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by Zvi Akiva Fleisher

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The gemara Yerushalmi Makos 2:5 relates: Wisdom was asked, "What is the proper punishment for a sinning soul?" Wisdom responded, "Chato'im t'ra'deif ro'oh" (Mishlei 13:21), that sinners will suffer from their sins. There is no way out. Prophecy was asked the same question and answered, "Ha'nefesh hachoteis hee somus" (Yechezkel 18:4) a sinning soul must die. Hashem was asked and He responded, "Let the soul repent and it will be atoned, as per the verse, 'Al kein yoreh chato'im badorech'" (T'hilim 25:8).

The verse in Yechezkel 33:11 says, "I swear, says Hashem, that rather than wanting to have the sinner die because of his sins, I want him to repent from his bad ways and live." To grasp how atonement is well beyond our comprehension the Chofetz Chaim offers a parable based on this verse. Imagine a person relating something that is hard to believe. If this person is either unknown to his audience or does not have a reputation of always being truthful, he might even swear that he is telling the truth to impress the veracity of his story upon the listeners. If, however, he is a person whose words are always upright and truthful and has a reputation for this, there is no need for him to swear. An exception might be if he relates something that is so far-fetched that no one would believe it, even when coming from this honest person. Then even he would have to swear to the truthfulness of his words.

If we find that Hashem makes a statement and swears to its veracity, you can be sure that it would otherwise be impossible to believe. Indeed, this verse in Yechezkel, attesting to the efficacy of teshuvoh, is predicated by Hashem's swearing. This clearly shows the "chidush" of teshuvoh.


Rabbi Avohu said, "Baal'ei teshuvoh stand in a location where even perfectly righteous people do not stand" (gemara Brochos 34b). Although numerous esoteric and psychological explanations are given to explain this enigmatic statement, the Magid of Dubno offers a down-to-earth easily understood explanation, through a parable, of course.

A fabulously wealthy man had a most reliable worker who tended to all his needs. This worker not only tended to numerous tasks with expertise and alacrity, but also supervised a team of underlings who also worked for the wealthy master. This went on for numerous years, and then the wheel of fortune turned. The formerly wealthy master had to let go of almost all of his possessions and his workers as well, including the head of the group. Things got so bad that he had no livelihood and was looking for employment, even to do menial work, anything to keep body and soul together.

Another person became rich suddenly and was searching for an executive overseer of all his possessions and his household workings. Two people applied for this position, the formerly wealthy person and his former executor. Whom would you hire? At first glance you would probably choose the experienced worker. He has years of experience of doing exactly what a wealthy person needs done, and a reputation of excelling at it as well.

However, our nouveau riche man hired the formerly wealthy person rather than his former worker, and rightly so. Although he has no experience in being an executive caretaker, nevertheless, as a formerly wealthy man he has experience in maximizing his wealth and the ensuing luxuries of life that follow. This is because he has worked for HIMSELF. One who works for himself has experience in giving it his all. Although the former caretaker was very skilled, experienced, successful, and worked with alacrity, nevertheless, he always worked for another person. When working for another person one never gives it his all, as the benefit is not his own. The formerly wealthy man has experience in giving it his all with every fibre of his being. Although now he will be working for someone else, he still has the experience of having worked for his own benefit and will be better at working for another person than one who always worked for another.

So too, with a repentant sinner compared to a perfectly righteous person. The perfectly righteous person is exactly that, a perfectly righteous individual who has always been in the service of Hashem. There is a limit to his level of commitment. All his acts were to comply with Hashem's wishes. Although most noble, this is still working for Another. Not so with a sinner. He sinned in pursuit of life's pleasures. Although this was a grave mistake and no doubt he lost out in that pursuit, but by working for himself he gave it his all. Armed with this experience, once guided to serve Hashem properly, he will do so in a better manner than a person who has never sinned.

n.b. A caveat to the statement of Rabbi Avohu: See Ohel Torah in the name of the Holy Admor of Kotzk. Also the Biur haGR"A on O.Ch. #53 writes that this is limited to one who has sinned a limited number of occasions and not a wholesale sinner.


