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.