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Monday, August 21, 2006

Shaarei Teshuva XIII

Sorry it took me a while to get to the next segment. I haven't quite found the time to do this properly lately...

ד ועוד התבונן ברעת המתאחר מן התשובה כי רבה היא, כי לולא התמהמה כי עתה שב איש נאנח במרירות לב ברגזה ובדאגה ודלפה עינו מתוגה, כי יפגשהו יצרו שנית ויזדמן החטא לידו יכבוש את יצרו ויזכור אשר עברה עליו כוס המרירות ולא יוסיף לשתותו עוד, כמו שנאמר (תהלים ד, ה): "רגזו ואל תחטאו" - באורו: רגזו והצטערו על אשר חטאתם ואל תחטאו עוד! כי הזכיר חטאם למעלה (פסוק ג) באמרו: "תבקשו כזב סלה". ויעיד על זה הפירוש אמרו "רגזו" מלשון: "אל תרגזו בדרך" (בראשית מה, כד); "ותחתי ארגז" (חבקוק ג, טז), וענינם הצער על הדבר שעבר ועל ההווה, ולא אמר "יראו" או "גורו". וכאשר יאחר לשוב, בבא החטא לידו יפול במוקשו כנפול בתחלה, ויגדל עוונו האחרון מאד, ותעלה רעתו לפני השם, כי מראשית לא חשב כי פתאום יבוא היצר השודד עליו אך אחרי אשר ראה דלות כחו ואשר גברה יד יצרו עליו וכי עצום הוא ממנו, היה עליו לראות כי פרוע הוא ולשית עצות בנפשו להוסיף בה יראת ה' ולהפיל פחדו עליה ולהצילה ממארב יצרו ולהשתמר מעונו. ואמר שלמה עליו השלום (משלי כו, יא): "ככלב שב על קאו כסיל שונה באולתו" - ביאורו, כי הכלב אוכל דברים נמאסים, וכאשר יקיאם נמאסים יותר והוא שב עליהם לאכלם, כן ענין הכסיל, כי יעשה מעשה מגונה וכאשר ישנה בו מגונה יותר, כאשר בארנו.

"And also ponder the severity of delaying Teshuva, how great it is, for if delays not, rather repents now, groaning in bitterness of heart in anguish and concern, and eyes shedding tears from misery, when his Yetzer will encounter him a second time, and the opportunity for sin presents itself again, he would conquer his Yetzer, and recall that the cup of bitterness had passed over him as well, and he would not partake of it anymore, as it says: "Be anguished and do not sin" - meaning: Be anguished and pained due to your sinning, and sin no more! For he mentions their sin earlier: "You seek out falsehood constantly".

And testimony to this explanation is provided by the use of the term "Rigzu", similar to "Do not (bicker in) anguish ("Tirgezu") on the way"; "And in my place I am in anguish ("Ergaz"), and their meaning is one of pain over the past and present, and it does not say "be afraid" or "be frightened".

And when he procrastinates his repentance, when the sin will come upon him again, he will fall into its trap just as he fell initially, and his latest sin will be very magnified, and his bad deed will come before Hashem, becuase he initially did not think that the Yetzer bandit would come upon him suddenly. But after he saw the meagerness of his strength, and that the hand of the Yetzer had overcome him, and that it is more powerful than him, he should have realized that he is exposed, and to place counsel for his soul, to add Yiras Hashem to it and to place His fear upon it, to save it from the ambush of his Yetzer and to protect it from his sin.

And Shlomo HaMelech Alav HaShalom said - "Like a dog returning to his vomit so is a person repeating his folly" - meaning, the dog eats disgusting things, and when he vomits them they become even more repulsive, and he still returns to eat it. So is the manner of the fool, that he does a repugnant act and when he repeats it, it is even more repugnant, as we explained."
This is a very important segment in Rabbeinu Yonah. It underscores the obligation upon a person to be cognizant that he is in an ongoing battle with his Yetzer, and it requires strategizing. בתחבולות תעשה לך מלחמה -"With stratagems you shall wage war for yourself".
If a person sins, it is not enough to just think - "I sinned, I'll try not to do it again". That's like a general in an army, after suffering a rout in battle, not studying what went wrong, but just saying - "Well, its too bad. Next time I'll do better." An attitude like that gets the general demoted! He has to pore over the battle plans, assess his capabilities, strengths and weaknesses, and actually think how he will defeat his enemy next time! If he loses - there was a root cause! Determine what it is! Don't let it just happen.
Here, Rabbeinu Yonah is talking about a loss where the key element in favor of the enemy was exploitation of a heretofore unknown weakness - a chink in the armor. Like, we shouldn't know from things like that anymore, a 9/11 attack. Who ever expected something like that to happen? Nobody did. But after it did happen, the number one responsibility was to shore up the defenses in the aviation arena.
To fortify ourselves against another sneak attack, a person has to realize that if he sinned - that indicates that an exposed flank was exploited. The first step to protecting that flank is to fortify it. How does one do that? By motivating oneself to place guards there - and that is done by feeling the pain and anguish of that loss. If the attack doesn't bother you too much - you won't be watching it next time it is attacked. So, one must do Teshuvah right away for a sin - or the weak spot remains exposed.
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Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Shaarei Teshuvah XII

ג ולא ימצא איחור התשובה זולתי בעמי הארץ, אשר הם ישנים שוכבים ולא ישיבו אל לבבם, ולא דעת ולא תבונה להם למהר להמלט על נפשם. ויש מהם נדחים מעל השם ברוך הוא ולא יאמינו לעונש החטא. ואמרו רבותינו זכרונם לברכה (ברכות יט א): אם ראית תלמיד חכם שעבר עבירה בלילה אל תהרהר אחריו ביום, כי באמת עשה תשובה.

