Shuva 5769 – Gilayon #570


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Vayelech – Shabbat Teshuva

Gates, Locked and Unlocked

Rabbi Eliezer said: Since the destruction of the Temple, the

gates of prayer are locked, for it is written, Also when I cry out, He shuts

out my prayer (Lamentations 3:8). Yet though

the gates of prayer are locked, the gates of tears are not,

 for it is written, Hear

my prayer, O Lord, and give ear unto my cry, hold not your peace at my tears

(Psalms 39:13)

Rav Hisda said: All gates are locked, excepting the gates

[through which pass the cries of those suffering] wrongs, for it is written, Behold

the Lord stood by a wall of wrongs, and in his hand were the wrongs (Amos

7:7).

(Bava Metziya 59a)

 

Rabbi Hanina bar Papa asked Rav Shmuel bar Nahman: What is

the meaning of the verse, But as for me, let my prayers be unto You in an acceptable time (Psalms 69:14)?

He replied: The gates of prayer are sometimes open and

sometimes closed, but the gates of repentance always remained open.

He then asked him: Whence [do you know this]?

[Rav Shmuel replied:] Because it is written, You answered

us in righteousness with wondrous works, O God of our salvation; You [who are]

the confidence of all the ends of the earth, and of the far distant seas (Psalms

65: 6).

Just as the ritual bath is sometimes open and sometimes closed, so too are the

gates of prayer sometimes open and sometimes closed; but as the sea ever

remains open, so is the hand of God ever open to receive the penitent.

(Devarim Rabbah 2:12)

 

Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel said: There were no

better days for Israel than the fifteenth of Av and Yom Kippur.

Yom Kippur makes sense – it offers forgiveness

and atonement, [it is] the day when the second Tablets were given. But what is

there to the fifteenth of Av?

Rav Yehudah said in the name of Shmuel: It was

the day when the tribes were allowed to intermarry.

How is it learned from a verse? This is the

word that the Lord instructed the daughters of Tzelofhad (Bamidbar

36:6)

– This thing will only be observed in the present generation.

(Ta'anit

30b)

 

The matter of Yom

Kippur and Ne'ila is like a parable: one makes a chest and closet; when

they are completed a lock is made for them to guard their contents.

(R. Naftali Tzvi Horowitz's Zera Kodesh, quoted

by S.Y. Agnon in his Yamim Nora'im, pg. 362)

 

And why is it called Ne'ila? Because then

[during the Ne'ila service] the righteous of the generation lock themselves up alone

with the Holy One blessed be He in a special closed-off hall, and they will not

allow any accuser to enter (God forbid!)

(R.

Zvi HaKohen MiRimnov in the Mimkha Elekha mahzor, edited by Yonadav

Kaplan)

 

 

Remember

Us for Life, O King who wants Life, and Sign Us in the Book of Life for Your

Sake, O Living God

 

Between the Shofar Blasts

Shmuel Reiner

Our sensual lives are accompanied by sounds,

sights, smells, and feelings. The Days of Awe are intensively accompanied by

the sound of the shofar, an exalted sound that produces different and even

opposing emotions in those who hear it: fear on the one hand, and longing on

the other.

In my father's house the blowing of the shofar

was accompanied by anxiety. Perhaps you won't hear the blasts of the shofar properly;

perhaps the person who blows the shofar will not produce the proper sounds,

perhaps you might speak during the time between the first blessing on the

shofar and the last sound produced by it. With the years, old anxieties have

been replaced with new ones; the fear of halakhah has been replaced by the

terror of judgment. The sound of the shofar alleviates that terror.

Even though the sounding of the shofar on Rosh Hashanah is a Torah

decree, it does hint at a message: Awake – slumberersfrom your

sleep, and drowsy onesstir from your doze, and search your

ways, and turn in repentance and remember your Creator, those who forget the

truth in the follies of time and err throughout their life in nonsense and

emptiness which offer no benefit and no salvation; look to your souls and

improve your ways and your actions, and let each of you abandon his bad way and

his useless thoughts. (RaMBaM, Hilkhot

Teshuvah 3:4)

The blowing of the shofar is first referred to

as a "Torah decree" [gzerat hakatuv] – a religious obligation

lacking a rationale or meaning. Next RaMBaM suggests that man can lend meaning

to the sound of the shofar as a sound calling out to him: "Repent your

wicked deeds." It is as if RaMBaM himself was blowing the shofar in order

to communicate with people. There is something frightening and even threatening

about this sound. RaMBaM refers to this explanation as a "hint" – remez.

