Let him who is convinced that his views are true and right express them . . . at every opportunity . . . without considering how much support or how much opposition he will encounter. Only falsehood is in need of many supporters in order to win the day; falsehood must have the authority of numbers to make up for what it lacks in justification. Truth, by contrast, will always prevail, even if it takes time. Noble, courageous and pure, expressed with all the fiery zeal and conviction and with all clarity of sure awareness, stated again and again at every opportunity, truth will ultimately gain respect and admiration even of those who do not accept it. The only truth that can be lost beyond recall is that truth whose adherents no longer have the courage to speak up candidly on its behalf. Truth has never gone down in defeat as the result of opposition, it has done so only when its friends are too weak to defend it. - R' S.R. Hirsch

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Hilchos Teshuvah - Laws of Repentance

Some relevant laws related to this High Holy Day season taken from the Rambam's Hilchos Teshuvah (Laws of Repentance).

There are twenty-four things that impede teshuvah (repentance) that we would do well to consider and take to heart. Four of them are such great sins, that the one committing them is in danger of not being afforded the opportunity to repent:

(i) Causing the public to sin or preventing the public from performing a mitzvah.

(ii) Influencing another person to turn away from the good way to the bad.

(iii) Seeing one's own son going out to evil ways and failing to admonish him.

(iv) Saying, "I shall sin and I shall repent," or "I shall sin and Yom Kippur shall atone."

Five other sins hinder the path of teshuvah from those who commit them:

(v) Separating oneself from the congregation for [by doing so] . . . he will not benefit as they will benefit.

(vi) Disputing the words of the Sages, for his dispute will cause him to separate himself from them, and he will remain ignorant of the ways of teshuvah.

(vii) Mocking the mitzvot.

(viii) Insulting one's own Torah teachers, for . . . one who does so will not find anyone to teach him and to show him the true road.

(ix) Abhorrence of admonition and correction, for it is admonition that brings about teshuvah.

Five other sins make it impossible to do complete teshuvah, for they are sins against another person, but the person does not know against whom he has sinned, to whom he must make restitution, and from whom he must ask forgiveness:

(x) Cursing the public.

(xi) Sharing stolen property with a thief, thus not knowing to whom to make restitution.

(xii) Finding an identifiable object and not advertising it so that it may be returned to its owner; if he seeks to repent after a period of time, he will not know to whom to return it.

(xiii) Unlawfully taking and eating that which belongs to paupers, orphans, or widows, or other such unfortunates who are not well known and often are homeless, having to wander from city to city, so that the thief will never know to whom he must make restitution.

(xiv) Accepting a bribe to bend the law, for one can never appraise the ramifications and loss caused by bribery, and will therefore not be able to rectify the matter completely.

Another five are sins for which the one who commits them will most likely not repent, for most people do not consider them wrong; thus one sins, but does not become aware of his guilt:

(xv) Eating from a meal that is insufficient for it's owner, for the perpetrator thinks, "I have not eaten anything without permission."

(xvi) Using a poor man's tools, such as an ax or a plow, that one holds as a pledge, for one will say, "They are missing nothing; I have not stolen from them."

(xvii) Gazing lustfully at women, for one thinks he has done nothing wrong, and says to himself, "I have not had relations with her or even touched her," unaware of the great sin he has committed with his eyes.

(xviii) Glorying or rejoicing in another person's degradation, for one thinks that he has not sinned so long as the other is not standing before him and therefore is not embarrassed.

(xix) Suspecting innocent people, thinking that such suspicion is not sinful, and saying, "What have I done wrong? Have I done anything more than raise a possibility - maybe he did it, maybe he didn't?" But he does not realize that this is a sin, for it takes an innocent person and turns him, albeit only in the other's mind, into a sinner.

And the final five are sins that become habitual and it is thus difficult to separate oneself from them; so a person must be especially careful and scrupulous to avoid them lest he become attached to them, for they are all extremely bad traits:

(xx) Gossip.

