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8 Adar 5759 - Feb 24, 1999 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly







Opinion & Comment
The Four Parshiyos -- Steps to Total Teshuvah
by HaRav Nosson Meir Wachtfogel zt'l

This very fundamental shmuess can be read with profit weekly for the next few weeks.

Chazal (Megilla 29a, Shulchan Oruch 685) instituted the custom of reading the four parshiyos from the Torah as a distinctive preparation for Pesach, the yom tov of our redemption, since every yom tov needs its own preparation. The combination of all four parshiyos lays a complete groundwork for Pesach. By reading parshas Shekolim and so on until parshas Hachodesh, we increasingly smooth the way for greeting the yom tov in a proper manner.

Elevating Bnei Yisroel

"And Hashem said to Moshe, saying, `When you take the sum (lit., when you lift the heads) of bnei Yisroel according to their number . . .'" (Shemos 30:11, beginning of parshas Shekolim). The Midrash (Pesikta Rabbosi 10:7) points out that the posuk does not write "`when you count' but rather `when you lift the heads.' This can be compared to a prince who sinned against his father. The king said, `Go lift his head' (i.e., execute him) . . . [The prince's teacher] said to the [king]: `With the same order that you gave [to kill him] you can elevate him. What did you say? "Lift his head" -- let them [instead] go and elevate him.' Once Moshe heard [that because bnei Yisroel had sinned, HaKodosh Boruch Hu intended to destroy them] he girded his loins to defend [Yisroel]. [Moshe] approached HaKodosh Boruch Hu and said: `Ruler of the World! You are wiping Your children out of the world. Remember how much trouble You had with them until You took them out of Egypt.' HaKodosh Boruch Hu said to [Moshe]: `I swear that since you have defended them, I will elevate and lift their heads through you.'"

Obviously the Midrash explains that "lift the head" -- the way parshas Shekolim, the preparation for Pesach begins -- relates to personal elevation.

Despair and Sadness

"By Dovid, a wise man. Praiseworthy is one whose cheit is forgiven. Praiseworthy is the man to whom Hashem does not ascribe iniquity" (Tehillim 32:1). The Midrash (Yalkut Shimoni 2:718) writes, "`Praiseworthy is the one whose cheit is forgiven' -- Praiseworthy is a person more elevated than his sin, not one whose sin is more elevated than he."

The Midrash is edifying us with a pivotal principle: Every person, no matter how great a tzaddik, will sometimes sin. Man's nature is to be a chotei. Besides, of course, having to do teshuvah afterwards for his aveiros, there is another factor to be taken into consideration. After each sin man faces a great danger: despair and grief, which envelop him. These feelings are liable to lower him towards an even greater spiritual destruction than that caused by the cheit itself. This will not only prevent him from proceeding in doing teshuvah but will seduce him to sin more than before.

The Alter of Kelm was accustomed to explain that Amolek was criticized to such a great extent because that nation caused bnei Yisroel to feel lowly. "How he met you on the way and smote the hindmost of you, all the weaklings in your rear, when you were faint and weary" (Devorim 25:18). Those "weaklings" were those whom the Clouds of Glory had already cast out from their protection. Amolek caused their weakness by making them feel substandard. Besides Amolek's sin of being the first to fight against Yisroel after they left Egypt, that war also made bnei Yisroel feel their physical weakness and remember their servitude as slaves for many years. This humbled them immensely.

Every person who sins naturally feels degradation and loss. These feelings are liable to cause him to plunge deep into despair, not to repent his sins, and thus be forever lost. The first thing he should do is to urge himself to be "higher than his sin," not to fall into a state of decline and despair.

To Be Higher Than Sin

(Bereishis Rabbah 22:13) "Odom HaRishon met Kayin. [Odom] asked him: `What was your judgment?' [Kayin] answered: `I have done teshuvah and have achieved an appeasement' . . . He said: `I was not aware of teshuvah's power.' And immediately he started saying `A psalm. A poem for the Shabbos day' (Tehillim 92:1)."

But where in the above posuk in Tehillim is teshuvah mentioned or alluded to?

Dovid Hamelech alluded to teshuvah when he later (ibid., 9) said, "But You, Hashem, are most high for evermore." This is the alef-beis of teshuvah.

We have already mentioned that a person should be higher than his sin and not allow his sin to be higher than he. The first point in doing teshuvah is not to lose hope of improvement, not to permit a gloomy feeling to overcome oneself and cause one to sink so deep into despair that he cannot emerge from it.