"And one will not find delay of Teshuvah except by the Amei HaAretz, who are sleeping, lying down, and they do not instill into their hearts, and they have neither the intelligence nor the understanding to make haste and escape for their lives. And some of them are distanced from Hashem, and they do not believe in the retribution for sin. And Chazal say - 'If you've seen a Talmid Chacham who violated an Aveirah at night, do not think badly of him in the day, for he has truly repented"

Delaying Teshuvah on sins which we know we have done is only by people who are not spiritually focused. If their thoughts were, consistently, geared toward spiritual pursuit, they would immediately regret the Aveirah and resolve not to do it again.

Virtually everyone lapses here and there - they doze off spiritually and fall into sin. But the quality of the Am HaAretz vs. the Talmid Chacham, in this context, is that the Am HaAretz sleeps lying down. That means he's not just caught snoozing - he's crawled under the blanket to take a good shluf. That's when the individual becomes desensitized to his shortcomings, and does nothing to repair the breaches in his wall of observance.

These people may even intellectually know what they need to do, but it is not part of their Avodah to actually get that into their consciousness. They may have וידעת היום , but the והשבות אל לבבך is lacking - as Rabbeinu Yonah says. I think it was the Kotzker Rebbe who said that the distance between וידעת היום and והשבות אל לבבך is like the distance between Heaven and Earth - there's alot of travel time.

A Rebbe of mine remarked, that in order to get something from your mind into your heart, one of the things you have to do is loosen your tie - or you'll choke off the pathway between them. While I think he meant this slightly diffferently, (in that you have to let your inner self come through to receive the intellectual data and mesh it with your soul - and not be too 'cerebral'), I'll borrow the metaphor and say that I can't be sitting in my suit and tie at my mahogany desk, and have a white-collar kind of attitude toward my Avodah. It will take some blue-collar effort - straining to build the spiritual muscle needed to maintain our connection to the Ribbono Shel Olam.

אין הדבר תלוי אלא בי
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Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Shaarei Teshuva XI

ואמרו רבותינו זכרונם לברכה על הענין הזה (קהלת רבה ז, לב): משל לכת של לסטים שחבשם המלך בבית האסורים, וחתרו מחתרת, פרצו ויעבורו ונשאר אחד מהם. בא שר בית הסוהר וראה מחתרת חתורה והאיש ההוא עודנו עצור, ויך אותו במטהו. אמר לו: קשה יום! הלא המחתרת חתורה לפניך ואיך לא מהרת המלט על נפשך?
"And our Rabbis of Blessed memory said on this matter (Kohelles Rabbah 7:32): A parable, of a group of robbers who were incarcerated by the king, and they dug a tunnel, breached and passed through, while one of them remained. The warden came and saw that that there is a tunnel which was dug, and that man was still in jail! He struck him with his staff, and he said :"Ne'er-do-well! The tunnel is dug in front of you, how did you not quickly escape?"
This parable has always bothered me. It would seem to be an even more exacerbated rebellion against the king to escape from jail. I mean, this was illegal. How can that be compared to missing the opportunity to do Teshuvah?
I'm still not certain of the answer. But perhaps the meaning is, that in reality Teshuvah is not something which makes any sense, as we mentioned earlier in the series. How can we erase a deed which was already done? And yet, we are granted this "illegal" escape route - we should take advantage of it.
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Monday, August 14, 2006

Shaarei Teshuva X

ב ודע, כי החוטא כאשר יתאחר לשוב מחטאתו יכבד עליו מאד ענשו בכל יום, כי הוא יודע כי יצא הקצף עליו ויש לו מנוס לנוס שמה, והמנוס הוא התשובה, והוא עומד במרדו והנו ברעתו, ובידו לצאת מתוך ההפכה, ולא יגור מפני האף והחמה, על כן רעתו רבה.
"And know, that the sinner, when he delays repenting for his sin, his punishment weighs more heavily on him each day, because he knows that there is wrath upon him, and he has a refuge to escape to, and that refuge is Teshuvah, and he remains in his rebelliousness and is still in his wickedness, and it is in his hand to get out of the rubble, and he has no fear of the anger and wrath, therefore his wickedness is great."
After dedicating the opening paragraph to words of encouragement, the carrot, if you will, Rabbeinu Yonah now turns to the stick. This is really the second derivative of his opening statement that Teshuvah is "among the good things that G-d did for his creations". Delaying use of that gift is hurtful.
This paragraph is harsh. After I sin, I usually feel bad about it, but in my mind, after a while, the pangs of conscience get weaker, and fade away. And I assume that that is how the Ribbono Shel Olam relates to it - at the moment of sin, it is severe, but He puts it into the minus column in my tally book, and "gets over it". But Rabbeinu Yonah is saying that that mental image is wrong. Hashem's anger has been kindled, and the fact that He does not punish me is a constant restraint of His anger, כביכול. When we say in Davening of Rosh HaShanah אין שכחה לפני כסא כבודך - "There is no forgetfullness before Your Throne of Glory", that does not only mean that everything is recorded, but that the deleterious impact of the Aveirah upon the relationship between myself and the Ribbono Shel Olam has not subsided at all.

This is reminiscent of what Rabbeinu Yonah says in his commentary to Massechet Avos (3:1):
[This is one of the most terrifying pieces of Mussar you will read. You have been warned:]

