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29 Av 5762 - August 7, 2002 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Opinion & Comment
Is a Shofar Blown in the City and the People are Unafraid?

by HaRav Moshe Man

Part II

In the first part of this essay, HaRav Man wrote that a person must be aroused by the call of the shofar to do teshuvoh. He called particular attention to the general situation with its fear and terror of attack, and quoted a letter written by the Chofetz Chaim in a comparable situation. The latter wrote that Hashem has various ways to send us messages and sometimes he uses the people of the world. If we see the increasing strength of the middas hadin we must return to Hashem. "The longer we wait to do teshuvoh, the more His wrath will increase chas vesholom, and everyone who has yiras Hashem in his heart has an obligation to do teshuvoh.


Yet the essence of teshuvoh is not just altering one's conduct, but actually changing one's ways, as the nevi'im say, "Veya'azov rosho darko" (Yeshayoh 54) and "Im echpotz bemos horosho ki im beshuv rosho midarko vechoyoh" (Yechezkel 33). And Dovid Hamelech writes, "Alameda posh'im darkecho" (Tehillim 51:15), meaning a man must alter his path and must be taught the correct path he should walk on.

Akeidas Yitzchok, Sha'ar 100 says that "those who follow a wayward path have no hope, except to turn back from their evil course, and to prepare the path that will help them to improve, by doing teshuvoh. As it says in Chapter One of Even Shleima, one must teach himself to tilt every bad middoh to the opposite extreme."

Tenuas Hamussar, citing the Alter of Novardok, writes that he who regrets his misdeeds and does not follow a new path is like someone who boards a ship sailing west and in the middle of the journey, changes his mind and decides he wants to go east. But instead of switching to an eastbound ship, he stays on the same ship and turns to the east rather than west (Part 4, p. 253).

In another passage it says that he who does not change his fundamental nature, and only alters his conduct superficially, is like a midget who wakes up in the middle of the night and claims that he has suddenly grown, citing his bed as proof: Normally his legs do not reach the foot of the bed, he explains, but now his body extends from one end to the other. But when the lights go on, they reveal that instead of lying along the length of the bed, he is now lying along the width of the bed (p. 255).

One must also consider whether he should alter his ways in areas of good conduct as well. In his book of chiddushim on the Tanach the Brisker Rov, commenting on the verse "Nachpeso darkeinu venachkora" (Eichoh), writes, "According to Eruvin 13b, one should literally feel out his deeds, i.e. one should even examine whether his good deeds are truly good" (end of p. 118).

His comments demonstrate that one must also scrutinize his good deeds and his admirable ways to determine whether they are truly good, or whether they should be altered or changed altogether.

Says the Alter of Novardok, "I never considered whether I could do something or not, but whether I should do something or not."

So certainly one must consider whether his deeds need to be rectified, and if so he should know that he is capable of doing so.


The most effective form of teshuvoh is through increasing or improving Torah study. As it says on the verse, Kechu imochem devorim veshuvu el Hashem, "Says HaKadosh Boruch Hu, `I demand devorim, and there are no devorim besides divrei Torah'" (Chapter 38). And in Tanna Devei Eliyahu it says, "Based on this verse it is said, `Even if one's transgressions stack up one on top of the other, and then he does teshuvoh, says HaKodosh Boruch Hu, "I shall treat him with rachamim and I shall accept his teshuvoh . . . I shall forgive him for his sins" . . . And thus says HaKodosh Boruch Hu to Yisroel, "Come, and bring yourselves into the realm of Torah and speak to me using words of Torah. Like a man speaking to his fellow, as it says, Shuvoh Yisroel . . . kechu imochem devorim veshuvu el Hashem'" (Chapter 9).

In Rosh Hashanah 32b, Rabi Chisda cites the Yerushalmi, "Said HaKodosh Boruch Hu, `Since you accepted the yoke of Torah, I will consider it as if you have never sinned.' " And the Nefesh Hachaim says that the essence of doing true teshuvoh sheleimoh with love can only be accomplished through proper Torah study, noting that in Shemoneh Esrei, the words "hashiveinu Ovinu leSorosecho" precede "vehachazireinu biteshuvoh sheleimoh lefonecho," for ahavas haTorah can cover all sins" (Part IV, Chapter 31).

In Nidchei Yisroel, in his remarks on how to do teshuvoh the Chofetz Chaim concludes, " . . . and above all the ba'al teshuvoh should increase his Torah study as much as possible" (Chapter 35). Even Sheleimoh also says teshuvoh "requires two elements: rectifying the past and the future. For the former, Torah study and acts of chesed are better than any form of self-affliction, and will atone for his sin. And for the latter, the best advice is for him to work on yiras Hashem by acknowledging that HaKodosh Boruch Hu fills the entire world with His glory, and stands above him and sees all of his foul deeds. And he should feel thoroughly ashamed for transgressing His will right in front of Him (Chapter 4)." And even more so he should engage in Torah study on Shabbos, which has even greater seguloh, as is written in the introduction to Rabbi Shimon VeToraso, the Chazon Ish zt'l said that there are profound sevoros in the Torah that are virtually incomprehensible on weekdays, and can be penetrated only on Shabbos Kodesh through the kedusha of Shabbos."

The Kedushas Levi, at the beginning of Parshas Korach, cites the Ari z'l who says, "On Shabbos a talmid can grasp what his rebbe taught him during the week."


Someone who does teshuvoh can go from darkness to light in an instant, for on Shir Hashirim 5:3 Chazal say, "Said HaKodosh Boruch Hu to Yisroel, `Bonai, pischu li pesach echod shel teshuvoh kechudoh shel machat, ve'ani posei'ach lochem pesochim, sheagolos veharonios nichnosim bohem.'"