Indeed, when the blowing of the shofar is just

a commandment of the day, a halakhic act, our principal attention is devoted

towards the halakhic observance of the commandment alone. (Is the teru'a

as long as the shevarim, and so on). One only encounters the sound and

really listens to it through a "hint."

There is a stage in our lives when we are

sufficiently confident about fulfilling the "Torah decree" and turn

our attention towards adding an additional dimension to it – that of the

"hint." We seek the place where we will want to hear the shofar; we

may even take a further step after the RaMBaM's words and become ourselves the

ones who blow the shofar – we are the awakeners!

This notion, in which the blowing of the

shofar is man's turning to God, already appears in the words of the Sages:

"On Rosh HaShanah utter malkhiyot, zikhronot, and shofarot

before Me. Malkhiyot – in order for you to make me a King [shetamlikheni]

over you. Zikhronot – on order for you to bring up the memory of you [zikhronekhem]

before Me for the good. And how? With the shofar. R. Abahu said: Why do we blow

a ram's horn? The Holy One blessed be He said: "Blow a ram's horn before

Me so that I will remember the binding of Abraham's son Isaac for your sake,

and I shall account it for you as if you had bound up yourselves before

Me." (Rosh HaShanah 16a).

Via our shofar, our memory and that of the

binding of Isaac rise up before God. Here the shofar has a new meaning; the

shofar is an instrument for reminding God of the People Israel. Man blows the

shofar and God is the one who hears it. The instrument itself – the ram's horn

– plays an important role. This idea serves as the basis for the formulation of

the concluding sentences of the special benedictions found in the Rosh HaShanah

service. The benediction of zikhronot section ends with: "May You

mercifully remember today the binding of Isaac for the sake of his offspring. Blessed

are You, Lord, Who remembers the covenant." And the benediction of the shofarot:

"For You hear the sound of the shofar and You give ear to the teru'a…Blessed

are You, Lord, Who hears the shofar-sound of His people Israel with

mercy." The shofar speaks with a national voice, and the memory of the

binding of Isaac is a national memory.

The reversal of the shofar-blower from a

divine to a human voice takes a central role in Hassidism, but in a different

way. The moan of the shofar as an instrument of national expression that speaks

of Isaac's binding is replaced by the personal voice of the individual who

cries out in his loneliness. Consider a story attributed to the Ba'al Shem Tov:

The teki'a sound of the shofar is a simple sound, the simple cry

from the depths of one's heart when he departs from "God is one,"

etc. It is made with an animal's horn in reference to [the verse], Lord save

man and beast

The Ba'al Shem Tov clarified this metaphor [with the following

parable]: There was a king who had an only son. [The son] studied well and was

beloved by him as the apple of his eye. The king decided that his son would

travel to other countries to learn different kinds of wisdom and to know how to

lead people in order that he become able to lead the country in a wonderful

manner. His father gave him ministers and servants and great wealth so that he

would be able to go and tour the countries and the islands of the sea and thus

achieve a higher level than that he had while residing at home with his father.

After a long time everything his father had given him had been spent on

luxurious travel expenses, since he was used to living in luxury. Most of it

was lost because he added desire upon desire for many things – he spent so much

on these that he eventually sold everything he owned. Meanwhile the son had

journeyed to a land so distant that even his father was unknown there. When he

told them that he was the son of king so-and-so, not only did they not believe

him – they did not even recognize his father's name. When he saw that there

remained no remedies to enliven his soul in its troubles, he decided to return

to his father's country. However, due to the long time that had passed, he had

forgotten his country's language. [And the king would sit everyday by the

palace window, watching for his son's return. And all his ministers would tell

the king: "Surely that son has died and will never return."] When he

reached his country, what could he do, having forgotten its language? He began

to signal to them that he was their king's son, and he became a joke to them:

How could it be that the son of such a great king should go so ragged and

worn!? They beat him on his head and by the time he reached the king's court he

was covered with wounds and injuries and bruises. He started signaling to them

[to the king's guards] that he was the son of the king, but they paid no

attention to him. Then he began crying out loudly so that the king would

recognize his voice. When the king heard the sound of his cries and weeping, he

said: "That is the voice of my son crying out in his distress!" The

love for his son awoke within him and he brought him into his home and embraced

him and kissed him…" (Keter Shem

Tov, Kahat Publishers 5768, addendum 194)

The Ba'al Shem Tov's parable lends another

meaning to the sound made by a human addressing God. We always try to formulate

our words in the most precise way possible, but the sound of the shofar does

not convey a particular content – it is not composed of well-chosen words. The

blast of the shofar is a naked cry lacking sophisticated content.

Its very simplicity is its strength. The blast of the shofar is like the cry of

the son who has forgotten his homeland's language and who expresses himself

wordlessly in a way that is only understandable to his father, his father who

finds his lost son in that cry. The blast of the shofar gains its force from

its primordiality, from the primordial voice within it, a voice that arrives

without words.

There are two processes of teshuvah [repentance]. There

is teshuvah which concentrates on the improvements of actions that one is

already accustomed to perform, as in the phrase, "Improve your deeds and

do not break the covenant." This teshuvah focuses on the past and its

correction. There is another kind of teshuvah which is founded upon the idea of

starting everything afresh, to "rejuvenate," to forget everything and

turn a new leaf which does not deal with that which was but rather with what

shall be – innovation.

Each process of teshuvah has its own

shofar-blower. Teshuvah that focuses on the improvement of the past and present

requires a shofar that addresses man and calls upon him to correct his deeds:

"Improve your ways and your actions." Teshuvah founded upon rebirth opens

with man's call to his Father: "Once the Ba'al Shem Tov said: The shofar

is like a son crying out, 'Father, father, save me!'" Let us start

everything over again from the beginning, from the basic stage that still lacks

words, from the beginning!

On the one hand, we try to understand the

world and humanity in all their complexity, believing them to be somewhat

understandable. On the other hand, we feel in our hearts that everything is

mysterious and that the harder we try to understand everything the hazier it

will get. At times like these we need two blasts of the shofar, both the blast

that addresses God with the child's cry of "Father!" – the naïve

voice shorn of any sophistication – as well as the other blast of the shofar,

which is directed from above downwards and expects obedience and the

improvement of deeds. This arena in which both sounds – the simple and primitive

cry and the threatening alarm – meet, where the sounds of the shofar rising

from below and descending from above join together – that is the introduction

to the laws of teshuvah which we must write here and now.

Rabbi Shmuel

Reiner, Mitzpe Netufa and Yeshivat haKibbutz HaDati in Ma'ale Gilboa.

 

Yom Kippur as His Wedding

Day and as a "Taste" of the World to Come

Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel said: There were no better days for

Israel than the 15th of Av and Yom Kippur, for in them the daughters

of Jerusalem would go out in borrowed white clothing in order to avoid

embarrassing those who did not own any… and the daughters of Jerusalem would

go out and dance in the vineyards… And thus he would say: Go out, O

daughters of Zion, and gaze upon King Solomon, upon the crown with which his

mother crowned him on his wedding day and on the day

of the joy of his

heart (Song of Songs 3). On his

wedding day – that was the giving of the Torah. And on the day of the joy of his heart

that

is the building of the Temple, may it be built soon and in our days, Amen.

(Mishnah Ta'anit 4:8)

 

Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel said: There were no

better days for Israel than the fifteenth of Av and Yom Kippur.

Yom Kippur makes sense – it offers forgiveness

and atonement, [it is] the day when the second Tablets were given. But what is

there to the fifteenth of Av?

