Vayelech 5762 – Gilayon #205
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wrote down this song on that day, and he taught it to the Children of
“This song” – From “Haazinu
through “effecting atonement for the
soil of his people.” (Rashi
refers to the Torah, for we have already learned that the Torah is called
“song”. (Haamek Davar, ibid.)
is important to understand how it is that the Torah can be called “song” –
after all, is it written in the style of song?!
you must admit that it has the nature and virtue of song, in that it uses
figures of speech. For it is known to all who have studied that the language of
metaphor differs from prose in two respects:
In poetry – unlike in prose – matters are
not clearly explained. There is need for explication, – this
verse refers to this event, and this passage alludes to something else. This is not drush -– hermeneutical
explication – this is very essence of poetry, even poetry penned by
unprofessionals. Another axiom is that one well versed in the subject which
produced a particular metaphor, is
capable of much greater and more joyous appreciation of the language employed
than is one who is ignorant of the subject matter and tends to a more literal
reading, thus possibly reaching false conclusions which were never the
intention of the poet. This is the nature of the entire Torah – the text is
never clearly understood, and notes and explanation of the literary devices are
necessary. This is not called
“drush”; this is the plain meaning – pshat – of the text. Another
axiom is that one cannot completely comprehend the word of God unless he refers
to some Halacha or ethical teaching and Aggada which have come down through
tradition from Chazal – for such a person, the light of exact meaning is
Song has the virtue of
embellishment by allusions which are not relative to the subject matter of the
song, for example, having the lines arranged alphabetically, or providing an
acronym of the name of the poet – this is common to poetry but not to prose
narrative. This trait sometimes forces the author to sometime ‘bend’ the
language… This is quite common to all the Torah, for in addition to the
plain-reading of the text, there are many secrets and veiled matters, and
therefore the language of Scripture is not always precise.
Haemek” – The Netziv’s introduction to his commentary on the Torah”)
Remember us to life,
O King who delights in life
Inscribe us in the book of
For thy sake, O Living God.
REPENTANCE = ATONEMENT?
One of the more
intriguing questions posed by religious thought is the “division of labor” between man and God in perfecting the
world and man. God is portrayed in many of our sources as one who desires the
perfection of the world, who does not desire “the death of the wicked; but
for the wicked to turn from his course and live.” Much has been written
throughout the generations about the connection between repentance and
atonement, and about the mutual tie between the two concepts.
are acquainted with the berayta of Rabbi Yisrael on “chilukey kapparah” – the
classification of modes of expiation. This berayta is the basis for some of the Rambam’s “Laws of Repentance”,
in which repentance is considered an essential – but not always adequate – condition for atonement.
words of the Rambam at the beginning of “The Laws of Repentance” (1:2) pose problems and provoke thoughts – many of which were
formulated by the Rambam’s commentators. So wrote the Rambam:
 The ‘sent away goat’
– because it was an atonement for all of Israel, the High Priest would confess
upon it, in terms referring to all of Israel, as is written, “And is to
confess over it all the iniquities of Children of Israel” (Vayikra 16:21)
The ‘sent-away goat’
atones for all the transgressions in the Torah, the light ones and the grave
ones, whether done willfully or by mistake, whether beknown to him or unbeknown
to him – all are atoned for by the sent-away goat. All this, provided that the person
repented. But if he did not repent, the goat atones only for the lighter
What are the lighter
ones and what are the serious ones? The serious ones are those which incur
capital punishment by the Beth Din, or kareth – a Divinely inflicted
punishment. False and unnecessary oaths, even though they carry no kareth
penalty, are among the serious ones. All other negative precepts, and positive
commandments not subject to kareth punishment, are considered minor
rulings are puzzling in many respects: According to his understanding, there is
no single sacrifice which atones sans repentance. Even Yom Hakippurim in
our time (1:3) provides atonement only
for those who repent. Similarly – and this was noted by Rabbi Yosef Karo in his
“Kessef Mishneh” – the Rambam’s system does not conform to any of the Tannaic
positions consistently quoted in the Mishna and the Talmud Bavli. Rebbi takes the most radical position –
the sent-goat atones – even without repentance – for all sins, minor as well as
major, with the exception of the three specially serious transgressions. According to the dissenting Sages, the
goat can never atone unless accompanied by repentance. The Rambam’s position
represents a compromise between these two extremes. The Rambam’s “arm bearers” grappled with this difficulty.
