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24 Elul 5765 - September 28, 2005 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly
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Opinion & Comment
Yom Kippur: No Time For Excuses

Compiled from the sichos of Morenu veRabbeinu HaGaon HaRav Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg, Shlita

If the blast of the shofar did not accomplish its purpose on Rosh Hashonoh, it should at least prepare us to face the final judgment that awaits us on Yom Kippur.

The blasts of the shofar we heard on Rosh Hashonoh were intended to help us face reality. If we did not wake up then, if we still have not changed our ways, our way of thinking, and our way of life — we should do so before it is too late. The sound of the shofar should force us to reconsider what we are doing with our lives.

This is what the Rambam means when he writes, "Even though the sounding of the shofar on Rosh Hashonoh is a decree of the Torah, there is remez in it. Which means to say [that the blast of the shofar is intended to] arouse sleepers from their slumber and to awaken those who are in a stupor from their unconsciousness. They should examine their deeds, repent and remember their Creator — those who forget the truth . . ." (Hilchos Teshuvoh 3:4). The shofar beckons to us; it calls out and reminds us to realize the truth and to face reality.

The Rambam continues, saying that because of our daily routines we lose track of the true purpose of life. Over the course of the busy year, the demands of life — and our lifestyles — distract us from facing the truth. Thus, we lose track of our true purpose in life.

We can, as a result, uselessly waste much of our precious lives. To avoid this, we must seriously evaluate our actions.

If we did not come to our senses before Rosh Hashonoh then at least on Rosh Hashonoh, the shofar blasts should alert us to the seriousness of our situation. If it did not happen then, it should happen now, during these ten precious days of teshuvoh which start with Rosh Hashonoh and conclude on Yom Kippur.

We must examine our actions, and question their motivations. We must be honest with ourselves about what we are really doing with life. Designed to force us to face reality, the shofar should have aroused us to wake up and do teshuvoh.

*

To realize the truth requires profound insight and profound foresight: insight to see what we are doing and foresight to see were we are going. Life is a constant battle between reality and fantasy, truth and falsehood, logic and emotions — the yetzer hatov and the yetzer hora.

The Seforno (Bereishis 3:1) explains that the yetzer hora has the power to deceive our seichel. The yetzer hora influences our better judgment by introducing appealing imaginary choices — choices that actually, if assessed with insight and foresight, would be found lacking in true worth. Such fantasies amount to a waste of time and, if pursued, they result in a wasted life. If fulfilled, they result in aveiroh.

Obviously, we must wake up before it is too late. We must realize what we are doing with our lives. We all have something unique and special to accomplish in life, and none of us lives forever.

The sefer Even Shleimoh (10:11) explains, based on the teachings of the Vilna Gaon zt"l, that three mal'ochim appear to a person just before he dies. The first one comes with a total of the person's time he spent alive — and how the time was used. Each moment is inspected to see what was done with the time that Hashem allotted in this world. A second mal'och appears with an account of all the person's transgressions.

Finally, a third mal'och, the same mal'och that taught the person Torah while still in the mother's womb, appears and determines how much of that Torah was actually completed during his lifetime. We must face the fact that our time in this world is limited — and even more seriously, we are held accountable for what we did with it.

In light of these facts, it is not difficult to imagine why the Chofetz Chaim would spend part of his day by himself, in a special room, in order to make a cheshbon hanefesh. He would analyze how he spent the day's time.

Once, Rav Yeruchom zt"l, the mashgiach of the Mirrer Yeshiva, and Rav Naftali Tropp zt"l, who had learned together in Kelm, were curious to know how the Chofetz Chaim, made this accounting. They listened in and discovered that the Chofetz Chaim scrutinized each minute of the whole day.

When the Chofetz Chaim realized that on that day twelve minutes were unaccounted for, he began to cry out, "Yisroel Meir! Yisroel Meir!" When his cries became vehement, they ran away. All this was over a problem of properly accounting for twelve minutes!

This attitude — a realistic understanding for the value of time — helped make the Chofetz Chaim great, so great that his influence continues to grow to this day. Great people realize the great value of time — the value of life.

*

The prayer, "Tefilloh leMoshe, ish ho'Elokim . . ." (Tehillim 90) is a great testimony to the value of time and the preciousness of life. When Hashem decreed that Moshe Rabbenu would pass from this world, Moshe Rabbenu prayed for Klal Yisroel. The Malbim, in his commentary on Tehillim, sums up the essence of Moshe's prayer: "A prayer about the shortness of a person's life; and since his days are wasted on trivialities, he is unable to fulfill the purpose for which he was created."