HaKodosh Boruch Hu is elevated above everything, even above sin -- "But You, Hashem, are most high for evermore." A person's feeling of being above his sins helps him not to plunge into despair, and it is one of the traits of HaKodosh Boruch Hu. Odom HaRishon understood this and sang the mizmor for Shabbos, in which Dovid Hamelech explained the principle of teshuvah. This principle is also hinted to in parshas Shekolim -- "When you lift the heads of bnei Yisroel" -- meaning a person's elevating himself. "`Praiseworthy is the one whose cheit is forgiven' -- Praiseworthy is a person who is more elevated than his sin, not one whose sin is more elevated than he."

To Erase the Cheit

Even someone who has sinned and has done teshuvah has much work before him until he can return to his previous pre- sin status and be certain that he will not sin again. He must erase any remembrance of his sin from the world. As long as such a memory remains, he is liable to stray once again from the Torah. Only after its memory is obliterated from the world can he be sure he will not sin again.

The baal teshuvah who is elevated above his sin and has not allowed his sinning to cause him to be gloomy or despairing has all the same not yet finished his avoda of teshuvah until he completely erases his sin, until no impression of it remains.

We learn this point from our obligation to eradicate Amolek's name. As long as there is a recollection of Amolek in the world, Hashem's throne is not complete. "Amolek is the first among nations" (Bamidbar 24:20) and is the source of evil. All evil in the world stems from him. It is impossible for kvod Shomayim to be revealed in the world while Amolek still exists. Amolek's very nature conceals HaKodosh Boruch Hu's honor, so the only way to reveal Hashem's honor is by erasing Amolek's name, so that no remembrance will remain. Only then will Hashem's honor be completely revealed.

"Remember what Amolek did to you by the way, when you were coming out of Egypt, how he met you by the way and smote the hindmost of you, all that were feeble in your rear, when you were faint and weary; and he feared not Elokim. Therefore it shall be, when Hashem your Elokim has given you rest from all your enemies round about, in the land which Hashem your Elokim gives you for an inheritance to possess it, that you shall blot out the remembrance of Amolek from under heaven; you shall not forget" (Devorim 25:17-19).

When Amolek's name is blotted out from the world HaKodosh Boruch Hu's honor will be uncovered. Now we can readily understand that parshas Zochor was instituted to be read after parshas Shekolim because after we conduct ourselves in a lofty way, by being above our sins and engaging in teshuvah, we must still erase our sin so that no memory of it will remain. That is the second level in the ladder of doing teshuvah.


Even after doing teshuvah and having removed himself from sin, a spirit of tumah still rests upon the sinner. His teshuvah is imperfect until he is entirely metaheir himself.

"R' Simloa'i expounded: A child in his mother's womb is similar to a folded-up notebook, with his hands on both his flanks, his arms resting on his shanks, his heels on his buttocks, and his head placed between his knees, his mouth closed and his navel open. He eats of what his mother eats and drinks of what his mother drinks, and does not excrete any wastes for fear that it might kill his mother. After he emerges into the world what was closed opens and what was opened closes. If this did not happen he could not live even one moment. A lit candle is on top of his head and he gazes from one end of the world to the other . . . He is taught the entire Torah . . . and does not leave there until he is sworn . . . . And what is the shevu'ah? `Be a tzaddik and do not be a rosho. Even if the whole world tells you that you are a tzaddik you must consider yourself a rosho. Be conscious that HaKodosh Boruch Hu is tohor and so are those who serve Him. The neshomoh given to us is tohor. If you protect it you have done well, but if not it will be taken from you'" (Niddah 30b).

The gemora is explaining to us that life's essence is tohoroh, and tumah is nothing other than death itself. A person is told before he is born that if he is metamei himself his neshomoh will be taken away from him. In Shacharis we say, "My Elokim, the neshomoh You placed within me is tohor." The neshomoh is man's substance, and it depends upon the amount of tohoroh within the person. Being metamei oneself is like killing oneself. Any sin, either big or small, is metamei a person. Someone who sins greatly is heaping more and more tumah upon himself.

We therefore understand that as long as the chotei has not been altogether metaheir himself from the tumah of the cheit he lacks the right to live. Even doing teshuvah does not help as long as tumah clings to him. Life is only life when it has tohoroh. Even after doing teshuvah, when one has removed his sin from himself and the world, he has still not finished his avoda until he has been metaheir himself from any tumah that has clung to him.