(xxi) Slander.

(xxii) Anger.

(xxiii) Thinking evil.

(xxiv) Friendship with the wicked, with whose deeds he will become familiar and they will become impressed in his heart.

All these twenty-four things and their like, despite the fact that they hinder and impede teshuvah, do not prevent teshuvah. Rather, if one does succeed in repenting from them, he is a penitent and he has a share in the World to Come.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Confession: Taking Responsibility

A man or woman who commits any of man's sins, by committing treachery toward Hashem, and that person shall become guilty - they shall confess their sin that they committed (Numbers 5:6-7).

Sefer HaChinuch (364) explains that the mitzvah of viduy, confession, has a number of beneficial outcomes. By verbally enunciating his misdeeds, a sinner acknowledges that he believes that Hashem is aware of his actions, good and bad. Also, by specifically recalling his transgression and expressing remorse for it, he makes it more likely that the next time the sin comes his way, he will be more careful to not transgress by doing that which is forbidden.  Through this, his actions will be pleasing to his Creator.

R' Saadiah Gaon (Emunos VeDei'os 5:5) identified four components of repentance. They are: abandoning the sin; regretting the sin; requesting forgiveness for the sin; and accepting upon oneself not to repeat the sin. These are alluded to in the verses in Hoshea:

O Israel, return to the L-RD your G-d, for you have stumbled because of your iniquity; Take words with you, and return to the L-RD. Say to Him, "Take away all iniquity; receive us graciously, for we will offer the sacrifices of our lips.  Assyria shall not save us, we will not ride on horses, nor will we say anymore to the work of our hands, 'You are our gods.' For in You the fatherless finds mercy."  " I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely, for My anger has turned away from him (Hosea 14:2-4).

Return, O Israel refers to abandoning the sin, while for you have stumbled in your iniquity - by virtue of realizing that sin is an obstacle - refers to regretting the sin. Take words with you alludes to requesting forgiveness, and we will no longer say 'O our gods!' to the work of our hands refers to accepting upon oneself not to repeat the sin.

R' Saadiah Gaon says that one should add three more practices to these four things - additional prayer, additional giving, and helping other people repent from sin. [These are derived from Mishlei 16:6: Through kindness and truth iniquity will be forgiven, and Tehillim 51:15: I will teach transgressors Your way.]

When a person wholeheartedly accepts upon himself not to repeat his sin, his repentance is accepted:

If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us. (I John 1:8-10)

R' Israel Salanter writes (Ohr Israel, Letter 15): The foundation of the Days of Repentance is accepting upon oneself to abandon one's sinful ways. This is the most difficult of all toils.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Remember Me

Rosh Ha-shana is the name which designates the onset of the new year. The Rabbis, however, have chosen a more definitive and descriptive phrase: yom ha-zikkaron, “the day of remembrance.”

To remember, so we are inclined to think, is primarily to preserve in our consciousness a fact or an experience.  A “good memory” is one which retains precisely and vividly, that which has been seen, heard or learned. In short, we tend to regard memory as simply one comprehensive archive. Retention of the past has great significance per se . However, it hardly exhausts the full range of memory, of zikkaron.

There is memory which is not the recollection of an emotion but which is itself an emotion; and as such it may, strangely enough, relate to present and future no less than to the past. When the Torah tells us (Bereshit 30:24), “And G-d remembered Rachel, and G-d hearkened to her, and opened her womb,” are we to understand that she had been forgotten at some point?

Does the verse (Bereshit 8:1), “And G-d remembered Noah, and every living thing, and all the cattle that were with him in the ark,” describe some change in the range of His knowledge? Clearly, vayizkor in these verses signifies attention rather than knowledge. They tell us that G-d heeded Rachel and Noah, respectively; and they suggest that zikkaron may denote response and relationship. That relationship may of course vary. Generally, it is sympathetic. However, it may be negative as well. The mishna (Rosh Ha-shana 4:6) speaks of retributive zikkaron, and in at least one instance, hostile remembrance is even commanded.