ולפני מי אתה עתיד ליתן דין וחשבון - שהנבראים לא נבראו אך לירא את ה'. כי איך יחטא האדם אם יחשוב לפני מי עתיד ליתן דין וחשבון ויותר על הפורענות והנסיון שיהיה לו על חטאיו כי יתבייש בשת גדול. משל למלך שנכנס אדם לפניו אם ימצאהו מרמה במעשיו או משקר דבריו הלא יתבייש בשת גדול. על אחת כמה וכמה לפני מלך מלכי המלכים הקב"ה גם כי בהתבייש הנפש אחר שנתפרדה מן הגוף הבושת ההיא גדולה מהבושת בעודנה שמה כי טבע הגוף משכח וכי יעשה האיש דבר כיעור ויתבייש עליו מבני אדם לשנה או לשנתים ישכח הדבר וילך הבושה מעליו וגם כי לא ישכח מלבו. יהיה הדבר ישן נושן והוסרה קצת הבושה כי טבע השכחה שבגוף מתערב עם טבע הנפש וכי אינו יכול להתגבר עליו לשכוח הדבר לגמרי על כל פנים יתגבר עליו להתיישן הדבר שהוא קצת השכחה שמסיר רוב הבושה אך בהיות הנפש לבדה אין שכחה לפניה כי כלה ברה וזכה ואין שום טבע מהגשמים בתוכה. ושמתביישת לפני מלך מלכי המלכים הקב"ה. לעולם ולעולמי עד תעמוד בבושה באותה שעה שהיתה עומדת לפניו וכמו הפעם ההוא תעמוד מבוישת לעולם וזהו שאמרו רז"ל אוי לה לאותה בושה אוי לה לאותה כלימה לכן על כל פנים המעלה על לבו דברים אלה לא יבא לידי עבירה:
"And before Whom are you destined to give an accounting - Hashem's creations were created for the sole purpose of fear of G-d. For how can a person sin if he thinks before whom he is destined to give an accounting? And even more so, if he thinks about the punishment and tribulation he will have for his sins, for he will be very shamed. This is comparable to a king, where if someone comes before him, and the king finds that he is being deceitful in his actions, or lying in his words - he will certainly be greatly ashamed. Certainly before the King of Kings, HaKadoah Baruch Hu. Also, when the soul is shamed after it separates from the body, that shame is greater than when it is still there, for the nature of the body is to forget, and when a person does something turpid, and he is embarrassed in front of other people, after a year or two [Now its MUCH less than that] the matter will be forgotten and the shame will dissipate. And even if the matter itself is not forgotten from his own heart, the matter will become stale, and the shame will have subsided somewhat, for the nature of forgetfulness of the body meshes with the nature of the soul, and if it cannot overcome it to forget the matter completely, nevertheless it will overcome it to the extent that it makes the matter old, which is the bit of forgetfulness which removes the majority of the shame. But when the soul is alone, there is no forgetfulness for it, for it is all clear and pure, there is none of the nature of the physical in it. And when it is shamed before G-d, it will retain that same shame that it had at the moment it stands before G-d, for all eternity! And that is what Chazal said "Woe to that shame, woe to that humiliation." Therefore, one who brings these words to his consciousness will not come to sin."
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Saturday, August 12, 2006

Shaarei Teshuva IX

והוזהרנו על התשובה בכמה מקומות בתורה, והתבאר, כי התשובה מקובלת גם כי ישוב החוטא מרוב צרותיו, כל שכן אם ישוב מיראת השם ואהבתו, שנאמר (דברים ד, ל): "בצר לך ומצאוך כל הדברים האלה באחרית הימים ושבת עד ה' אלהיך ושמעת בקולו". והתבאר בתורה, כי יעזור ה' לשבים כאשר אין יד טבעם משגת ויחדש בקרבם רוח טהורה להשיג מעלת אהבתו, שנאמר (דברים ל, ב): "ושבת עד ה' אלהיך ושמעת בקולו ככל אשר אנכי מצוך היום אתה ובניך בכל לבבך ובכל נפשך". ואומר בגוף הענין (דברים ל, ו): "ומל ה' את לבבך ואת לבב זרעך" - להשיג אהבתו. והנביאים והכתובים דברו תמיד על דבר התשובה, עד כי באו עקרי התשובה כלם מפורשים בדבריהם כאשר יתבאר.

"And we are warned about Teshuva in a number of places in the Torah, and it is clear, that Teshuva is accepted even if the sinner repents due to his multitude of troubles, certainly if he repents out of fear of Hashem and love of Him, as it says: "When you are in distress, and all these things have befallen you, at the end of days, you will return unto Hashem your G-d, and hearken to His voice."
"And it explained in the Torah, that Hashem will aid those who repent when their natural abilities are unable to achieve, and he will create anew inside them a pure spirit to achieve the level of love for Him (alternatively: to comprehend the great achievement of loving Him) as it says: "And you will return unto Hashem your G-d, and listen to His voice, according to everything that I command you today, you and your children, with all your heart and all your soul." And it says in the matter (i.e. in the discussion of Teshuva in the Torah there) itself, "And Hashem will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring" - to achieve love of Him. And the Neviim and Kesuvim speak constantly on the matter of Teshuva, to the point that all the fundamentals of Teshuva are elucidated in their words, as will be explained."
Here, Rabbeinu Yonah is continuing to tell us not to despair of Teshuva, even if the conditions to our success seem to be adverse. In the previous section Rabbeinu Yonah told us that even if the depths of sin we have sunk to seem impossible to extricate ourselves from, we still have not forfeited the opportunity.
Now, Rabbeinu Yonah tells us that even if our motivation is not out of true recognition of the need for Teshuva, due to our fear or love of the Ribbono Shel Olam, but, rather, due to distress and suffering, it is still accepted. (This is a nice segui from the Gemara quoted yesterday, how Acher repented at his last breath.)
And, additionally, whatever we cannot achieve on our own, G-d will propel us forward, will give us a Hand. As the well known Medrash (Shir HaShirim Rabbah) states:
אמר הקב"ה לישראל בני פתחו לי פתח אחד של תשובה כחודה של מחט ואני פותח לכם פתחים שיהיו עגלות וקרניות נכנסות בו
"Hashem said to Yisrael, My sons, open for me one opening of Teshuva like the point of a needle, and I will open entranceways for you that wagons and chariots enter through".
However, we must start the process, as expressed in this Medrash. Rabbeinu Yonah says that Hashem will aid לשבים - those who repent. We cannot sit back and wait for Teshuva to just "happen".
In truth, much of this section in the Rabbeinu Yonah is quite a Chiddush. The Pessukim that he quotes seem to relate to: a)Klal Yisrael as a whole, not an individual trying to do Teshuva. b) The end of days. (The first Passuk says this explicitily, and the last two Pessukim, from Parshas Nitzavim, according to the Ramban, are a prophecy of Moshe that we will ultimately do Teshuva before the final Redemption.) Nevertheless, Rabbeinu Yonah opines that these Pessukim are just as applicable to individuals doing Teshuva at any time.
The Satmar Rebbe zt"l asks on a Passuk we read yesterday:
"ארץ אשר תמיד עיני ד' אלקיך בה מראשית השנה עד אחרית שנה"
"The Land upon which the eyes of Hashem are constantly, from the beginning of the year to the end of a year".
Why does it not say "The end of the year"? He answers, because every year at Rosh Hashanah, we decide, we make resolutions, to be better, to be different. This is the year! But, as the year drags on, we, all too often, realize - its just another year.
With Elul around the corner, we cannot afford that Hashem cast His eyes on Eretz Yisrael, once again, and sees that it was just another year.
May Hashem grant us the wherewithal to indeed make this year different. It is not too late:
תהא שנת סוף וקץ (לכל צרותינו) אכי"ר
May Klal Yisrael be Zocheh, indivually and as a whole, to return to their Father in Heaven, and in that merit may all of His, and our, enemies, be obliterated from the face of the earth.
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Friday, August 11, 2006

