“What is meant by, ‘Surely he scorneth the scorners, but he giveth grace unto the lowly’ [Proverbs 3:34]? If one comes to defile himself, he is given an opening; if one comes to cleanse himself, he is helped.” – Talmud Shabbos 104a
The Sages teach, based on the above Talmudic passage, and the configuration of the Hebrew letter, “hei,” that H’Shem will “give grace unto the lowly” to do teshuvah (repentance) through the narrow way. This is represented by the small space towards the top of the letter hei – ה – the narrow gate that leads towards teshuvah (repentance). On the other hand, “surely he scorneth scorners” can be understood to mean that G-d will also give occasion to those whose way is stubbornly opposed to following G-d’s word. The scorners are bent on following their own way that leads to “defilement;” for them, the way is broad, symbolized by the broad space at the bottom of the letter hei: ה.
“Know whence you came and to where you are going and before Whom you are destined to give a final accounting.” – Pirkei Avos 3:1
“These are the stages of the children of Israel, by which they went forth out of the land of Egypt.”
– Numbers 33:1, JPS 1917 Tanach
The forty-two journeys of the Children of Israel, “their goings out according to their journeys by the commandment of H’Shem,” were seen from the perspective of G-d, each one as a significant journey of progress, according to His plan. Each time they set out on a journey to the next encampment, there was no need for regret, if they accomplished, learned, and advanced in character development, according to G-d’s will.
Yet, even if they failed, they were given the opportunity to return to Him through teshuvah (repentance). Therefore, there was still no cause to regret, as long as they would be focused on a “godly sorrow,” that would bring them to a place of acknowledgment in regard to their aveiros (sins). This is akin to teshuvah tataah, fostering a contrite spirit, that will elicit H’Shem’s compassion from Above.
On the contrary, a sorrow in the form of yearning for the past, e.g., the comforts of Egypt (Numbers 11:5-6), or provisions other than the manna and water that H’Shem provided in the desert, led to complaining and rebellion. These complaints, and rebelliousness were tantamount to turning away from their divinely inspired goal to enter the Promised Land.
Even so, the goal remained, to enter Eretz Canaan as a people separated from the nations, in order to serve H’Shem, who only had their best interests in mind. And, H’Shem still has our best interests in mind today. He has not forgotten us, nor our individual needs, as we go from one place to another, journeying along throughout the stages of lives; moreover, He has set forth our path towards the Promised Land of Olam Haba (the World to Come).
Speak unto the children of Israel: When a man or woman shall commit any sin that men commit, to commit a trespass against the L-RD, and that soul be guilty; then shall they confess their sin which they have done.”
– Numbers 5:6-7a, JPS 1917 Tanach
According to Rambam (Maimonides), this verse is the basis of vidui (confession), within the context of teshuvah (repentance). “And shall make reparation in full” (Numbers 5:7, JPS). This latter part of the pasuk (verse) denotes reparations made to others, if the aveirah (transgression) is against another person. It is interesting to note that the Hebrew word for reparation is from the same shoresh (root), shuv (to return) as teshuvah (repentance). Essentially, repentance is a return to H’Shem (the L-RD). “Let us return unto the L-RD” (Hosea 5:15b, JPS 1917 Tanach).
Such confession is a mandatory commandment. How is the verbal confession made? The sinner says thus: “I beseech Thee, O Great Name! I have sinned; I have been obstinate; I have committed profanity against Thee, particularly in doing thus and such. Now, behold! I have repented and am ashamed of my actions; forever will I not relapse into this thing again.” This is the elementary form of confession; but whosoever elaborates in confessing and extends this subject is, indeed, praise-worthy.
In light of the recent tragedy at Meron, due in part to overcrowding, I would like to recount some insightful renderings made by others, concerning what can be learned from this tragedy. Any tragedy must be viewed as a significant event, meant to bring us to a greater understanding of ourselves, the condition of the soul, and a greater awareness of our connection to G-d. The insight is not my own, rather it is based on a few responses, given by certain authorities within the rabbinic world as well as a few other reputable sources.