Rabbi Yosef Karo, in his “Kessef Mishneh”, concludes “requires further
study”. The author of the “Lechem
Mishneh” suggests that the
Rambam’s aim is to make the controversy between Rebbi and the Sages less polar.
None of these commentators suggest an alternate source for the Rambam’s
position. I have not examined latter day
scholars’ explanations; I assume that they deal with this question.
Soleveitchik, z”l, also dealt with this question in his “On Repentance”. He
draws an interesting distinction – a la the ‘Brisk method’ – between the
atonement of the individual and that of the community. He reads the Rambam’s
text very closely – “The ‘sent-away goat’, because it was an atonement for all of Israel” – he identifies as an
offering belonging to the totality of Israel, to Klal Yisrael. The confession
of the High Priest, then, is not a confession of individual sins, but of the
sins of the community. He is not
the agent of individuals, but the emissary of Klal Yisrael. This distinction
helps Rabbi Soleveitchik explain the contradiction within the Rambam’s own
words to the effect that the passage “the sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination” refers to the
sacrifice – unaccompanied by teshuva – of the individual sinner A person who belongs to Klal Yisrael earns
expiation through confession and the offering of the ‘goat to Azazel’. This applies to all transgressions,
excluding karet, because the essence of karet
– being cut off – is
the expulsion of the individual from Klal Yisrael.
then, is the relevance of this brilliant analytic distinction for a Jew living in a modern and
post-modern reality, in Eretz Yisrael or in the Diaspora, other than having
provided a resolution to a problem in the Rambam’s opus?
my opinion, there is no single, clear-cut answer. Today, of course, there is no
practical possibility of atonement without repentance. In the wonderful
formulation of the Rambam: “Today, when there is no Temple and we have no altar
of atonement, there remains only repentance. Repentance atones for all sins…”
a theoretical level, however, we might add a hermeneutic (drush) level to Rabbi Soleveitchik’s
annulment of institutions or ceremonies which were prevalent in the past, opens
the door to various explications. In certain instances, the sources take a
clear and unequivocal stand, for
example: “With the increase of murderers, the [ceremony of] egla arufa -–the
broken-necked calf – was cancelled; with the increase of adulterers, the [ceremony of] the cursing waters [given
the Sotah – the wife suspected of infidelity] was nullified.” It is evident to all of us that a
situation in which there is an “increase of murderers” is perceived to be a
morally and spiritually degenerate reality.
other cases, things are less clear-cut. In contrast to the approach which
considers the revival of sacrificial ritual to constitute “return of the crown
to its original position”, we cannot ignore the fact that our Sages tended to assign to
acts of charity and good deeds greater spiritual worth than to sacrifices. It
is superfluous to state that the Rambam, in his Guide, considers the
sacrifices to be a sort of “compromise” with the pagan world.
situation in which an individual can achieve atonement via the confession of
the High Priest is, without doubt, quite advantageous; on occasion, we can
sense the power potential of a public.
This power is beyond anything which the individuals comprising the
community can amass; the individual draws his power from the masses. On certain
occasions – such as on Yom Hakippurim – we are able to experience the
tremendous spiritual power of communal prayer.
our own generation, society offered ‘sacrifices’. Unlike the sent-away goat, these were very painful
sacrifices. There is no doubt that the pain of all who pay a personal price for
our existence here is unbearable. But as long as there was a tsibbur – a
“community” – who felt that that the personal sacrifice was also its sacrifice,
there was a different feeling
about the meaning of the sacrifice.
is not quite clear at what point the sense of “community” began to fade, and
whether all its roots of decline can be identified; the tendency to blame the
“other” (the ultra-Orthodox, the left, the settler, the hedonistic secularists,
etc.) is widespread – and frighteningly simplistic.
in the absence of “community”, the individual is charged with greater
responsibility; in order to perfect himself, he has at his disposal only his
own efforts. But beyond the opportunity for development, there is also
regression in the perfecting of
the whole of society.
various and sundry reasons, we live in an era in which the concept of
“community” has been weakened. “Knesset Yisrael”, as a spiritual concept, is
independent of historical and others circumstances, but Jewish society is split
and divided. I do not refer necessarily to political or ideological
differences. When there is agreement on minimally common goals and on modes of resolution
in cases of controversy, social cohesion need not be impaired. It is
understood, then, that the ability to consider the sacrifice as a “communal
sacrifice” is in proportion to the
weakening of the sense of “community.”