Shaarei Teshuva VIII

ואם הרבו לפשוע ולמרוד ובגד בוגדים בגדו, לא סגר בעדם דלתי תשובה
שנאמר (ישעיה לא, ו): "שובו לאשר העמיקו סרה". ונאמר (ירמיה ג, כב): "שובו בנים שובבים ארפה משובותיכם
"...as it states - 'Return, those who have become deeply enmeshed in turning away'. And it says "Return, children who have rebelliously strayed, I will cure your rebellion."
Here, Rabbeinu Yonah, as is his Mahalach throughout the Sefer, provides Pessukim from the Neviim to support his points. The Pessukim are of a לא זו אף זו (not only x, but even y) construct, as we have seen a few times already (Maaseihem/Pish'eihem; save from punishment/retract anger; callous/rebellious/treason).
The first Passuk refers to the people who are deeply enmeshed in sin. As we said, this is descriptive of the state of mind of a פושע - ("This is as a result of being so ensnared in sin as to develop a cognitive dissonance from the consequences."). They have gone into a deep-freeze in their relationship with the Ribbono Shel Olam, and they are callous. Hashem calls to them to return.
The second Passuk - שובו בנים שובבים - refers to those who are rebellious. The Radak explains the word שובבים as מורדים - even they are given the chance to be healed - ארפה משובתיכם.
But where are the people at the lowest level - the בוגדים? The people who have tasted the Divine experience and rejected it - as we said yesterday, the "Acher"s of the world?
Well, Acher just came into my head last night when I was composing yesterday's post as an example of who might meet this lowly stature, and tonight, I saw the Gemara in Chaggiga (15a):
שאל אחר את רבי מאיר לאחר שיצא לתרבות רעה: מאי דכתיב +איוב כ"ח+ לא יערכנה זהב וזכוכית ותמורתה כלי פז - אמר לו: אלו דברי תורה, שקשין לקנותן ככלי זהב וכלי פז, ונוחין לאבדן ככלי זכוכית. - אמר לו: רבי עקיבא רבך לא אמר כך, אלא: מה כלי זהב וכלי זכוכית, אף על פי שנשברו יש להם תקנה - אף תלמיד חכם, אף על פי שסרח יש לו תקנה. - אמר לו: אף אתה חזור בך! - אמר לו: כבר שמעתי מאחורי הפרגוד: שובו בנים שובבים - חוץ מאחר.
"Acher asked Rabbi Meir after he had gone off, what does it mean when it says - "It cannot be compared to gold and glass, nor be exchanged for fine-gold utensils"? (Rabbi Meir) said to him: 'these are the words of Torah, which are difficult to acquire like utensils of gold and fine-gold, and are as easily lost as a glass utensil'. He said to him: 'Akiva your Rebbe did not say so, rather: just like gold and glass utensils, if they break, they can be fixed, so too a Talmid Chacham, even though he spoiled, he can be rectified.' He said to him - 'You too, return!' He said to him: "I already heard behind the curtain: Return, sons who have rebelliously strayed - except for Acher."
It seems that there is some kind of hint in the Passuk, some kind of מיעוט - which excludes Acher from those who are offered the opportunity to do Teshuvah. Where is this exclusion? Apparently, Acher had heard that this Passuk was limited up to the penultimate level of depth of sin - "מרידה". But not "בגידה".
This is even more explicit in the version of this story as brought in Yalkut Shimoni to Koheles (974)
אמר ליה וכל הדא חכמתא אית בך ולית את חוזר בך, אמר ליה לית אנא יכיל, אמר ליה למה, אמר ליה פעם אחת הייתי רוכב על הסוס סמוך לכותל מערבי של בית המקדש, ושמעתי בת קול יוצאה מבית קדש הקדשים מפוצצת ואומרת שובו בנים שובבים חוץ מאחר שהיה יודע כחי ומרד בי
"(Rabbi Meir) said to him, 'you have all this wisdom and you do not repent?' He said: "I cannot". He said: "Why?". He said: "Once I was riding on a horse near the Western Wall of the Beis HaMikdash, and I heard a Heavenly Voice thundering: 'Return sons who have rebelliously strayed' except for Acher, who knew my power and rebelled against me.
So, we must ask then, how does Rabbeinu Yonah know that even the בוגדים like Acher can repent? Doesn't it say that he could not?
Tosfos in Chagigah there quotes a Yerushalmi, and it is brought down in that Yalkut Shimoni as well, that tells us 'the rest of the story':
לאחר ימים חלה אתון ואמרין ליה לרבי מאיר, אזל לגביה, אמר ליה חזור בך, אמר ליה עד כדו מקבלין, אמר ליה לאו הכי כתיב תשב אנוש עד דכא עד דכדוכה של נפש, באותה שעה זלגו עיניו דמעות, שמח רבי מאיר אמר דומה לי שמתוך תשובה נסתלק
"After some days, Acher became ill. They came and told R' Meir, he went to him, he said: 'Repent!'. He said to him - 'even at this point they accept?' He said: 'Doesn't it say 'You will bring a person until he is sapped of his strength (and You say, return, ye men)' - even to the point of the soul being crushed?' At that time his eyes shed tears. Rabbi Meir rejoiced and said: ' It seems he was removed from the world while repenting."
The Maharsha says in Chagiga there: "(Acher) should not have paid attention to that (Heavenly Voice), as Rabbi Meir told him when he was ill... and we say that there is nothing that stands before Teshuvah."
The Rambam (Hilchos Avodas Kochavim 2:5) says that an Apikores cannot do Teshuvah, and the Kesef Mishneh there brings the case of Acher as a proof. However, the Pri Chadash says that he does not understand why this would be a proof, since obviously Rabbi Meir felt he could do Teshuvah, and we pay no attention to a Bas Kol when it comes to Halachic matters!
The "lomdus" of the debate between Rabbi Meir and Acher seems, then, to revolve around whether Acher's predicament should be classified as a completely new grade below מרידה - and hence excluded from the Passuk of שובו בנים שובבים, which is limited to מרידה, or merely a particularly severe, treasonous, type of rebellion, and included in the term שובבים. While the Bas Kol may have held the former, this was a matter, apparently, in the domain of the Halachic decisors, and Rabbi Meir was of the opinion that it was the latter.
It seems that Rabbeinu Yonah understood that, L'Halachah, the conclusion of the story was that Acher did repent, R' Meir felt it would be accepted, and that even this type of severe מרידה - of the יודע כחי ומרד בי variety, which he terms בגידה , is indeed but a severe form of מרידה - not an entirely new category, and hence included in the opportunity granted in שובו בנים שובבים.
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Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Shaarei Teshuva VII

