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17 Ellul 5761 - September 5, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Opinion & Comment
Preparations for the Yomim Noraim

by Rabbi Yerachmiel Shlomo Basner

Our rabbis established the custom of blowing the shofar during Elul in order to awaken us to do teshuva. Reb Aharon Kotler, zt"l, writes that we have inherited a great fortune: we can attain great heights in teshuva, Torah, and service of Hashem during Elul with comparatively little effort, as compared with the rest of the year. It is important to capitalize on this month since if we let this chance go by, not only do we lose a golden opportunity but it is also tantamount to showing that we are not interested in doing teshuva, chas vesholom.

There are at least four reactions that one can have to Elul. One is that a person doesn't see any faults in himself that need improvement. This, of course, is merely a ploy of the yetzer to keep the person from doing teshuva, and hopefully most of us do not harbor such overconfidence.

Another person may feel that he has many sins, character flaws and bad habits and, in short, he feels that he is a rosho. Such a feeling also comes from the yetzer hora, as in Pirkei Ovos, 2:13, Rabbi Shimon says, "Do not consider yourself a rosho." The Rambam elaborates that this will lead one to associate with evil company. This is because one gives up all hope of improving, which is merely another tactic of the yetzer hora.

Perhaps a more common response is to feel that Elul is such an important time that one will certainly utilize it. This person has already chosen which mussar sefer to learn, which shiurim he will attend, and which middos he will work on. But even here the yetzer goes to work, making the person feel overconfident to the point where during the entire month he basks in his lofty goals but never takes a penetrating look at his real self. Without this, true teshuva is unlikely.

Fourth, one might feel that one has both strong and weak points and is therefore a beinoni. Although he would like to improve, he rationalizes that since he has strong points his need for teshuva is not so great, and as a result he allows himself to be convinced that he cannot do any teshuva in his weak areas because that is beyond his ability.

Reb Yisroel Salanter, zt"l, writes that a person has the capacity to completely change his nature in a moment. In lieu of this, however, there are two areas to work on in order to best prepare for the Yom Hadin. One is in the category of deeds that cause the most harm to others. For example, one should be extra careful in business dealings with the poor, because any loss that a destitute person suffers hurts him much more than an even greater loss would to a rich client.

The second area to concentrate on is those transgressions for which there will be the most punishment. How can one ascertain which those are? "Lefum tza'aro agro" tells us that when we perform something which is hard for us to do, our reward increases according to the difficulty. Reb Yisroel makes an extension of this concept and quotes the gemora in Menochos 43 which says, "The punishment for not having white (tzitzis) is greater than that of failing to have the blue (string)." The reason, Rashi explains, is because that which is more available is easier to obtain.

The failure to fulfill what is easy demonstrates greater indifference to the wishes of the King. Hence it carries greater punishment. Therefore, the majority of a person's punishment is due to those mitzvos which he finds easy to fulfill but nevertheless fails to fulfill. At least during Elul, one must double one's efforts to be careful about areas which are easy to keep but one is lax about. Teshuva in these areas will exempt him from much of the punishment that would have been due to him.

Reb Yisroel then explains a concept which is on the one hand extremely frightening but on the other hand exuberantly encouraging. If someone ignores mitzvos which are easy for him to keep, then even sins which are difficult for him to avoid are judged as if they are easy, that is, more stringently. This is because the verdict of the Heavenly Court is that even if they were easy he would have succumbed to the yetzer hora and would have ignored them also!

However, the opposite works in our favor. If he fulfills difficult mitzvos and avoids tempting aveiros then, because he shows that he is a servant of Hashem, the Heavenly Court deems that he certainly would have fulfilled the easy challenges even if they had been hard. Therefore his easy accomplishments are judged as if they had been difficult for him and thus his reward is enhanced many times.

In Rosh Hashana 16b the gemora discusses the well known concept that on Rosh Hashana the righteous are immediately granted life and the wicked receive a verdict of death, while those in the middle have their sentences suspended until Yom Kippur. The Yerushalmi in Rosh Hashana 7a says that if these beinonim do teshuvoh then they are written with the tzaddikim, but if not, then they are included with the wicked.

Even one who has not yet done teshuva for ignoring easy mitzvos has hope. He should at least decide resolutely to learn mussar daily, since his mussar learning will motivate him and give him the tools to do teshuva. Reb Yisroel explains that because of Hashem's boundless love for us, He will view this resolution as if he is doing teshuva! With a sincere desire and firm resolve to learn mussar, he has the power to influence Divine judgment in his favor.

May Klal Yisroel have a kesivah vechasimah tovah and merit the geula sheleimoh bimheiroh veyomeinu!

Rabbi Basner is a rosh kollel in Kiryat Sefer.

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