Parshas Poroh after Parshas Zochor and Shekolim

We can now easily comprehend why Chazal arranged parshas Poroh to be read after parshas Zochor and Shekolim. The point stressed in parshas Poroh is the tohoroh of Yisroel. "R' Acha said in the name of R' Yosi bar Chanina: `When Moshe ascended to Heaven he found HaKodosh Boruch Hu engaged in studying parshas Poroh Adumah while holding His book and reading, "This is the chukah of the Torah" (Bamidbar 19:2). Why was Hashem reading this parsha? HaKodosh Boruch Hu said: "I engage Myself only in the tohoroh of Yisroel." Where do we know this from? "The mouth of the tzaddik speaks wisdom and his tongue discourses justice" (Tehillim 37:30). The mouth of the world's Tzaddik meditates on wisdom -- He meditates on Torah. On which part of the Torah does He meditate? On "This is the chukah of the Torah"' (Pesikta Rabosi 14:6)." The Midrash is explicitly relating to us that parshas Poroh deals with the tohoroh of Yisroel. Tohoroh is needed to perfect our teshuvah and prepare us for the yom tov of redemption and the redemption itself.

Lack of Feeling

"Rovo bar Ula expounded (Shabbos 31b): `What does `For there are no pangs at their death; their body is firm' (Tehillim 73:4) mean? HaKodosh Boruch Hu said: `Not only do reshoim not tremble or feel sorrow about the day of death, but their hearts are firm.' This is as Rabbah said: `"This is their way in their folly (kesel)" (Tehillim 49:14) -- the reshoim know that they are headed to death but they have fat on their flanks (kislom). Perhaps you might say it is because of forgetting -- [the Torah says,] "And their posterity who approve their sayings" (ibid.).'" Despite the reshoim being aware that they are heading to the path of death, they are helpless to save themselves because "fat covers their flanks," i.e., they are indifferent. They lack feeling. They do not sense what they know well. Such a state might as well be death, since a dead person, too, does not feel anything. Like

wise these reshoim do not feel anything, so while they are living they can be considered as if dead.

Becoming a New Person

"This month shall be to you the beginning of months" (Shemos 12:1). There is a new moon every month. Actually the Torah should have begun from this mitzvah of kiddush hachodesh, as Rashi writes (Bereishis 1:1): "R' Yitzchok said: `The Torah should have started from "this month shall be to you," which is the first mitzvah that Yisroel were commanded. [The Torah] started from Bereishis because `He has declared to His people the power of His works, that He may give them the heritage of nations' (Tehillim 111:6)."

In order to be zoche to be commanded to do mitzvos one must revitalize his life. Bnei Yisroel left Egypt, which was the greatest place of tumah in the world. The seforim kedoshim tell us that in Egypt the Jews were immersed in the forty-nine gates of tumah. Someone who leaves such a tumah cannot receive the Torah and the mitzvos without first becoming a person created anew. Hashem therefore gave bnei Yisroel the mitzvah of rosh chodesh, that reveals to us the power of renewal, suggesting that each Jew can become a new person. Only with this were they zoche to Torah and mitzvos.

Likewise a baal teshuvah must know that even after he does teshuvah and has been metaheir himself from cheit he needs to become a new creation. Dovid Hamelech said (Tehillim 51:12), "Create in me a clean heart, Elokim, and make a new and steadfast spirit within me." After Nosson Hanovi came to him and rebuked him for his "sin," Dovid requested (v.3) "Be gracious, Elokim, according to Your steadfast love; according to the multitude of Your tender mercies blot out my transgressions." Even this was insufficient, so Dovid also requested (v. 4): "Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin." Without such tohoroh a person's teshuvah is incomplete and he is still considered a dead person. He is required to become a new creation and procure for himself a revival of life.

After Chazal instituted the reading in a minyan of these parshiyos: Shekolim, Zochor, Poroh, their takono was still unfinished until our teshuvah is thorough. This is only achieved after we have acquired a new spirit, as Dovid Hamelech requested. This is why Chazal directed us to read parshas Hachodesh too.

The Order of Teshuvah

The conclusion is that we must carefully note the arrangement of these parshiyos and learn from them the right order of doing teshuvah. Parshas Hachodesh usually falls during bein hazmanim. Studying these parshiyos and learning from them the way that a person must proceed while doing teshuvah obligates a person to act differently during bein hazmanim. He must strive for a "clean heart" and a "new and steadfast spirit."

Although during bein hazmanim a person's sedorim change, both in Torah study and in tefilla, he needs to insure that his behavior will befit what the coming yom tov requires. By doing so he will be prepared for Pesach and will obtain the segulah of these days of redemption.

HaRav Nosson Meir Wachtfogel zt'l was the mashgiach of the Beis Midrash Govohah in Lakewood, New Jersey

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