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by Rabbi Yisrael Pesach Feinhandler
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Repentance and Prayer
Take Aharon and his sons with him, and the garments, and the anointing oil, and a bullock for the sin offering, and two rams, and a basket of unleavened bread. (VAYIKRA 8:2)
Rabbi Gedalyah Dessler, a disciple of Rabbi Simchah Zisel of Kelm, employed a poor young man in his house. One day a gold cup disappeared from the house, and the young man was suspected of the theft. Finally, the young man burst into tears and admitted his guilt. He expressed his repentance and apologized, explaining that he needed money to alleviate his dire financial situation, and he had therefore taken the cup to use as collateral to get a loan. He added that he meant to return the cup after paying back the loan.
Rabbi Dessler did not let him continue working in the house, but instead gave him a monthly stipend which would support him.
Many years later, after the Russian revolution, when the Communists gained control of the government, Rabbi Dessler was found guilty of keeping a typewriter in his house and not turning it over to the government as they had demanded. Because of this "sin," he was sentenced to be executed. In tremendous anguish, his wife traveled to St. Petersburg to try to find someone who would have mercy and save her saintly husband from death.
In the course of visiting many ministers' offices, she met the person who had once worked in her house and had stolen the gold cup. He had attained a high post in the Communist government. When he heard of the peril his previous employer and benefactor was in, he traveled immediately to the city of Tula, where Rabbi Dessler was incarcerated, and arranged for it to be written in the prison records that Rabbi Dessler's execution had taken place. Then he helped the Rabbi and his family to flee the Iron Curtain. Thus, Rabbi Dessler escaped to Lithuania and continued his saintly life. (K'TZES HA-SHEMESH BI-GVURASO p. 206)
Rabbi Dessler's accepting the young thief's repentance, later helped him to be saved from execution. Accepting repentance from our spouses can also cause us to be saved from much aggravation in our marriages.
"Take Aharon and his sons with him.1 Rabbi Yehudah, the son of Rebbi, and Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi differed in their opinions, as follows.
Rabbi Yehudah the son of Rebbi said, "When one does repentance it accomplishes half. From where can this be learned? From Kayin... Prayer accomplishes everything. From where can this be learned? From Chizkiyahu, whose main kingdom was only fourteen years... and when he prayed, he [his kingdom] was given an additional fifteen years."
According to Rabbi Yehoshua teen Levi, who says that repentance accomplishes everything, from where can this be learned? From the people of Anasos... You can also learn from Yechanya... Prayer only accomplishes half. From where is it learned? From Aharon, because a severe decree was decreed upon him, as it is written, "And upon Aharon, G-d became angry to destroy him." Destroying him meant killing all his children... Since Moshe prayed, only two died and two remained alive. YALKUT 512)
What is the reasoning behind the opinion that prayer but not repentance can abolish a bad decree from Heaven? What is the reasoning behind the contrary opinion that only repentance but not prayer is successful in abolishing a bad decree from heaven?
Rabbi Yehudah claimed that one can abolish a bad decree through prayer. Prayer brings a person close to G-d. When someone prays, he is acknowledging that we really have no control over the situations that confront us, and we are completely in G-d's hands. When G-d sees this, He abolishes His decree, since the threat alone has accomplished the desired result, which was to bring the person close to Him.
Prayer has a special flavor. A person talks directly to the Creator of the world. You feel that you are giving yourself entirely to His will, and you bathe in His closeness. No one can harm you; no illness can befall you, since you are being guarded by the Creator.
King Chizkiyahu had a book of remedies that could cure any illness. Yet he buried the book, since people were relying on the book instead of turning to G-d.2 This teaches us how vital prayer is. Our problems in life inspire us to pray. If everything goes smoothly, a person will stop praying, and thus lose his connection to G-d. Who knows if King David would have composed the Book of Psalms if he had not been running for his life, hunted down by Sha'ul? The difficulties we find in life open the world of prayer for us.
Therefore Rabbi Yehudah the son of Rebbi felt that nothing can take the place of prayer, and even though repentance is necessary, it is only half as effective as prayer in abolishing bad decrees.
Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi was of the opinion that repentance was the only way to abolish bad decrees and prayer only does half the job. He felt that the main reason bad things befall a person is to awaken him to the necessity of changing his actions and becoming more righteous. Therefore, if a person only prays without improving his behavior, he has not reached the goal that G-d intended when He brought the troubles upon him.
Not only that, but his prayer itself is hollow, for how can a person request help from G-d when he is not obeying His will? It is a basic contradiction to request mercy on the one hand, and to continue sinning on the other. Only through repentance, does prayer gain legitimacy.
Once a person changes his deeds and repents, he is then worthy of having his requests granted. Therefore, repentance is the catalyst that can change the situation. Prayer can help a person realize how helpless he is, but it cannot change the situation as long as there is no repentance.
Now we can understand the basis of the disagreement between the two Sages, why one felt the most important aspect to be prayer, whereas the other felt repentance most important.
Pray for a Successful Marriage
Prayer and repentance play important roles in marriage I "J too. We should always pray to G-d that our marriages 1 will be successful. We must ask Him for patience and understanding, so that we can fulfill the tasks of married life in the best way possible. Pray to Him that you will find favor in the eyes of your spouse. Pray that you will have children who will be G-d fearing.
A person who does not pray for the success of his marriage shows that he takes his marriage and his spouse for granted. Just as a person prays for his parnassah and health, which are two vital factors in life, so must a person pray to be successful in his marriage, since this affects every aspect of life. Even if everything is going smoothly in your marriage, you should thank G-d for this and pray that everything stays that way. You need to thank Him for His kindness every day. When a person does not appreciate what he has, it can be taken away from him, G-d forbid. Prayer is your connection to G-d, and you must renew this connection constantly.
Repentance is one of the basic principles of marriage. Since everyone makes mistakes, we must accept and forgive when something goes wrong. Just as you want G-d to forgive you for all your sins or mistakes, so must you also forgive others, and especially your spouse.
Repentance also helps us make amends. Even if we have not behaved properly towards our spouses until now, we can always repent and start anew. No matter what you have done to your spouse, if you are genuinely sincere, your spouse will gladly accept your repentance, and accept you as a new person who wants to do only good. However, first you must convince yourself that you really want to change. Afterwards, when it comes from your heart, tell your spouse about your intentions. Then stick to what you said, with your entire strength, to prove that you are sincere.
Almost everyone makes mistakes in marriage, andwe should not be discouraged because of it. The main thing is to be willing to accept criticism and to be willing to work on oneself to make changes.
With repentance and prayer as the solid foundations on which the marriage is built, even the frailest marriage can grow stronger and eventually flourish.
1. Vayikra 8:2
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network