And the Pesikto says, "And teshuvoh is greater, for someone who thinks about teshuvoh in his heart can reach Kisei Hakovod instantly. According to Kiddushin 49b, "Hamekadesh es ho'isho al menas she'ani tzaddik, afilu rosho gomur -- mekudeshes," for he might have contemplated doing teshuvoh in his heart. This demonstrates that one can become a tzaddik instantaneously.

In Sha'arei Teshuvoh, explaining the reasons why one is roused to return, Rabbeinu Yonah writes, " . . . such an individual can go from darkness to light in an instant, Sha'ar 2). Similarly the Chasam Sofer, in his commentary on the verse, Kerochok mizrach mima'arov hirchik mimeinu pesho'einu (Tehillim 103:12), meaning, if someone stands facing the east, in the time it takes to turn around to the west, he can change from a rosho into a tzaddik.

Nefesh HaChaim says that the moment someone thinks a pure thought about doing a mitzvah, his thought makes an impression Above right away . . . and as a result a band of light surrounds him (Sha'ar I, 12).

The Alter from Novardok would talk about the value of teshuvoh, on the night of Yom Kippur, and on several occasions he quoted the Rambam from Hilchos Teshuvoh, Perek 7 Halocho 5: "Last night someone was despised by Hashem, despicable, cast off and abominable. Today he is loved and embraced fondly like a close friend."

Me'oros Hagedolos recounts how the Chofetz Chaim lost his father at the tender age of 11 and was forced to confront difficult nisyonos. The Haskoloh took an interesting in recruiting "the Ilui of Jetel," as he was known. On several occasions they tried to corrupt him. They tried to talk to him and to exert an influence on him. But the Chofetz Chaim was unwilling to listen. And he would often tell people about his difficult struggles, mentioning Chazal's saying, Yeish koneh olomo besho'o achas, for everything depended on a single moment: the time it takes to make a decision to go one way or the other.


At this time of year, one must increase his tefilloh, with weeping and tears to entreat Hashem to help him to do teshuvoh shleima.

Seder Hayom says, "There are times when we must intensify our prayers and supplications greatly, maintaining separate times for Torah study" (p. 57), by which he means these days are a time for tefilloh.

In Machaneh Yisroel the Chofetz Chaim cites the Midrash Rabba, Perek Ki Seitzei on the verse, Kechu imochem devorim veshuvu el Hashem . . . which says, "Says HaKodosh Boruch Hu, `I demand devorim, and there are no devorim except for Torah.' Replies Yisroel, `We don't know any.' Says HaKodosh Boruch Hu, `Cry and pray before me, for was it not through prayer that I redeemed your forefathers . . . ?' " (Chapter 3).

Ma'alos Hamidos says, "Therefore bnei Yisroel always knocked on the gates of repentance, weeping in tears. For anyone who wants to draw near Hashem has no one standing in his way. But HaKodosh Boruch Hu himself paves the way for him" (Chapter on Ma'alos Hateshuvah).

And the Meiri on Bovo Metzia 59a writes, "Although most prayers are certainly answered, when a prayer comes from such a deep place in the heart that tears overcome him, it is accepted even more readily. To clarify this point Chazal said, `The day the Beis Hamikdosh was destroyed the gates of prayer were locked shut, but although the gates of prayer were shut, the gates of tears were not shut.' "

In his sefer of letters and essays the Rosh Yeshiva zt"l writes, "Torah learning has no substance if it is accompanied, chas vesholom, by an element of disregard for the mitzvah of tefilloh" (Vol. II, 91).

Therefore Chazal decreed that we add selichos and supplications and pray to HaKodosh Boruch Hu that He grant us forgiveness and help us do teshuvoh sheleimoh.

HaGaon Rav Leib Chasman said, "People normally say they are going to `say selichos,' which is not the way it should be. It would be more correct for them to say they are going to `request selichos.' " And if one feels that his prayer has not been accepted, he should not despair, as HaRav Yaakov Kanievsky zt'l writes in his sefer, Chayei Olom, `Even if days or years go by in which it seems that his prayers have been for naught, he should not cease praying, for eventually he will realize that his prayers have done tremendous good' (see Vol. 1, Chapter 28).


After one has learned and absorbed advice to help him to do teshuvoh, he should be aware that the most important element is self-reflection and altering his ways. In Chapter 3 of Even Shleima it reads, "The way of Hashem must be learned from talmidei chachomim. But the battle against the yetzer requires more than good advice. The only answer is to invent tricks of one's own."

In Chapter 2 of Sha'arei Teshuvoh Rabbeinu Yonah writes, "Let us conclude with a saying by chachmei Yisroel, Im ein ani li, mi li, ukeshe'ani le'atzmi moh ani, ve'im lo achshov eimosai (Pirkei Ovos 1:4). This means if someone does not wake up, what good will mussar do, even though he took it to heart when he heard it or learned it? The yetzer will cause him to forget and will drive it out of his heart . . . He should not rely on admonitions alone, but should use them as an interim measure until he assimilates the mussar and purifies himself."

My grandfather, HaRav Hillel Witkind, whose yahrtzeit was just last week, was one of the pioneers of the Novardok yeshivos in Eretz Yisroel. I remember he would say in the name of his rav muvhak, the Alter of Novardok, that the harshest gezar din one can receive it to remain unchanged.

HaRav Moshe Man is rosh yeshivas Be'er Yitzchok.

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