I do not necessarily
long for the ancient ceremony of the “Goat for Azazel” as recorded in the “Order of Service” of Yom
Hakippurim. I do pray that the day
will come – may we merit seeing it – when we will be able to interpret the
concept of “Eretz Yisrael is obtained through suffering” in a non-literal
fashion. In the meantime, however, it seems that if life is dear to us, we must
examine, each of us for himself, what is in his power to do in order to build
anew a society which is marked by multiplicity but which is capable of defining
common goals in a spirit of respect and mutual appreciation. There were times
when sacrifices and shared suffering created “a covenant of destiny”, in the
words of Rabbi Soleveitchik. In our day, it seems, this is not enough. There is
an urgent need to define common and basic goals through wide communal
agreement. Then, if we must pay a price, this society will see to it that it
will be as low as possible and shared as equally as possible.
High Priest, according to Chazal tradition, was responsible for the spiritual
condition of the generation; through his power and in his merit, human life was
respected in society (so Chazal and some of the commentators explain the
sentence of the accidental killer to life in the city of refuge “until the
death of the High Priest”). Therefore, only a society able to nurture such
a spiritual leadership can be represented by the communal sacrifice which the
Priest offers and the confession which he utters.
“Today, there is only repentance.”
Pinchas Leiser, editor of “Shabbat Shalom”, is a
“You were rebellious against God… until this day”
… And it is written “you were” in the past
tense, for they may have contemplated repentance in their hearts at that
moment, similar to the law that if one who betroths a woman on condition that
he is a complete tzaddik, even though it may be discovered that he is
totally wicked, we rule that she is betrothed, because perhaps he contemplated
repentance at that very moment. (Kiddushin 49b).
(Ohr HaHayyim, Devarim 31:27)
Even Moshe, our Teacher, was justified only in
telling Israel “You were rebellious” – in past tense – with
the implication being “until this day.” In his great despair and
sadness, Moshe foresaw that also after his death, the people would persist in
their insubordination to God; yet despite this, he does not permit himself to
tell them that they are rebellious at the time of his last words, because there
is only one who is capable of reading man’s innermost thoughts. From this we
learn a great lesson in the subject of repentance, which is dependent upon man
himself – at all times, without
limitations of time or place.
Leibowitz: ibid., p. 180)
“Return, Israel, to the Lord your God, for
you have fallen because of your
Even if you have stumbled in your sin to the Lord
your God [even reaching the Lord your God], repent.
(Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotsk, quoted by Y. Leibowitz, Discussions
on the Festivals of Israel and Its Appointed Times, p. 181)
The significance of Yom Hakippurim lies not in its
being the Day of Repentance; it is rather the day designated to remind man of
repentance, which is operative
at all times and in every place.
Leibowitz, ibid., p.175)
Teshuva and Geula – Repentance and Redemption
When the Children of Israel were redeemed from
Egypt, they were delivered thanks to the following five things: tribulation,
repentance, merit of the patriarchs, mercy, and because of the promised end.
Tribulation – as is written (Shemot 2) “And the Children of Israel groaned.”
Merits of the patriarchs – as is written “and God
remembered His covenant”.
Mercy – as is written, “and God saw the Children
The promised end – “And God knew.”
And so, in the future to come, we will be redeemed
only thanks to these five things:
Distress – as is written, “when you are in
distress” – thus, from distress.
“And you shall return to
the Lord your God” – thus, from repentance.
“For the Lord your God is a merciful God” – thus,
“He will not forget the covenant of your fathers”
– thus, from the merit of the patriarchs.
“And all these things shall befall you in the end
of days: – thus, from the end of days.
King David formulated all the above (Psalms 106):
“When He saw that they were in distress” – thus, from distress.
“When He heard their cry” – thus, from
“He was mindful of His covenant” –thus, from
the merit of the patriarchs.
“He gave them mercy” –thus, from mercy.
“Deliver us, O Lord our
God, and gather us from among the nations” – thus, from the end of days. (Devarim Rabba, Parasha 2)
Rabbi Eliezer says: If Israel repents, they will be
delivered, and if not, they will not be delivered.
Said to him Rabbi Yehoshua: If they do not repent,
they will not [ever] be delivered?! But The Holy One, Blessed Be He, will
appoint a king whose decrees are as harsh as Haman’s, and Israel will repent
and He will return them to the right path.
Editorial Board: Pinchas Leiser
(Editor), Miriam Fine (Coordinator), Itzhak Frankenthal and Dr. Menachem Klein
Translation: Kadish Goldberg
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