A key thought to keep in mind, is that nobody is immune from judgments that are brought upon us as a people. Teshuvah (repentance) is first and foremost the primary response, in order to acknowledge that could have been us, if things were different. It is meaningful to do teshuvah, in respect to this tragedy, because this will place our response in the proper context, knowing that this is a wake up call to make heshbon hanefesh (an account of the soul) by examining our conscience.
The point was made by another source in the Jewish world, that Rabbi Akiva’s students, almost two thousand years ago suffered a high mortality rate due to a plague, attributed to their inability to respect each other’s viewpoints, thus showing a lack of respect towards each other. Showing respect to others is a basic quality that should be considered as part of our humanity.
It was mentioned that the type of overcrowding that leads to a neglect of acknowlegding the physical boundaries of others has been evident at other events of a similar nature. The worst case scenario of this kind of neglect has tragically occurred; as a result, to make this tragic event meaningful would include, not only doing to teshuvah for the sake of our own souls; also, to consider our own awareness of the physical space we give to others, respecting their boundaries. Of course, if I may add to this, the greater task at hand would be to also respect other people’s emotional and psychological boundaries.
I would not be writing any of this, except to reiterate as respectfully as possible, points already made by others much more qualified than me to make such statements. However, I will conclude with an attempt to connect the the attributes of the day to these lessons. Perhaps, one of the foundations of humility is to recognize that we all share a common humanity with each other. When we see ourselves, more or less on the same level as everyone else, then we will not try to lift ourselves up above others in any manner whatsoever. Thus, we would not disrespect others in our own attempts to fulfill mitzvoth (commandments) or minchagim (customs). Every mitzvah should be performed with the following commandment in mind, “to love our neighbor as ourself.”
Please, pray for healing of all those who suffered from this tragedy. The wounded, as well as the first responders who dealt with the psychological trauma of witnessing the aftermath. Also, for the consolation of the bereaved families and friends of those who lost their lives in Meron. Thank you very much. And, may G-d bless all of us in our endeavors to excel at improving ourselves.
“Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions; and my sin is ever before me.” – Psalm 51:4-5, JPS 1917 Tanach
Dovid HaMelech (King David) was constantly aware of the sins of his past. This awareness imbued him with humility, in the face of G-d’s righteousness. “Wherefore should I fear in the days of evil, when the iniquity of my supplanters [heels] compasseth me about” (Psalm 49:6, JPS 1917 Tanach). Literally, “the sins of my heels,” referring to the breaking of lesser mitzvoth, that people, figuratively speaking, tend to trample upon, mistakenly thinking that they are insignificant. Yet, even King David, was concerned, that he might be prevented from entering Olam Haba, because of the sins of the heels in his own life.
“Woe unto them that draw iniquity with cords of vanity, and sin as it were with a cart rope” (Isaiah 5:18, JPS 1917 Tanach). As is mentioned in Chok L’Yisrael, based on the Zohar Bereishis 198a, the phrase, “the cords of vanity,” is also likened to the sins of the heels. Additionally, the phrase, “cords of vanity” is reminiscent of the prayer, Ana Bekoach, where we request of H’Shem, that He “untie the bundled sins.” These sins are traditionally understood to be the collective sins of Israel.
On this Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, may we as well as all of Israel (K’lal Yisrael) be forgiven. Effectively, in due time, may this lead to our complete renewal as individuals. Furthermore, as a nation, may Israel’s redemption also be enacted through teshuvah. “And a redeemer will come to Zion, And unto them that turn from transgression in Jacob, Saith the L-RD” (Isaiah 59:20, JPS 1917 Tanach).
G’marchatimahtovah. “May you be completely sealed for the good.”
After Adam and Chava ate from the Tree of Knowledge, H’Shem called to Adam, “Where art thou?” (Genesis 3:9, JPS, 1917 Tanach). He responded, “I heard Thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; so I hid myself” (Genesis 3:10, JPS 1917 Tanach). Adam’s shame compelled him to hide himself. Yet, G-d is all-knowing, as well as omnipresent (everywhere present). He surely knew where Adam was. Why did He ask, “Where are you?” One answer given, is that G-d was, in effect, asking, Where are you in your relationship with me?
