Chazal tell us that we can negate an evil decree against us through teshuvah, tefilah, and tzedakah. Let’s briefly discuss each one:
Yom Kippur only atones for sins between us and Hashem. For sins between us and our fellow man, we must gain forgiveness from those we’ve hurt.
What if a person finds it difficult to forgive his fellow man? Here’s a suggestion. Make a deal with Hashem. Say to Him, “Hashem, this person really was nasty to me and he really doesn’t deserve my forgiveness. Still, I am willing to forgive him. So please, please, forgive me for my sins even though I surely don’t deserve it either.”
Remember: “Kol hemiracheim al habriyos, merachamim alav min HaShamayim – Whoever has mercy upon others, Hashem will have mercy upon him from Heaven.”
It is also important to thank Hashem for all the wonderful things that He has given us this past year. In the central prayer on the first night of Selichos, we ask Hashem “to listen to our songs and our petitions” (“lishmoa el harina v’el hatefillah”). We mention “songs” first because before we ask Hashem for blessings in the future, we must first thank Him and sing praises for all the things He’s done for us in the past.
The Chovos HaLevovos tells us, “Devarim sherotzeh lehasmid bah, al tiftach bah – Things that you want to continue, don’t take them for granted.” We are called Yehudim, which means people who give thanks, because we understand the importance of constantly expressing thanks at all times. That’s why we start every day of our life with Modeh Ani.
The Torah says: “u’l’avdo bechol l’vavachem – to serve Him with all your heart.” The Gemara asks, “What constitutes the service of the heart? Prayer.”
Interestingly, the essence of praying to Hashem primarily involves the heart. The great Avudraham notes that the gematria of “b’kavanas halev – with the concentration of one’s heart” is 515 – the exact numerical value of “tefillah.” One of the sources for the laws of prayer are verses describing the eloquent prayers of Chanah who “spoke with her heart” (“Vayidabeir Chanah el liba”).
The Zohar (Parshas Pekudei) says the penalty for those who come to shul and pray with their mouths while their mind is far away is very great. Many people pride themselves about not talking during tefillah and to saying every word carefully. Sadly, they don’t realize that if they don’t concentrate on the meaning of the words they’re saying, they’re missing out on the very essence of the commandment.
The Chovos HaLevovos teaches us that prayer without kavanah is like a body without its soul and peel without fruit. Where do we find a body without a soul? In the morgue or six feet under in the cemetery! Do we want to be “Chevra Anshei Morgue” or “Agudas Beis HaK’voros”?
To pray properly, one must, says the ancient Sefer HaEshkol, strip away all worldly distractions and subjugate our hearts. As a reward for this service, Hashem will help us have proper kavanah.
The Gemara (Berachos) teaches us that the “prayers correspond to the sacrifices.” Sacrifices in the Beis HaMikdash were flayed. Rav Shimon Schwab, zt”l, therefore suggests that when we pray, we must flay away all our daily concerns – such as what’s waiting for us in the office or at home, plans for the weekend, what we’re going to wear or eat – and concentrate solely on communicating with Hashem.
The Torah doesn’t generally offer specific rewards for mitzvos. It makes an exception with regard to the mitzvah of tzedakah, however.
The Torah tells us, “Aser t’aser – You shall surely tithe,” which the Gemara expounds to mean, “Aser beshvil sh’tisasher – Tithes in order to become rich.” The navi tells us, “You may test Me in this area [in charity]… And you will see that I will shower you with blessing.” And, we all know the Talmudic adage, “Tzedakah tatzil mimaves – Charity saves from death.”
I believe one reason why the Torah offers so many wonderful rewards for charity is because there is a stern Torah directive to give charity happily. “Al yeirah levavecha b’sitcha lo – Let not your heart be pained when you give of your money to the poor.” This commandment is very hard to uphold – especially if one lives on a tight budget. Hashem, therefore, offers all luscious rewards to assure us, as we take money out of the wallet, that we are not losing anything even in this world by giving charity. Rather, we are making one of the most prudent investments available to man.
But why does tzedakah save us from death? Why not Shabbos or kashrus?
I believe the explanation is as follows: Let’s say you make $25 an hour. You then go to shul and hear an appeal on behalf of the local Bikur Cholim and benevolently respond by giving $100. In essence, what are you really giving to charity? Four hours of your life. Since we give a portion of our life when we give charity, Hashem rewards us with extra life and thus saves us from death.
So, let’s look for opportunities to give extra tzedakah. And let’s also remember that giving charity is not restricted to giving money. Lending a friendly ear to a troubled person, spending a Sunday with a lonely soul, helping someone desperately looking for a shidduch, or helping negotiate a tuition contract for a family floundering in credit card also constitute a form of tzedakah.
In the merit of our increased commitment to teshuvah, tefillah, and tzedakah, may Hashem bless us with a healthy, happy, and sweet new year.