The Honor of the King
The forty days from Rosh Chodesh Elul until Yom Kippur constitute the
special time for teshuva, repentance. Historically, this was the period in
which Moshe ascended the mountain the second time, and received the second
set of luchos (tablets). Moshe descended on the fortieth day --
corresponding to Yom Kippur -- and so it was established that Yom Kippur
would forever be a day of forgiveness and atonement.
How does one approach teshuva? In order to improve, we must find areas
which need improvement. It often happens that a person can't find
sufficient faults, or else he becomes overwhelmed with his failings, and
falls prey to depression.
Years ago, it occurred to us that the place to begin is with the mitzva of
teshuva itself. Since teshuva is itself a mitzva, one has to do teshuva for
not doing teshuva!
This year, we found such an idea in the writings of the Slonimer Rebbe --
The Rebbe explains with an analogy. A person offended the king. He was so
thick-skulled that he was insensitive to the mighy ruler. Should he come to
realize the extent of his insensitivity -- that he insulted someone -- this
will hardly do. He did not merely insult someone, but he offended the king
himself. Until such time that he understands the honor of the king, he
cannot sufficiently atone.
This story approaches the ways of teshuva. Our faults have removed us from
closeness and adherence to the King Himself. Until we recognize our faults,
there can obviously not be any atonement. However, even upon such
recognition, we must see the full extent of the consequences of our actions.
We must perceive the Honor of the King, and realize how we have degraded it.
The story is told of a man who approached Rav Levi Yitzchak of Berditchov,
and asked to be shown the paths of teshuva. Rav Levi Yitzchak told him to
return the next day, after eating and sleeping. In the morning, they began
the kabalistic study of the heavenly spheres. Afterwards, Rav Levi Yitzchak
indicated in was time to begin the recital of the vidui (the confession of
Yom Kippur). At the first word, the man fainted. Rav Levi Yitzchak woke
him, and returned to the study of the heavenly spheres. Again they returned
to the vidui, starting with the second word. Again, the man fainted. They
continued in such a manner until the vidui was completed.
The recognition of the extent of the damage is the key to the entire teshuva
This being the case, what good is our saying that we're sorry? Until we
truly perceive the extent of the damage, we cannot be forgiven.
On the other hand, we find that lost status can be recovered very quickly
and simply. The Talmud in Kiddushin says that if a wicked man makes a
transaction on condition that he be a totally righteous person, the
transaction takes effect -- "perhaps he had feelings of remorse in his
Further, the Slonimer Rebbe quotes that a criminal who demonstrates remorse
becomes acceptable as a witness (the quote is from Teshuvos Ohr Zarua 102,
but we were not able to find the exact source.)
These quotes seem quite problematic. It is important to feel remorse, but
one must pay damages, suffer punishment, or in some way tangibly make up for
the harm done. How can it be that remorse alone changes a person's status
in such a dramatic way?
The Rebbe explained: since moving apart from Hashem lowers a person's
status, the remorse alone returns him to the original status, even before he
has accomplished the various aspects of atonement. Even before he has paid
the damages, the penitent has returned to a closeness, an adherence to
Here, the Rebbe mentions the idea that we began with today. We need to do
teshuva for not doing teshuva properly...