The Journey towards Forgiveness

מרן הגאב"ד שליט"א
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During the Chafetz Chaim’s travels through Poland, he once happened across a shul of Chassidei Alexander, where he entered to daven Mincha.  Since it was erev Rosh Chodesh, he wanted to pray the “Yom Kippur Koton” service, which includes special Selichos and Tehillim that are customarily added to the Mincha service of erev Rosh Chodesh, to ask forgiveness for the sins of the previous month.  The Chassidim told him that it was not their custom to do daven Yom Kippur Koton.

“Why not?” he asked.

“Our Rebbe does not daven Yom Kippur Koton, so neither do we,” they explained.  The Chafetz Chaim replied with a parable of two Jews who met while waiting in a train station in Warsaw.  When they realized that they were both headed towards Krakow, they decided to travel together.  The train soon set off, but at the very first stop, one of them got off the train.

“Where are you going?” asked his friend.  “I thought you were headed for Krakow.  We still have many stops left to go.”

“Perhaps you can afford to buy a ticket from Warsaw to Krakow, but I am a poor man.  I can afford to travel only one stop at a time.  Each time I reach a new town, I get out and beg for alms until I have raised enough money to reach the next town, and so continue on my journey.”

The Chafetz Chaim, in his humility, used this parable to explain the difference between himself and the Alexander Rebbe zt”l.  The Rebbe had a vast wealth of merit in Heaven, due to his great piety and righteousness.  Therefore, he could afford to “purchase a ticket” that would take him from one Yom Kippur to the next.  We, on the other hand, are spiritual paupers, who must make our journey towards atonement in small steps, inching forward, from one month to the next.

There are many stops on our journey of spiritual growth throughout the year, and especially during this season of Teshuva.  Elul, Selichos, Rosh Hashana, the Ten Days of Teshuva, Shabbos Teshuva, and finally Yom Kippur: “the Awesome and Holy Day”.  During this period, we each make our own personal stops of introspection, as we consider the years that have passed and the years that are to come, and contemplate how we can improve.  One particularly shocking stop is made to hear the curses of Parshas Ki Savo, which is always read two weeks before Rosh Hashana.  Therein, we are warned of the dire consequences of disobeying Hashem.  These curses are particularly meaningful before the Day of Judgment, and we must take advantage of them, to spur ourselves forward, and overcome the natural laziness and complacency that plagues as all.

Twice in the Torah we are presented with stern warnings of the fierce Divine judgment that awaits us, should we prove unfaithful to Hashem.  One warning is found in Sefer Vayikra, and another is here in Sefer Devarim.  The Gemara states:

קללות שבתורת כהנים בלשון רבים נאמרו ומשה מפי הגבורה אמרן, קללות שבמשנה תורה בלשון יחיד נאמרו ומפי עצמו אמרן.

The curses of Sefer Vayikra are stated in the plural form, and were dictated to Moshe by the Mighty One; whereas the curses of Sefer Devarim are stated in the singular form, and were spoken מפי עצמו.[1]

מפי עצמו is generally interpreted to mean that Moshe spoke these curses of his own volition, although he was certainly endowed with a spirit of Divine inspiration when he did so, as Tosefos explains.  However, R’Y Ibn Shuib, a prominent student of the Rashba, offered a very different explanation.  He explains that the curses of Sefer Vayikra were presented by Hashem in the assembly of His Heavenly Tribunal, where His attribute of Might is most evident, and from whence harsh judgments originate.  In this context, He is given the title of “HaGevurah: the Mighty One.”  The curses of Sefer Devarim, on the other hand, were spoken מפי עצמו, from Hashem’s own mouth, without any interference from His Tribunal.  Since these curses were given outside the formal protocol of Heavenly Justice, they are tempered by Hashem’s mercy.

We read these warnings as a prelude to the Day of Judgment, in order to impress upon ourselves the deep realization that Hashem loves us.  He has always loved us, and He always will love us.  Even when He dons His attribute of Might, for the Awesome Day of Judgment, He does so with love.  In order to emerge victorious from our judgment, we need only requite His love, by returning to Him wholeheartedly, with Teshuva M’Ahavah (repentance inspired by love).

The Gemara further stresses that the warnings that precede Rosh Hashana are stated in the singular form.  Thereby, we are reminded to focus on our own faults, and improve ourselves, rather than search for the faults of others.  Some people feel that they are responsible for the entire world.  They constantly discuss the injustices that are perpetrated across the globe, as if their interest could in any way improve matters.  In truth, we are all responsible, first and foremost, to improve ourselves.  Only thereby can we improve our homes, our families, our communities, and ultimately the entire world.

[1] Megillah 31b.  See Minchas Asher, Sichos, in which the various explanations of the Rishonim are presented.