pride. However, if he takes MY job, if I am forced into retirement, and he takes over my congregation or my yeshivah, that is hard to take, even from a disciple and or a son.
Rabbi Frand continues, saying that Moshe Rabbenu was 120 years old, about to die. And yet, he, himself, felt that he was being gripped with envy. He himself admit that the emotion he felt was worse than one hundred deaths. We see from here that if anyone ever claims, “I am too old to be jealous,” or “I am above that already” – don’t believe him. We are never finished with the challenge of being jealous – until we are in the grave. At least Moshe recognized it and admitted it. He was sensitive enough and wise enough to feel it and to declare “I don’t want any part of it!” We must be strong like Moshe Rabbenu, not just to pretend to overcome jealousy, but to admit to it and try to run away from it.
The wonderful Holiday of Yom Kippur is approaching. Hashem, who created us and knows what makes us tick the way a watchmaker knows the intricacies of a watch, knows that as human beings, we are fallible and will sin. Still, Hashem gave us the incredible gift of Yom Kippur and teshuvah—repentance in His great mercy. We must take advantage of this gift and pray for Hashem to forgive us, wipe our slate clean from last year’s sins, and grant us another year of life.
It does not matter how distant one may be. This is the day to put all grudges aside. As Charlie Harary once explained, Yom Kippur is a day to be alone with your Dad in Heaven. It is a day He clears out the things that separate you from Him—food, comfort, routine, failures, insecurities, and grudges. He strips us down to the real us, the soul underneath all the clutter. One day a year, G-d says, “Come home. Be with Me for a day. Talk to Me for real.”
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 machzor 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 Chaim.
Rabbi Akiva says in the Mishnah Yoma, “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… Just as a Mikveh purifies the contaminated, so does Hashem purify Israel (8:9).” Rabbi Akiva is saying that just as one may submerge his whole body in a Mikveh to be purified, it is also beneficial to be sprinkled with the pure water. This means that if we take it upon ourselves to make small changes each year, it will tremendously impact our growth throughout our lifetime. Small, subtle changes will lead to big ones.
We may not be able to commit to never speaking lashon hara again, but we may be able to stop ourselves at certain hours of the day or make other pledges for slow growth. Whether deciding to refrain from LH or to wear a kippah at work, small changes can be just as purifying as any big ones and likely even more successful. Rav Shach, a gadol hador, once publicly committed to saying birkat hamazon from a siddur instead of by heart. We all have ways to improve ourselves; we have to think, and we’ll find them.
Ben Adam LeMakom
Rabbi David Ashear told 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 daily. One day, a student, overcome with curiosity, went into his rabbi’s private space and hid in a closet. The rabbi came in and proceeded to lower himself to the floor, crying, “Chatati, 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. “Why do you beg Hashem for forgiveness every day in such an intense fashion?” He asked.
Rav Saadia explained that once on his travels, he stopped at the home of a very kindhearted Jew. The host was generous and hospitable, offering the rabbi meals and a room. When morning came, Rav Saadia warmly thanked him and went on his way.
Suddenly, a few minutes later, Rav Saadia saw his host running after him, throwing himself on the floor and begging 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. I would have shown 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, and I become filled with guilt. I would have served Hashem with much more respect and care if I had known. So each day, I have to beg Hashem for forgiveness, for not treating Him properly the day before.”
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 can 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 had grounds for a grievance against someone, he would repeatedly pass by the wrongdoer, making himself available to him to appease him and ask forgiveness.
Once, Rav Zeira was offended by a particular butcher, and the butcher had not yet come by to ask forgiveness. So on the day before Yom Kippur, the rabbi went to the butcher to make himself noticed to catalyze a reconciliation. When the butcher saw him, he said, “Go away; I have nothing to discuss with you!” as he broke the bones of an animal’s head. A cracked bone hit him in the throat, and the butcher died on the spot! The story teaches that when you have the chance to make peace with a friend, take advantage of the opportunity! The butcher had to face Hashem with that unresolved dispute ben adam lechavero – between man and his friend.
Over the next few days, please take this opportunity. Don’t wait until the last minute. Pick up the phone and make the call to a family member, a neighbor, or 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.
Will Dad Want Me?
Every day in the Amidah, we recite a blessing about teshuvah. The prayer ends with “Hashem Harotzeh b’teshuvah—Hashem desires repentance.” We repeat these words so often during the year that they may lose their impact. These words do not mean that the Almighty will just accept our repentance but that He wants our repentance. His desire for us to return to Him is so enormous that as long as we make even a minimal effort, He will be waiting there to take us back.
Rabbi Frand told a story about a boy who finished high school and told his parents he wanted to see the world, which is quite typical of youth. His father told him, “No, I want you to start college.” The boy would not accept his father’s advice. “I need to see what the rest of the world is like. I want to travel.” The father told his son, “If you leave, don’t bother coming back. You can start college now, or leave this house and keep going because you will never be welcome again.” The boy decided to leave anyway.
He left his home in Maryland and began hitchhiking across America. He did odd jobs here and there to keep himself going. After some time, the boy became homesick. He missed his parents. He missed home. He started hitchhiking back to the east coast. He got as far as Iowa, sat down on a curb, and wrote a letter home. “Dear Mom, I’m tired. I’m hungry. I’m lonely. I want to come home. But I don’t know if Dad will let me home. Mom, the train passes an apple tree near the tracks by our house. If Dad lets me come back, please tie a white cloth around a branch of that tree. I’ll get on the train, look for the apple tree, and check. If Dad still feels the same way and there’s no white cloth, I’ll know I can’t come home.”
The boy boarded a passenger train and started heading home. As the train approached the tree, he became terribly nervous. Would there be a cloth there? As it came closer and closer, he turned to the man sitting next to him on the train and said, “Please do me a favor. We’re going to pass a farm with an apple tree right near the tracks. I am going to close my eyes. Please tell me if white fabric is wrapped around a branch on that tree. I’m too nervous to look myself.” He was so scared that it wouldn’t be there. He sat with his eyes tightly shut as the train passed the tree. The man said, “Son, there is a white cloth around every branch on that tree.” The father clearly could not wait for his son to come home.
This is what “Hashem desires repentance” means. Hashem wants us back passionately, just like any father who may have had disagreements with his son, if not more.
May we strive to run away from jealousy like Moshe Rabbenu, who gave up going to Eretz Yisrael to not be plagued with such a feeling. 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 make a complete atonement for all our sins. May we all realize deep in our hearts that Hashem is our King and the ultimate judge, but He is also our Father in Heaven who will always be there for us no matter how desperate we think our situation may be. There is no predicament that we as individuals or as a nation can be in that Hashem can't save us from. There’s no financial or health issue He can’t conquer; all we have to do is pray and shed tears that will break through the Heavens, and Hashem will surely answer, inscribing us in the Book of Life, Success and Good Health! Amen!
Shabbat Shalom and Tizku Leshanim Rabot!
Rabbi Amram Sananes, written by Jack Rahmey
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