ואם הרבו לפשוע ולמרוד ובגד בוגדים בגדו, לא סגר בעדם דלתי תשובה, שנאמר (ישעיה לא, ו): "שובו לאשר העמיקו סרה". ונאמר (ירמיה ג, כב): "שובו בנים שובבים ארפה משובותיכם".

"And if they sinned many times, whether through carelessness, or rebelliousness, or treason, still He did not close the doors of Teshuva to them, as it states - 'Return, those who have become deeply enmeshed in turning away'. And it says "Return, children who have rebelliously strayed, I will cure your rebellion."

Rabbeinu Yonah goes through three states of sin of increasing severity:
a) פשע - this is serious in its own right. Of the three grades of sin that the Kohen Gadol refers to in his Vidui - חטא,עון,פשע - this is considered the worst.

We refer to a Shomer who was neglectful of his duty to guard the object as a פושע. Apparently, this word has a connotation of callous ignoring of the duty at hand, to the point of being indifferent to any consequence. This is worse than מזיד - which is intentional sin. That would mean that he is aware of what he is doing but too engrossed in the moment to consider the severity of what he is doing. A פשע is complete indifference - as if the whole matter does not relate to me, I have no responsibilities. He has erased the opening charge of the Mesillas Yesharim from his lexicon - חובת האדם בעולמו.

(This is as a result of being so ensnared in sin as to develop a cognitive dissonance from the consequences. Hence what Rabbeinu Yonah refers to earlier as "פח פשעיהם")

b) מרידה - rebellion. This seems to be someone who is יודע רבונו ומתכוון למרוד בו - "He knows his Master and intends to rebel against Him", as Rashi (Bereishis 10:9) refers to Nimrod and his ilk. These are people who have developed a desire to completely throw off the yoke of Avodas Hashem, and feel like they need to show Him that He has no dominion over them. G-d should 'get off their backs'. He cannot dictate to them what they should do. "I'll do what I want! Do something about it!"

We read about these people in last week's Parshah - ומשלם לשונאיו - "He pays back those who hate Him".

Rabbeinu Yonah (Shaar 3 sections 160-161) describes some of the people who are categorized as G-d haters.

(We can sometimes discern one of these types, cloaked in pseudo-concern for the welfare of the Jewish Nation):

"The category of G-d haters can be found sometimes also among people who do the Mitzvos and they are careful not to do any Aveirah in act and deed. If their soul feels bad, and in their heart it is difficult for them, when their friends learn Torah, and it is bad in their eyes when people serve G-d and fear Him - so just as you would say that a person who does not want that people should honor the king and serve him, that he hates the king, certainly if they've acted upon their evil thoughts in discouraging the heart of people from learning Torah and doing Mitzvos; and so too the people who do not "fargin" (untranslatable Yiddish word- it means they can't stand when others have something that they themselves don't) the honor accorded to Talmidei Chachamim who are upright and righteous, and they hate their crown of glory, or their hearts feel bad when unto them is given dominion over the generation... and certainly if they seek to denigrate their honor or humiliate them... all these are truly שונאי השם"

These people rebel against G-d. They seek to see a world in which His service, and the honor accorded His loyal servants, be diminished.

c) בגידה - treason. This is the lowest level. This is a person who was given a certain closeness to the King, had built a relationship of trust with Him, and turned around and stabbed Him in the back. This is being showered with love and bounty, and reciprocating with a slap in the face.

This is descriptive of a person who has tasted that sublime bliss, that elusive experiential element of Yahadus which propels us to greater heights, and has abused it. People like Acher - who were granted great talent and were blessed with achievement, and turned around and threw it away.

Yet, even these people have the opportunity to do Teshuvah.
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Shaarei Teshuva VI