Rabbi Meir said, "Teshuvoh is so great. When even just one person repents it brings atonement upon the whole world" (gemara Yoma 86b). Rabbi Akiva Eiger in his Gilyon haShas cites Rabbi Menachem Azarioh of Panu in Maamar Chikur Hadin 1:4 who explains this statement as follows: We are each responsible for the acts of our fellow bnei Yisroel, "kol Yisroel a'reivim zeh bo'zeh" (gemara Shovuos 39a). When one sins all bnei Yisroel are held responsible to correct this person. When he properly repents and the sin is expunged, every ben Yisroel is forgiven the shortcoming of not having corrected this person.

Thus the atonement for the whole world is very limited, encompassing only the responsibility of "arvus."

Similarly, when our sages taught that three people have their sins atoned, a convert, one who is given a position of prominence, and one who marries (gemara Yerushalmi Bikurim 3:3, see Rashi on Breishis 36:3), this is also when accompanied by repentance. One who has converted obviously elevates himself from his previous position as a gentile, taking upon himself greater responsibilities. One who is given a position of prominence also has to rise to the occasion, as a person of lower class would either not have been given the position in the first place, or will shortly lose it if he doesn't pull himself up. The source for one who marries is from Eisov who married Mochalas (Breishis 28:9), alluding to "mechiloh," forgiveness. The Moshav Z'keinim asks why he should be given atonement gratis and answers that we must say that he had at least some minimal thoughts of repentance. It is obvious to these Baa'lei Tosfos that atonement is not a freebie.

This concept is most aptly derived from the words "Vayom ha'zeh y'cha'peir a'leichem l'ta'heir es'chem mikole chatoseichem" (Vayikroh 16:30). Although normally translated as, "On this day He will forgive you to purify you from all your sins," Rabbi Yisochor Dov of Bendin places a comma after the word "y'cha'peir," and translates these words as, "On this day He will forgive. It is incumbent upon you to purify yourselves from your sins, "a'leichem l'ta'heir es'chem mikole chatoseichem."


The gemara N'dorim 9b relates the story of a young person who was extremely handsome, and upon noting his striking features when seeing his reflection in a pool of water, especially his well groomed hair (note that he didn't look into a mirror), his Narcisian evil inclination took hold of him and was ready to make him sin to the extent that he would lose his share in the world to come. Immediately he vowed to become a Nozir, thus obligating himself to shave his head at the end of his 30-day Nozir period, and ridding himself of his alluring head and side-lock hair.

Rabbi Shimon the Righteous never partook of the sacrifice of a Nozir who was defiled and had to begin his 30-day count again. He feared that the Nozir totally regretted his vow, as it would now take longer to complete the Nozir stringencies to term. Upon hearing the story of this Nozir he made an exception, feeling that he truly took upon himself the Nozir vow in earnest, and was not distraught nor regretted having taken this responsibility upon himself even after he had to begin his count again.

The Maharsh"a explains the words "upon noting his beauty his evil inclination took a hold of him and was ready to make him sin to the extent that he would lose his share in the world to come" in a homiletic manner. The evil inclination used his beauty as a tool to make him sin. This can be the intention of the words "Tzofeh rosho latzadik um'va'keish lahamiso" (T'hilim 37:32). The evil inclination is the "rosho." He peers at the righteousness, the beauty of the tzadik, telling the tzadik to be quite pleased with himself and his righteous actions, to rest on his laurels, and through this he attempts to bring him to his death, to a spiritual downfall.


One who allows these most opportune days to slip past him without making changes and improvements and finds himself a few days later sitting in his Sukoh enjoying "tzimmis" is like a young child whose father has returned from the annual business convention. Unfortunately the father has returned with the majority of his wares in hand, having sold almost nothing. There is the loss of time and financial investment in goods that have not sold, travel and accommodation expenses, and of course upcoming living expenses for the family. The father brings back candy for his child from the convention and the child is very happy with the sweets, oblivious to the mounting losses. We are just like this child if we do not "clear out" our warehouse of sins and are quite pleased with eating "tzimmis" on Sukos. (Rabbi Yitzchok Blazer of Peterberg)

May we maximize the opportunities presented us during Elul and the days of awe.


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