At the very end of Moshe Rabbenu's life in this world, Moshe Rabbenu prayed that he would realize the value of time. We would expect Moshe Rabbenu's last prayers for Klal Yisroel to include requests for greatness in Torah, yiras Shomayim or prophecy.

Surprisingly, Moshe Rabbenu instead prayed for us to wake up and to realize that our time in this world is limited.

Moshe Rabbenu's last plea to Klal Yisroel was, "Repent!" The last lesson Moshe Rabbenu taught us was: from Hashem's point of view, a thousand years are like yesterday. They pass by like a night. We live only seventy years, perhaps eighty years. We have so much to accomplish with our lives and our lifetime is so short. We must be wise enough not to waste our time, not to waste our life.

Accordingly, Moshe Rabbenu's final prayer to Hashem was to grant us the ability "to count our days, so we shall understand and chochmoh shall come into our hearts" (Tehillim 90:12). Moshe Rabbenu's last prayer for us was to face reality, to realize the shortness of our lives and to value the time Hashem has given us. It is a prayer that we should become awake enough and wise enough to have hearts that desire chochmoh, the true wisdom we need for success in this life.

Our lives pass very quickly. We waste lots of time, especially in our early, youthful years. Therefore, the Ibn Ezra comments on this posuk, explaining why this chochmoh, the realization of the value of time, is so important that Moshe prayed for Hashem, "To give us a heart to know how to value our days, and the reason why — because they are few." Moshe Rabbenu continues his prayer, "Satisfy us in the morning with your kindness and we shall sing out and rejoice all our days" (Tehillim 90:14).

The Ibn Ezra explains that this means, " . . . if Hashem has been kind with us in our younger years [the morning]; that He has taught us the proper way, therefore we will rejoice all our life, even when we are old."

This is a vital aspect of Moshe's prayer. It was Moshe's special request for wisdom in the early part of our lives, in order that our most energetic and productive years should not go to waste, and that we should not fool ourselves by thinking we can run away from reality.

*

During the minchah prayers of Yom Kippur — the day when Hashem Yisborach concludes His judgment, the judgment that started on Rosh Hashonoh — we read sefer Yonah. The Chofetz Chaim zt"l writes two reasons why we read sefer Yonah on Yom Kippur: It speaks about teshuvoh, and also it teaches us about the impossibility of running away from Hashem (Mishna Berurah, s. k. 7 Shulchan Oruch, Orach Chaim 623).

Hashem commanded Yonah to go to the great city of Nineveh. Yonah was to prophesy that the time had come for Nineveh's judgment and the population should therefore repent. Yonah refused. In his footnote Shaar HaTzion (6), the Chofetz Chaim elaborates on the foolishness and futility of trying to escape from HaKodosh Boruch Hu: " . . . many times a person will give up hope on himself. He will think that he is not at all able to correct himself. Therefore he will always behave in one particular way [of wrongdoing] and [resigns himself to the fact that] if HaKodosh Boruch Hu will decree that he die — he will die."

The Chofetz Chaim continues and explains the foolishness of such thinking: "This is a mistake, because ultimately everything HaKodosh Boruch Hu wants the soul to rectify [in this world], it is forced to rectify — [and if not, then against the person's will] he will come again, and again to Olom Hazeh! If so, why should he go through all the effort — to die, suffer burial and other travails — and return another time?" Yonah's experience proves the falsehood and foolishness of thinking that we can escape our mission in life and our responsibilities to our Creator.

The Chofetz Chaim continues, "HaKodosh Boruch Hu wanted him to go and prophesy. He refused and fled to the sea [to escape] . . . and we see [the outcome was] that he plunged into the sea; he was swallowed by a fish, and he remained in its belly many days. It would seem unlikely that he would ever be able to fulfill the command of Hashem Yisborach when he was at that stage. Nonetheless, we see the eventual outcome was that the Word of Hashem was fulfilled — he went and he prophesied. Similarly [for each and every one of us], as it says in Ovos, `And do not let your yetzer convince you that the grave is an escape, for against your will you are formed . . ."

Especially when we are young, when we are most creative, we must face reality. We must realize the value of time and the value of life.

When we are young, the yetzer hora is very active and tricks us into chasing after all that the world has to offer. The yetzer hora tempts us and fools us into believing that the world's pleasures have real value. This pursuit of empty, short-lived physical pleasure leads us further and farther away from our true goals.

Without insight and foresight, we follow our desires and we lose track of the purpose of life. We forget why we are alive. We stray farther from the path of Torah, further from the fulfillment of mitzvos — farther, further away from our Creator, and inevitably closer to sin and transgression.