ולמדם והזהירם לשוב אליו כי יחטאו לו, לרוב טובו וישרו כי הוא ידע יצרם, שנאמר (תהלים כה, ח): "טוב וישר ה' על כן יורה חטאים בדרך"
"...And he taught them and warned them to return to Him when they sin toward Him, because of His goodness and uprightness, because He knows their Yetzer, as it says (Tehillim 25:8): 'Good and upright is Hashem; therefore He guides the sinners on the path'"
A number of comments:
1) I translated למדם as "taught" them, but I think that perhaps a more apt translation would be "prodded". This is based on what the Navi (Shoftim 3:31) calls a מלמד הבקר - a cattle prod.
[This gives us a clue on what the ultimate role of a מלמד - a teacher - is. It is to prod the student to take the path that we place before him.]
Rabbeinu Yonah is expanding on the idea of תכין לך הדרך which we talked about earlier - this prodding, cajoling, is another dimension of guiding us on the path toward Teshuva.
2) Along the same lines, הזהירם was translated as "warned", but, in reality, this word comes from the word זוהר - illumination. [זהירות - being careful, really means to be mindful - to illuminate your mind - 'to turn your brain on']. Hashem provided lampposts for us to illuminate the road to repentance even when it would have remained dark due to our wandering into some of the gloomiest parts of the forest of sin.
Those lampposts are saying -"Here! This is the way to go! Take this path!"
This is what is meant by Hashem "warning us" - it is a huge neon sign, blaring: "THIS WAY!"
3) We understand how Teshuva is an expression of the "goodness" of Hashem - but how is it part of his Yashrus? Don't we normally associate Yashrus with following the letter of the law, and "goodness" with the willingness to go beyond it? And haven't we said that Teshuva is something which is not really part of what our 'just desserts' should be?
Yerushalmi to Masseches Makkos, second Perek:
אמר רבי פינחס טוב וישר למה הוא טוב שהוא ישר ולמה הוא ישר שהוא טוב על כן יורה חטאים בדרך שמורה דרך תשובה
"R' Pinchas said - why is He good - for He is upright, and why is He upright - for He is good, 'therefore he guides sinners on the path' - that He teaches the path to Teshuva."
The Gemara seems to say that these two elements mesh, and the boundaries blur, when it comes to Teshuva. Yes, we know that we are undeserving of this opportunity. But at the same time, as Rabbeinu Yonah says - הוא ידע יצרם - He knows that our Evil Inclination provides with challenges each moment anew, and that it is a formidable foe. Yet, we are not given tests we cannot pass. Then again, there is no Tzaddik who goes through life sin-free.
It is an expression of Hashem's goodness, in that He considers it the "right" thing to do, to give us this opportunity.
This sentiment is, in essence, the Netziv's portrayal of the Avos in their role of Yesharim, in his famous Preface to Bereishis:
"היו עמם באהבה וחשו לטובתם באשר היא קיום הבריאה"
"They were with (the Nations) with love, and they were concerned for their well-being, as that maintains the existence of the world."
This is how Hashem relates to Teshuva - it is goodness, pure unadulterated goodness, that Hashem considers it, K'vayachol, the upright thing to do - as it is, ultimately, Kiyum HaB'riah.
4) Finally, fascinatingly, Rabbeinu Yonah quotes the Passuk from Tehillim above as the proof text for his first idea in the Sefer - of Hashem kindly guiding us along the road to Teshuva.
That same Yerushalmi, immediately prior to that statement of R' Pinchas, says -
תני ר' ליעזר בן יעקב או' מקלט מקלט כתיב בפרשת דרכים כדי שיהא הרוצח רואה את הכתוב והולך אמר רבי אבון כמין יד היתה מראה להן את הדרך
"A Beraisa: R' Eliezer ben Yaakov says, 'Miklat','Miklat' it would say on the crossroads, so that the murderer will see what is written and go. Rabbi Abun said - a form of a hand would show them the way"
The Yerushalmi is saying that this Passuk of טוב וישר ד' על כן יורה is referring to:
a) The guiding of a murderer to the city of refuge
b) The guiding of a sinner on the path to Teshuvah.
(Rashi on that Passuk in Tehillim quotes these two explanations.)
All of this is encapsulated by Rabbeinu Yonah's words, echoing what the Torah writes in regard to an Ir Miklat:
הכין להם הדרך
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Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Does Every Generation Have Torah Leadership?

In my post here, I said, "I fully believe in the words of Chazal that HaKadosh Baruch Hu provides each and every generation with top-caliber Torah leadership."

In the comments section to that post, I was challenged to find a source for this assertion. Ultimately, the source I provided was inconclusive.

Well, here's what I found in the preface of the Mabit to his Sefer Beis Elokim:

"And also hinted in that which the Medrash says - 'Zeh Sefer Toldos Adam - this teaches us that Hashem showed Adam each and every generation (Dor Dor) its exhorters, each generation and its wise men, each generation and its leaders' - that just as the primary product of a man are his Torah and Maasim Tovim, so too his primary offspring, and their product, are the Torah and Maasim Tovim of his offspring. And therefore they said "each generation and its exhorters", because the Amei HaAretz are not called the product of Adam, only the exhorters the wise men, and the leaders, and similarly those who heed them. And that which it says "Dor Dor" and not "Dor V'Dorshav, Dor VaChachamav etc." is to hint that Hashem will not abandon His Nation in any generation without exhorters, wise men, and leaders, or at least two of these, or one of these. In each and every generation consecutively, there will never be any generation which will not have shepherds."
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Monday, August 07, 2006

Shaarei Teshuva V

...ולנוס מפח פשעיהם, לחשוך נפשם מני שחת ולהשיב מעליהם אפו

"... to escape the snare of their sins, to spare their souls from the Depths, (yeah, that place) and to turn away His wrath from them"
Here Rabbeinu Yonah tells us about the phenomenal טובה that Teshuva is. By right, a person who sins should in the Presence of the A-mighty should be punished on the spot. And certainly, there doesn't seem to be any logical way to explain how a person can undo a misdeed.
The Mesillas Yesharim (at the end of the fourth Perek) writes:
"Based on the actual letter of the law, it would have been proper for a sinner to be punished for his sin immediately with no delay at all, and that punishment itself should have been delivered with a fury, as is befitting one who disobeys the word of the Creator, and that there should be no rectification of that sin at all. Because, behold, the truth is, how can a person rectify that which he has distorted and the sin that he has already performed? If a person murders another, or if he commits adultery, how can he rectify such a thing? Can he delete the action which was done from reality?
However, the Attribute of Mercy is what dictates the antitheses of the three items we mentioned, namely: that time be given the sinner and he not be wiped off the earth as soon as he sins, and that the punishment itself is not to the point of destruction, and that (the opportunity for) Teshuvah be given to the sinners..."
This piece from the Mesillas Yesharim echoes what Rabbeinu Yonah is telling us here. Teshuva is not only a device which removes the punishment which awaits us had we not not repented, but it completely removes the anger and disappointment which result from the misdeed, to the point where the relationship has been repaired.
We know, in our interpersonal relationships, and even with our own children, they can occasionally do something which is deserving of retribution, perhaps say something which is deeply hurtful to us. If they express remorse, we can find it within our capabilities to not punish them. But repairing the relationship can take alot of time, effort, open communication, and patience.
Here, it is the Melech HaOlam who accords us that opportunity.
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Shaarei Teshuva IV