Rav Yehudah said in the name of Shmuel: It was

the day when the tribes were allowed to intermarry…

(Ta'anit

30b)

 

…So the Sages said, "In the life hereafter,

there is no eating, no drinking, no connubial intercourse, but the righteous

sit with their crowns on their heads and enjoy the radiance of the

Shekhinah." This passage clearly indicates that as there is no eating or

drinking there, there is no physical body hereafter. The phrase "the

righteous sit" is allegorical and means that the souls of the righteous

exist there without labor or fatigue. The phrase "their crowns on their

heads" refers to the knowledge they have acquired, and for the sake of

which they have attained life in the world to come. This is their crown, in the

same sense as where Solomon says the crown with which his mother

crowned him (Song of Songs 3;11). And just as in the text, Everlasting joy

shall be upon their heads (Isaiah 35;10), joy is not to be understood as a material

substance that actually rests on the head, so the "crown" of which

the Sages speak is not to be taken literally but refers to knowledge. And what

is the meaning of the Sages' statement: "they enjoy the radiance of the

Shekhinah"? It means that the righteous attain to a knowledge and

realization of the truth concerning God to which they had not attained while

they were in the murky and lowly body.

 (RaMBaM Hilkhot Teshuvah

5)

 

Our Father, our King, deal

kindly with us and answer us, for we are without [good] deeds – treat us with

charity and loving-kindness, and save us.

Then the Lord

said: "You cared about the plant, which you did not work for and which you

did not grow, which appeared over night and perished overnight. And should I

not care about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred

and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left,

and many beasts as well.

(Jonah

4:10-11)

 

God has mercy on man and beast, that is to

say, on man as on the beast, and this reminds us of the parallel verse, You

save man and beast, Lord (Psalms 36:7). That is to say, God's mercy and kindness are

completely independent of man and his deeds, as the prophet said, for my plans are not

your plans nor are My ways your ways… But as the heavens are high above the

earth, so are My ways high above your ways (Isaiah 55:8-9). God's

relationship to man and to the world are none other than what is termed

"the Divine matter" which is above all human actions and behavior,

even above man's acts of repentance.

(Y.

Leibowitz, Sihot al Hagei Yisrael Ve'Moadav, pg. 193)

 

Readers Respond

Dr. Ariel Rathous's Torah

article for parashat Shoftim, "Who are the Kings? Our Rabbis!" was

really quite nice. However; a variety of worshippers attend the synagogue where

I pray – the Mestrapokov Rebbe's "Sha'arei Yerushalaym" in

Kiryat Moshe. There is an important Lithuanian rabbi who really does not like

Shabbat sheets, especially those associated with religious Zionism, and he is

always searching them for errors. Instead of reading Dr. Rathous's article in

its entirety, he only read its conclusion: "The latter approach seems to

oblige us to stand guard and refuse to surrender our powers of judgment…"

It greatly upset him to read something like this that says, in effect, that one

should not blindly and absolutely obey rabbis. He said these were heretical

words and that Shabbat Shalom should not be allowed into the synagogue. I

said I would read the article and comment on it, because it is an important

Shabbat-sheet and it sanctifies the name of Heaven in public, that is to say – it

is published without advertisements and is very positive.

Here are my comments: The

article should have concluded thus: When the Temple is in existence and the

Sanhedrin is in office, one must listen to them even if they say right is left

and vice-versa, for the holy Spirit is upon them and they are also considered

to be like a king. If they err, they must offer a sacrifice of "a

forgotten thing" [he'elem davar], and the Omnipresent will be

pleased with them. However, when the Temple is in ruins and there is no

Sanhedrin, then the Jerusalem Talmud, which was also written after the

destruction of the Temple, is correct and we are to obey the rabbis if they

call "right" – "right" and "left" – "left."

Other answers are to be approached with skepticism and we should not relinquish

our faculty of judgment.

Shemaryahu Beckerman

 

Pinchas Leiser, editor of

Shabbat Shalom, responds:

I thank Mr. Shemaryahu

Beckerman for his response and important comments. God forbid that we should

publish words of heresy in Shabbat Shalom and it should be assumed that

my friend Dr. Ariel Rathous did not – God forbid – preach heresy.

Careful study of the article

reveals the difference between the Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmuds, between

the RaMBaN's approach and that of R. Meir Simkha MiDvinsk (who was also, of

course, a Lithuanian). Differences of opinion on this issue continue into our

day, and "Both these and these are the words of the Living God." I

think that in the days of compassion, forgiveness, and repentance, it would be

proper for us to adopt the approach of the House of Hillel and the House of

Shammai, who, even though they disagreed on many points of principle, treated

each other with respect.

 

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