The implications for Rosh Ha-shana are clear. The day and its sanctity are grounded in memory in both senses. The first aspect – recollection of the past, retention of information, recall of events – is unquestionably present. It finds its foremost expression in the opening lines of zikhronot, “memories,” the middle blessing of the mussaf prayer in which the character of Rosh Ha-shana as a day of judgment is emphasized:

“You remember what was wrought from eternity and heed all that has been formed from of old; before You all secrets are revealed and the multitude of hidden things from the beginning. For there is no forgetfulness before the throne of Your glory, nor is anything hidden from Your eyes. You remember every deed and no creature is concealed from You….”

However, it is equally clear that the second dimension is present as well. It, too, is reflected in zikhronot.   Shortly after the declaration, “For the remembrance of every creature comes before You, a man’s deeds and destiny, his works and ways, the thoughts and designs of a man and the motives of human action” a fresh note is struck:

“For the remembrance of all works comes before You, and You search into the doings of them all. Noah, too, did You remember with love and did visit him with a promise of salvation and mercy." Nothing is worse than being cast off from Him and left to our own devices.

Even punishment at His hands is better than oblivion: “Even such wrath may the Almighty pour upon us,” said Rav Nachman, “and may He save us” (Rosh Ha-shana 32b). Obviously, however, the remembrance for which we plead is a favorable one: “Remember us for good and visit us with a visitation of salvation and memory from the primordial heavens.” With that plea, the movement from one sense of zikkaron to another becomes fully explicit.

“Rosh Ha-shana,” wrote the Ramban, “is a day of judgment with mercy.” In light of that description, it may be said that in reciting zikhronot, we open with praise of “the L-rd of judgment” and hence celebrate that zikkaron which stores and recalls – and therefore accuses and reproaches. We conclude, however, with a plea to “the L-rd of our fathers,” and hence relate to that zikkaron which empathizes and redeems, to the source of “a visitation of salvation of mercy.” This range reflects the dual character of Rosh Ha-shana as yom ha-zikkaron.

We have dealt with yom ha-zikkaron as it appears in our prayers, as the occasion of divine remembrances. However, as the opening day of the period of repentance it obligates man to remember as well. On the one hand, repentance requires search and recall of the past. It demands that we do not content ourselves with attending to what we happen to be mindful of at the moment but rather that we mine our consciousness and that we examine the innermost recesses.

There can be no teshuva without knowledge of the past. One begins with the cognition and recognition of sin. “For I know my transgressions and my sin is ever before me” (Tehillim 51:5). To this end, we of course activate the memory of retention, the storehouse of the mind. However, repentance enjoins a second zikkaron as well. “Remember then your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come, and the years draw nigh when you shall say: ‘I have no pleasures in them’” (Kohelet 12:1).

It parallels G-d’s remembrance of His covenant with Israel, and its essence is yearning, longing, a deeply felt need to cling and to cleave. “My soul remembers and is bowed down within me. This I recall to my mind; therefore have I hope. Surely, the L-rd’s mercies are not consumed; surely, His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness” (Eikha 3:20-23).

The first step in repentance and return to Him is to remember the past and take responsibility for it. We then commit ourselves to a different and better future, to walking in all His ways and not going our own way.  We can rest assured that our return to G-d will be met by a complementary return on G-d's part.  G-d will answer the simple words of the lowliest thief in his hour of need who, after acknowledging and taking responsibility for the deeds of his past and upon recognizing the One to Whom he must commit his future, turned to the Messiah and said:

“L-rd, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.”  To which the L-rd replied: “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise." (cf. Luke 23)

May we dedicate and consecrate ourselves to Him, not only at the beginning and the ending of our year, but every single day and at every single hour; may we let no one day serve as a proxy for another day, let alone for an entire year.  Have a blessed New Year and may you be inscribed in the Lamb's Book of Life.  May He remember us favorably with mercy.