מן הטובות אשר היטיב השי"ת עם ברואיו כי הכין להם הדרך לעלות מתוך פחת מעשיהם ולנוס מפח פשעיהם

"... the way to climb up from the pit of their deeds and to escape from the snare of their sins"
Rabbeinu Yonah here gives two metaphors for the predicament of someone who has sinned:
1) Falling into a pit
2) Ensnared in a trap
Rabbeinu Yonah is telling us that there are two primary ways that a person falls into sin:
1) How does one fall into a pit? By not paying attention to where he is walking. He is engrossed in his own thoughts, in his own world, and does not look at the ground to make sure that he is not about to fall into a pit. This is how we are. We just walk through life, not paying attention to the path we are treading, to make sure that we do not fall into the pitfalls that the Yetzer digs for us. These types of sins are referred to by Rabbeinu Yonah as "Maaseihem", "their deeds". These are missteps, that had we paid more attention, we would have avoided them. Inadvertently hurting someone else, not being meticulous enough about Hilchos Shabbos, usually falls into this category.

It is for this type of sin that Chazal instituted, or a person may sometimes impose on himself, "Gedarim", "fences". They are what keeps a person at a safe distance from the potential pitfalls which life has in store.
2) How does one get caught in a snare? By being attracted to the bait. Sometimes the lure of the sin is too great for us to overcome - though we know intellectually that HaKadosh Baruch Hu does not tempt us with more than we can handle - and he gives us these tests in order to refine ourselves - we still sometimes feel so overwhelmed by all of the temptations that the world has to offer, and find it difficult to resist. We knowingly violate things like Lashon Hara, or other temptations that we may consider "minor", because we are ensnared. Of course, we'll rationalize it away - but it is still what Rabbeinu refers to here as "Pisheihem" - "their criminal acts", because here the violation is done with some level of cognizance that it is wrong.
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Sunday, August 06, 2006

Shaarei Teshuva III

מן הטובות אשר היטיב השי"ת עם ברואיו כי הכין להם הדרך לעלות מתוך פחת מעשיהם ולנוס מפח פשעיהם

"... that he prepared for them the way to climb up..."

Two comments on this phrase:

1) Rabbeinu Yonah does not say that He "paved" the way or "created the way" to Teshuva. He says "Heichin". I translated this as "prepared", but this is really somewhat inaccurate. This phrase is borrowed from the Passuk (Devarim 19:3) regarding the cities of refuge, the Arei Miklat. The Passuk says "תכין לך הדרך" - "You shall establish the road for yourself." According to the Mishnah in Makkos (9b), this means that we must have roads leading from one city of refuge to another, to enable one who committed unintentional murder to easily reach one of the cities. The Rambam (Hil. Rotze'ach 8:5) adds:

וחייבין בית דין לכוון הדרכים לערי מקלט, ולתקן אותם ולהרחיבן; ומסירין מהן כל מכשול וכל תקלה, ואין מניחין בדרך לא תל,ולא גיא ולא נהר אלא עושין עליו גשר כדי שלא לעכב את הבורח לשם: שנאמר תכין לך הדרך
"Beis Din is obligated to guide the paths to the cities of refuge, and to mend them and widen them; And they remove all obstacles and stumbling blocks, and they do not leave a hillock in the road, nor a valley, nor a river, rather they make a bridge over it, so as not to hinder the one escaping there, as it says "Tachin L'cha HaDerech".
This means, then, that Hashem has smoothed out the path to Teshuva for us. It does require effort, certainly, but since every little bit of Teshuva does have an effect, and HaKadosh Baruch Hu does have an immense desire to have His children return to him, it is a process with less hindrances than we may think. (Rabbi Frand spoke about this at some length on one of the Chofetz Chaim Heritage Foundation Elul videos, post 9/11). As the Passuk writes (Devarim 30:14) - כי קרוב אליך הדבר מאוד, בפיך ובלבבך לעשותו - "For it is exceedingly close to you, in your mouth and in your heart, to do." According to the Ramban (brother-in-law of Rabbeinu Yonah) there, this is a reference to the Mitzvah of Teshuva.
In addition, the Gemara in Makkos (10b) says (and Rashi to the Passuk of "Tachin L'cha" quotes this is the simple explanation) -
מקלט היה כתוב על פרשת דרכים, כדי שיכיר הרוצח ויפנה לשם. אמר רב כהנא מאי קרא? תכין לך הדרך, עשה לך הכנה לדרך
"It would say "Miklat" at the crossroads, so that the murderer will recognize and turn to there. Rav Cahana said, what is the Passuk (for this)? "Tachin L'cha HaDerech" - make for youself a "preparation" for the road.
This means, transferring this idea to what Rabbeinu Yonah is saying here, that not only did Hashem give us the opportunity to do Teshuva, He also gave us a roadmap of how to go about it. In all of the twenty components of Teshuva which Rabbeinu Yonah delineates, he invariably quotes a Passuk as support for the idea that it is one which is mentioned by the Torah or the Neviim. Hashem did not let us grope blindly for ways to reapproach Him - He told us exactly how to do it. Indeed, a great טובה.
2) Rabbeinu Yonah says that Hashem prepared הדרך - not "a" way but "the" way - to climb up etc. and remove His anger.
Sometimes we think that all we need is to do more Mitzvos, and then we can somehow tilt the scales in our favor. While that may be true (though during the Aseres Y'mei Teshuva this is not be the case. Teshuva is needed to tip the scales then), the only way to eradiacte the effect of those Aveiros is by Teshuva. The Heavenly Cheshbon is not like a bank account, where, as long as the deposits outweigh the withdrawals, we're fine with the manager. There is reward for the positive and retribution for the negative. The only way to erase the negative is by Teshuva.
Elul draws closer, and as the casualties in Eretz Yisrael mount, Hashem Yerachem, we can use every little bit of Teshuva we can get to protect Klal Yisrael. May our efforts be accepted B'Ratzon.
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Saturday, August 05, 2006

Shaarei Teshuva II

Yesterday, we focused on the first part of the phrase:

"Min HaTovos Asher Heitiv Hashem Yisbarach Im Beru'av Ki Heichin Lahem HaDerech La'Alos Mitoch Pachas Ma'aseihem V'Lanus MiPach Pisheiheim".

