I rarely take the extended warranty when purchasing new electronics. I figure that this warranty must not be worth much if they feel the need to pressure me into buying it. They must know what I have learned the hard way: there is no such thing as a real guarantee. In my more naive days, I purchased this “peace of mind,” as they call it, but never cashed in. Usually, by the time the item broke, I had forgotten about the extended warranty and purchased a replacement. Once I taped a copy of the extended warranty to the side of the copy machine so I would remember it could be replaced if it broke. Which it indeed did, and when I enthusiastically dragged the 60-pound machine to the store for my free replacement, they insisted I give them the original receipt. They refused to accept the photocopy of the receipt that I had responsibly filed away. It seems that page four of the warranty states that the original receipt was required. I had neglected to read the pages of rules that accompanied by original purchase. The lesson was clear. If I were to purchase another extended warranty, I would have to bring a lawyer to the store to read and interpret the fine print. Since a replacement machine is probably cheaper than legal fees, I now make do without this costly and fruitless purchase.
On Yom Kippur we can get a warranty from Hashem with no complicated fine print. On Yom Kippur, we are offered the guarantee for a year of life and blessing, with no need to incur legal fees. We can all sign up for this great offer. However, in order to understand this amazing deal from our Creator, we must obtain some insight into the nature of teshuvah.
Whose fault is it when things go wrong? In general, we don’t like to accept blame. We prefer to blame others or to rationalize our actions. Chazal tell us that when we repeatedly sin, the sins become habits; they become part of who we are, and it becomes very difficult to change the patterns of sin. The Gemara (Avodah Zarah 17) tells us of Eliezer ben Durdiya who had become a habitual sinner. When he decided to repent, Eliezer sat between two mountains and asked them to request mercy for him. They responded that they must request mercy for themselves. In turn, he proceeded to ask the Heaven and earth, the sun, moon, and stars, each responded that it must first request mercy for itself. He finally realized that it was up to him to ask for mercy, whereupon he put his head between his knees and cried until his soul left him. A voice from Heaven declared, “R’ Eliezer ben Durdiya is destined for the World to Come” (without need for Gehinom). Some explain that we learn from this story that even a habitual sinner can change his ultimate direction in life as long as he realizes that he himself is ultimately responsible to change his attitude or actions. When Eliezer ben Durdiya cried out to the two mountains, some explain that the mountains represented his parents, whom he blamed for his current situation. When he cried to the other forces of nature, he was blaming his teachers, friends, or boss. It wasn’t until he assumed personal responsibility for his actions that was he capable of real change, to the extent that his repentance erased a lifetime of serious sin and gained him admission to the World to Come.
The Rambam tell us that there is a serious type of sinner called “minnim,” who “stray after the thoughts of their hearts, concerning themselves with foolish matters… until they ultimately transgress against the body of the Torah arrogantly, with scorn, with the intent of provoking Hashem’s anger, and yet say that there is no sin involved.” At the moment a person sins he does not feel the presence of Hashem, as that alone would prevent him from sinning. We may know that we are wrong, but we easily blame our faults on other people, stress, or the desire for the pleasure involved. The classic example is the person who awakens in middle of the night to get a drink of water. As he passes through the dark kitchen, he trips over a chair, stubs his toe, and jumps up and down in pain. It does not occur to him that his injury occurred because he was not careful or too lazy to turn on the light. After he takes his drink, he passes by the same chair and painfully stubs his toe again. He hops up and down and screams at the stupid chair as if the furniture has a life of its own and deliberately meandered into his path. This explains why a person who gets angry is compared to one who worships idols, since anger makes a person imbue life and power into inanimate objects. Here he gave life and power to the inanimate chair that hurt him with its dastardly actions.
The Mishnah in Avos teaches us that even though our Creator foresees all, we still have freedom of choice. The most opportune time to exercise this freedom is at the initial moment of choice, when the challenges present themselves on a daily basis. Chazal tell us that it is greater to act consistently well throughout the year than to try and make it up in the Yom Kippur season. It is better to give small amounts of charity every day than to give large sums only during the days of judgment.
The Nefesh HaChaim questions at what point during the mitzvah does the peulah–the action–have the greatest impact on ourselves and ultimately the world. The greatest impact occurs not when you actually do the mitzvah, but when you fight your laziness and yetzer hara and choose to do the good act. Thus, when you give tzeddakah every day of the year, the cumulative moments of choice are more effective in facilitating growth than the one generous moment of choice during the High Holy Days. This concept also explains why mitzvas anashim milumada–habitual mitzvos that are done by rote–are not as great because there is less choice involved in doing them. Consequently, these habitual mitzvos involve less active choice and decision making and we don’t grow as much from a good act that does not involve a challenge.
Over the past few months, we mourned the loss of the Bais Hamikdash, a devastation that occurred as a result of senseless hatred. Despite the tremendous focus on improving interpersonal relationships, few people will claim not to hold grudges for wrongs done to them within the past year. Many people carry hatred for long periods of time, some even for lifetimes. A grudge that is carried from childhood to well into adulthood is a very heavy burden.
There is a fable about two monks who were walking along the river, refraining from conversation in fulfillment of their vows of silence. They observed a young woman desperately flailing in the rushing waters. One of the monks ran to the woman, lifted her on his shoulders, and carried her to the shore. The monks continued on their way. Four hours later, the other monk broke the silence by vociferously criticizing his friend–didn’t he know that it was wrong to have any physical contact with women? The first monk declared, “I don’t know why you are still carrying that woman with you–I let her go hours ago.” Many of us live our lives the same way. We get angry and blame others, and we punish ourselves by carrying the burden of anger for long after. If we could only forgive and move on with our lives–even if the other person doesn’t seem to deserve or even ask for our forgiveness–we would live more relaxed, less stressful lives.
There is additional gain that comes from forgiving. The Gemara tells us (Rosh Hashana 17) that anyone who overcomes his feelings of being slighted and forgives the one who has wronged him, Hashem overlooks his sins and forgives him for his acts, even if he doesn’t properly ask for or deserve forgiveness. We cannot approach Hashem on Yom Kippur and ask for His mercy until we have first shown mercy to all His children. That is why we say Tefillas Zaka on Erev Yom Kippur, declaring that we forgive all who have ever wronged us, even if it was their fault and even if they did not ask us to forgive them. This lightens our load and provides for us a guarantee for a good life and blessing.
Take the warranty from our Creator, say Tefillas Zaka this year with meaning, and may we be inscribed in the book of good life, and may goel tzedek bring the whole Jewish family together to live in holiness and harmony.
About the Author: Rabbi Gil Frieman is the pulpit Rabbi of Jewish Center Nachlat Zion, the home of Ohr Naava. He is certified as a shochet, sofer, and has given lectures in the United States, Canada, and throughout Eretz Yisroel. Rabbi Frieman is currently the American Director of seminaries Darchei Binah, Afikei Torah, and Chochmas Lev in Eretz Yisroel, and teaches in Nefesh High School, Camp Tubby during the summers, and lectures weekly at Ohr Naava. In addition, Rabbi Frieman teaches all tracks in Ateres Naava Seminary. He is a highly anticipated speaker on TorahAnytime.com where he speaks live most Wednesday nights at 9:00pm EST.
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