We learn in the Book of Isaiah that sin separates us from G-d (Isaiah 59:2). Adam lost the oneness that he had with G-d; as a result of his transgression, he was was expelled from Gan Eden, along with Chava, who also partook from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Up until that point, everything that they experienced in Gan Eden was in one accord with H’Shem, a nondual perspective. Yet, after eating from the tree that was forbidden to eat from, they became aware of good and evil. For this reason, even today, there is not only good and evil in the world; also, there is an admixture of good and bad in everything we do.
Like Adam and Chava, we can not hide from H’Shem. He knows our “concealed acts.” Sin separates us from Him; the path to return is through actually admitting our transgressions, unlike Adam who circumvented G-d’s questions. During the Ten Days of Repentance, between Rosh HaShannah and Yom Kippur, we are all asked, “Where are you?” G-d is prompting us to reveal our sins to Him. Yet, sometimes, our sins may be hidden from ourselves; in this case, we may ask Him to reveal our sins to us.
“May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year.”
“For I know their imagination how they do even now.”
– Deuteronomy 31:21, JPS 1917 Tanach
“For their evil disposition to which they are yielding today, even before I bring you into the promised land, is known to Me.”
– Targum Yonaton, sefaria.org
G-d knows our proclivity towards aveiros (transgressions). In regard to B’nei Yisrael, He knew that the imagination, i.e., yetzer (inclination) of the people was inclined towards evil. Sforno explains, that the people were about to be brought into the promised land, in order to focus on H’Shem, serving Him through the mitzvot (as mentioned in Psalms 105:44-45); yet, “instead they look forward to gratify their own cravings” (Sforno, on Deuteronomy 31:21, sefaria.org) which will lead to an excessive focus on material pleasures, gained from the wealth that H’Shem provides. In other words, B’nei Yisrael will end up misusing their material goods. By neglecting to focus on H’Shem, after entering the Land, the priorities that were established, “that they might keep His statutes, and observe His laws,” were forgotten (Psalm 105:45).
Although many would like to believe that our natural tendency is to do good, this goes against the grain of understanding. Upon further reflection, we may find that we are inclined to enjoy ourselves, and be entertained by the world, while our efforts to do good are hindered. We may neglect to be kind, considerate, and selfless, unless we seriously strive to do so at all times. As soon as we take our eyes off of H’Shem, especially in this modern world, we might become further distracted, engrossed, and captured by our yetzerhara. Zechirus (vigilance) is of the upmost importance, in order to maintain our sense of deveykus (attachment) to G-d. If we expect to enter into the Promised Land of OlamHaba (the World to Come) with a good place reserved for us there, then, we must keep these points in mind: 1). sur meira, asei tov (eschew evil, do good); 2). show zechirus (vigilance) through constant awareness; and, 3). deveykus (stay connected) to G-d Above, who watches over us from Shomayim (Heaven).
Is the time drawing near for the sea to part? Is the Geulah (Redemption) at hand? The sages, in all of their sharp acuity, draw a parallel between the First Redemption, and the Final Redemption: akin to plagues that devastated Egypt, before the exodus of the Children of Israel, so will many plagues, even more than those inflicted upon ancient Egypt, precede the final redemption. This is gleaned from the following verse: “As in the days of thy coming forth out of the land of Egypt, will I show unto him marvellous things” (Micah 7:15, JPS). Could the modern day plague of the coronavirus be a foreshadowing of the Messianic Age?
The current exile (galus) of the Jewish people began almost two thousand years ago, when the second Temple was destroyed by the Romans. We were dispersed amongst the nations, as we still are today to some degree. Even though the state of Israel was renewed in 1948, without the Third Temple, we are technically still in exile. This is one reason why we proclaim every year, at the end of our Passover seder, “Next Year in Yerushalayim.” In essence, this does not refer to having the opportunity to fly to Israel via El Al Airlines, in order to make aliyah to our Biblical homeland. Rather, this alludes to the Geulah (Redemption), when Moshiach will reign from Jerusalem.
At that time, “peace on earth,” in all of its splendor will prevail over the unruly forces, that have no interest in recognising G-d’s sovereignty. Needless to say, we are only witnessing the beginning of these forces to potentially impact society in an unprecedented way; the road has been paved ever since the Age of Enlightenment, when the Deity of Reason was worshipped, to the diminishment of a focus on G-d, and religious values. This set the background for the French Revolution.