Let's take a look at the next part: "עם ברואיו" - "With his creations".

Rabbeinu Yonah does not say "עם ישראל" - "With his Nation". Teshuva is effective for the Nations of the world as well. We see this from the story of Ninveh in Sefer Yonah, and this is also evidenced by the Rambam (Hilchos Teshuva 6) stating that Par'oh, due to his excessive sinning, lost his chance to do Teshuva - implying that generally non-Jews do have that avenue available.

However, in the Sefer "Beis Elokim" (Shaar HaTeshuva 13-14), after demonstrating that Teshuva is primarily for the Jewish Nation, the Mabi"t delineates 3 major differences between the effect of Teshuva for Bnei Yisrael vs. Teshuva for non-Jews:

a) Repentance done by Jews helps them in both this world and in the World to Come, whereas Teshuva done by the non-Jews helps them eschew punishment in this world, but does not accord them the same status as a חסיד אומות העולם who never trangressed any of the Seven Noahide Laws.

This is due to the relative ease of refraining from transgression of their seven commandments, as opposed to the myriad Mitzvos which we have, which afford a myriad of opportunities to blunder. In addition, the Beis Elokim points out that the entire concept of Teshuva is one of Divine Chessed, as the Rabbeinu Yonah stated at the outset, and He chose to give this kindness, at this level, to the children of the Avos who accepted the full gamut of Taryag Mitzvos.

It seems, however, that this is only true (for the non-Jews) of a Teshuva which stems from fear of punishment. However, a wholehearted complete Teshuva which emanates from a deep recognition of the worthiness of serving Hashem and performing His will, may very well accord even the non-Jew a clean slate and an opportunity to gain Olam Haba.

[I wonder if a non-Jew who does not feel up to this task would be better off converting, accepting the yoke of all the Mitzvos, and gaining the opportunity to start anew. Just a thought.]

b) The Gemara tells us (Yoma 86) that Teshuva done out of love for the A-mighty turns זדונות into זכויות - turns intentional transgression into merit. This power of Teshuvah is granted only to the Jewish people.

c) The Jewish Nation has a special power, in that the Teshuva of the רבים can be effective in "covering" for the individuals who do not do Teshuva - similar to the well-known concept of binding the tasteless and odorless ערבה together with the rest of the species - יבואו אלו ויכפרו על אלו - "let these come and provide atonement for the others. This is not true for the non-Jews. In the city of Ninveh, a central part of the Teshuvah campaign was to ensure that every single individual afflicted himself and repented.



While the task is daunting, let us be בשמחה over this opportunity accorded to us, just as a patient who was ill would be happy at the discovery of a cure to his ailment, even if he knew that the road to recovery was a difficult one. (R' Mattisyahu Salomon)

Shavua Tov.
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Friday, August 04, 2006

The Shaarei Teshuva Series I

I will begin posting, B'li Neder, a daily short piece from the Shaarei Teshuva of Rabbeinu Yonah, with some comments.

We should bear in mind that Shaarei Teshuvah was written by a Rishon, and as such, attention must be paid to nuance and structure as well.
The Sefer begins:

"Min HaTovos Asher Heitiv Hashem Yisbarach Im Beru'av Ki Heichin Lahem HaDerech La'Alos Mitoch Pachas Ma'aseihem V'Lanus MiPach Pisheiheim".

"Among the good things which Hashem Yisbarach bestowed upon his creations is that he prepared the way for them to climb up out of the pit of their deeds and to escape from the snare of their sins".

Rabbeinu Yonah begins his Sefer with an underscore of the need to recognize the gift that Teshuvah is. We will see, IY"H, that the capacity of Teshuva to restore a person to being exactly as he was before he sinned is a truly wondrous thing.

This opening statement of the Sefer is meant to arouse a sense of:

a) Hakaras HaTov for this gift, as all gifts should be recognized. This is one of the most basic elements of Avodas Hashem - gratitude. It forms the basis of the Chovos HaLevavos' rationale for why we serve Hashem - because we owe it to him due to the unending kindnesses he bestows upon us. R' Wolbe writes that this is the difference between a person who is "Dati" (his word) and one who is not - is his sense of Hakaras HaTov developed!

b) A sense of urgency that this gift be used. I recall, when I gave someone a gift certificate which would cover a meal for two at a fancy restaurant, as a token of gratitude for giving me a ride home from Yeshiva every day, I would ask him every so often if he had used it. Not just to satisfy my curiosity, though that was part of it, but it was sort of a gauge for me to see if I had given a gift that had "hit the spot", that was appreciated. If too long a time had gone by and that gift had gone unutilized, I guess I would have felt that it was a bit of a waste to give that gift.
(As an aside, I've heard of a fellow who gave his wife, as an anniversary gift, a burial plot right next to his. The next year, their anniversary came and went, and no gift was forthcoming. When she asked him whether he had forgotten that it was their anniversary, he deadpanned, "No, but you didn't use last year's gift yet!")
Hashem is waiting for us to use His gift of Teshuvah, which is a tool which enables us to grow closer in our relationship with Him. Delaying its use, as Rabbeinu Yonah will point out in the next paragraph, bears with it an apparent lack of gratitude that is displayed by an inalacritous implementation of it.
Let us start with some baby steps toward that goal today.
Good Shabbos.
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