The gemora Sotah (3a) teaches us that, "No one does an aveiroh unless a ruach shtooss — a spell of idiocy — enters him." Logically, no one should ever do an aveiroh. Using seichel, the proper outlook, with enough insight and foresight into the goal and purpose of life, should protect us from transgressing the Will of our Creator. Regrettably, when a craving for pleasure triggers our emotions, our seichel must then clash with the imagination, the main weapon that the yetzer hora uses against us.

Once challenged, our ability to think gives in to the deceptions of fantasy — the tempting opportunity for physical satisfaction — a fantasy which is not true, productive or lasting. These fantasies cause indulgence instead of restraint, aveiroh instead of mitzvah, tumah instead of kedushoh and death instead of life. The anticipation for pleasure creates a thrill, a physically undeniable sense of excitement, and the seichel gives way.

We lose ourselves over the false, momentary possibilities of pleasure. In spite of our better judgment, we stumble over the slightest temptations. How many times will a diabetic, knowing the consequences, indulge in sweets or chocolate cake? How many times will the mouthwatering expectations of eating a charcoal broiled steak outweigh the agony of ulcer pains?

Mature, rational individuals can ignore such obvious and immediate harm — they know their health will suffer, and they know their indulgence is not good for them — but, since they are captured and fascinated by the lures of the yetzer hora, they lose their senses and act foolishly. If the yetzer hora can trick us to ignoring the reality of physical pain and suffering then, if we do not defend ourselves against the yetzer hora's spiritual attack, how can we ever hope to survive?

Our ruchniyus is much more at risk because the consequences of our transgressions are not always so immediate and direct. Therefore, when it comes to ruchniyus the yetzer hora has much more power over us. We can unknowingly fall prey to the yetzer hora very easily. The yetzer hora is very satisfied if we sleep through life.

The sound of the shofar on Rosh Hashonoh should wake us up. But waking up is not enough. We must ask Hashem to forgive us for our sleep, for our negligence.

*

In the al cheit we say on Yom Kippur, we ask forgiveness from Hashem for very many different sins and transgressions. We mention some of the aveiros that we did knowingly, some that we did by mistake or by accident, and some that we did through rebellion. Some aveiros are mentioned specifically, and others are mentioned generally. One of the general categories that we mention are the aveiros that we did "bli da'as."

In the Siddur HaGra, the commentary Siach Yitzchok explains that the expression "bli da'as" refers to a sin done without knowledge. "This includes the things a person stumbles upon without taking notice and without knowing about it from the beginning to end . . .also, it includes many transgressions done for lack of proper consideration. Included also in [the category of] `bli daas' is something that the person is not commanded about, but, if he would properly contemplate — deeply, he would understand it on his own; therefore he is punished for it."

Something we did bli daas is an aveiroh due to not thinking, not realizing, not knowing — a completely different class of transgression. If we are responsible for a single aveiroh of bli daas, can we imagine the responsibility we have for a lifetime — a lifetime spent without insight and foresight! A lifetime of sleep!

We can continually renew and enliven our avodoh to Hashem if we apply ourselves, if we are watchful and wakeful, if we give proper thought and reflection to our way of life. Thus, we will realize new ways of fulfilling what Hashem expects from us. We can reach great heights of devotion and love for Hashem; and if not, we are accountable for what we could have done but did not do.

The boundless chesed that Hashem continually bestows upon us demands that we think ever more deeply into how we can better serve Him. These are the obligations that our seichel demands of us. Without effort however, these obligations will not be recognized and certainly not fulfilled, often with very serious consequences.

During these precious days between Rosh Hashonoh and Yom Kippur, we have an opportunity to come back down to earth and face reality. We have to realize that we came into this world for a purpose; we have a goal.

Shall we go through life ignoring our responsibilities? Are we foolish enough to think we can escape Hashem? We must realize the significance of our lives, and the value of the time Hashem has given us. Ignorance will not be an excuse.

Shall we choose to return to this existence in order to put back together the pieces of a wasted life? If we realize the seriousness of life we will not waste our time, we will not waste our lives.

Hashem Yisborach gave us the precious opportunity of life and its glorious, noble purpose — to draw close to Him. Hashem Yisborach also gave us the means; Torah and mitzvos. We need to remember our goal. We have to give serious thought and make a cheshbon hanefesh — with insight and foresight into what we are accomplishing with our lives. Our lives are so short. We must face this reality.

We all know Torah and mitzvos are important, but we have to realize, and never forget, not for a moment, the necessity of Torah and mitzvos to our goal. A successful life is impossible without them. If we know this and remember this we will be motivated; motivated enough to withstand the yetzer hora's foolish worldly distractions — and, Hashem will be with us. Hashem will help us.

HaRav Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg is rosh hayeshiva of Yeshiva Torah Ore, Yerushalayim.


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