Behind the facade of a higher cause, these forces hold sway over any godless movement, whose roots are deeper than its claims to higher ideals, human rights, or “power to the people.” It is interesting to note, that as a result of the Bubonic plague of the 14th Century in Europe, “some historians believe that society subsequently became more violent as the mass mortality rate cheapened life and thus increased warfare, crime, popular revolt, waves of flagellants, and persecution” (Wikipedia). As far as I know, excepting self-flagellation, this seems to ring true today, in the face of COVID-19. “If we do not learn from the past, history will repeat itself.”
Am I overconcerned with the state of affairs in the world, and, more specifically, in America today? Others are apparently even more concerned. “In a normal month [Nefesh B’Nefesh] receives several hundred to a few thousand calls,” yet, this past June the Jewish organisation that promotes aliyah from the U.S. to Israel received 25,000 calls (VosIzNeias). For myself, I would only take that step, if and when I would hear the call from H’Shem, as has been mentioned by several fellow Jews in the not so recent past, concerning intuition from Above. Yet, the call to teshuvah, in and of itself, is primary; and, may be viewed the in light Hillel’s adage, “It’s not where you are, but how you are.” And, “if not now, when.”
“And thou shalt bethink thyself among the nations, whither the L-RD thy G-d hath driven thee, and shalt return unto the L-RD thy G-d.”
“Speak unto the children of Israel: When a man or woman shall commit any sin that men commit, to commit a trespass against the L-RD, and that soul be guilty; then they shall confess their sin which they have done.”
Numbers 5:6-7, JPS 1917 Tanach
According to Rambam (Maimonides), this verse is the basis of the importance of confession (vidui), within the context of teshuvah (repentance). “And shall make reparation in full” (Numbers 5:7); this latter part of the pasuk (verse) denotes reparations made to others, if the aveirah (transgression) is against another person. It is interesting to note that the Hebrew word for reparation is from the same shoresh (root), “shuv,” as teshuvah, meaning to return. Repentance is a return to H’Shem (the L-RD). “Let us return unto the L-RD” (Hosea 5:15, JPS 1917 Tanach).
The Mishkan along with the Levitical system of offerings were meant to restore the relationship of the people with HShem. A restored relationship with HShem begins with vidui (confession), whereby we confess our sins to Him; additionally, we return to Him by not making the same transgression again. We must also increase our mitzvoth, spending more time engaged with G-dly pursuits, and less time in that which could be considered frivolous.
Unless we are conscious of leading a godly life, we may not even realize that a diminished connection to G-d may be a result of our own lack of mitzvot (good deeds). “Your iniquities have separated between you and your G-d (Isaiah 59:2, JPS 1917 Tanach). In order to experience G-d’s presence in our lives, then we need to approach Him in righteousness. If we have not been cognizant of what He expects from us, then we need to educate ourselves, according to His ways. Now is a good time to start.
Today is a day of fasting and prayer in Israel, as well as throughout the world. According to the Hebrew calendar, today is the last day of the year, when the year is reckoned by the monthly perspective, beginning with Nissan, the first of the months.
Today is also Yom Kippur Katan (small Yom Kippur), the day before Rosh Chodesh (the New Month). Yom Kippur Katan, observed almost every month on the 29th of the month, is a day of fasting, prayer, and teshuvah (repentance), in preparation of the New Month.
Even moreso, today, before the month of Nissan; and, especially because the day has been declared a day of fasting and prayer, in lieu of the coronavirus plague. Instead of letting the plague run its course, we pray for its end.
Instead of letting the plague overwhelm our lives, we pray for strength to continue with our daily tasks. Instead of letting the plague divert our attention from what is most meaningful in life, we pray for guidance to focus on what is essential.
Instead of letting the plague compel us towards a mindset of fear, anxiety and worry, we pray for G-d to enlighten us with hope, faith, and peace of mind. Instead of letting the plague contribute to a sense of claustrophobia, we pray for G-d to show us how to use our time wisely.