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Yom Kippur

Volume 26, No. 48

Sponsored by Bert and Beverly Anker on the 23rd yahrzeit of Bert’s father, Moe Anker (Moshe ben Yakov Hakohen a”h)

Rochelle Dimont and family on the yahrzeit of husband and father Rabbi Albert Dimont a”h

R’ Moshe ben Yosef Mi’Trani z”l (the “Mabit”; Tzefat, Eretz Yisrael; 16th century) writes: We have searched for a definition of teshuvah [literally, “return”], and we have found the following to be correct and comprehensive: Teshuvah is coming close to Hashem after having distanced oneself by sinning.

He continues: By “coming close,” I mean that the penitent’s intent should be to approach closer to his Creator, from Whom he distanced himself by going against His Will. The penitent’s intention should not be to avoid punishment, for that intention does not bring a person close to Hashem. In truth, one who has sinned has done two things wrong: he has wronged himself by causing himself to be punished, but worse than that, he has angered his Creator by going against His Will. (This may be understood, Mabit writes, by thinking of a human king who is pained by the mere fact that someone violated his command, even though he may not punish the violator because that person is his son or close friend.) Therefore, one who wants to return must right two wrongs [as noted above]. . . As long as the penitent does not intend to appease Hashem’s anger, he has not “returned,” since he has not re-established the relationship that existed before the sin.

Mabit continues: “Coming close” means resolving that even if G-d would not punish those who sin, one does not want to sin in order not to transgress the command of the Creator. [If one awakens himself to this thought,] Hashem assists him to purify himself of his sin. This assistance means that Hashem directs a person’s heart and sets him on the path toward return--He spreads over the person “His sukkah of peace”--as soon as he feels remorse for what he did. (Bet Elokim: Sha’ar Ha’teshuvah ch.1)

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Rambam z”l writes (Hil. Teshuvah 2:8): “Sins that one confessed this Yom Kippur, one confesses again on another Yom Kippur, as it is written (Tehilim 51:5), ‘For I recognize my transgression, and my sin is before me always’.”

R’ Menachem Simcha Katz shlita (Brooklyn, N.Y.) cites a number of reasons for this halachah:

(1) If one always remembers his prior sins, he will be less likely to repeat them.

(2) Confession is an inherent part of the atonement process. Some sins are so serious that achieving atonement for them requires repeated confessions. (R’ Katz quotes R’ Tzaddok Hakohen Rabinowitz z”l (1823-1900), who writes that this is why we refer to Hashem in the weekday shemoneh esrei as the “One Who pardons abundantly.”)

(3) When a person repents, he raises his own spiritual standing to a higher level. On that new level, he obtains a new understanding of the severity of his sin. This leads him to realize that his previous repentance was inadequate, and it causes him to repent anew. And, each time he repents, this cycle repeats itself.

(4) Our Sages teach that if one repents out of fear of Hashem, his intentional sins are counted as unintentional sins. If his repentance is motivated by love of Hashem, his intentional sins are counted as merits. Of course, it is hard for a person to judge whether his teshuvah was adequate to completely erase his sin and convert it to a merit. Thus, he should repent again, as the verse says, “For I recognize my transgression [i.e., my intentional sin], and my [unintentional] sin is before me always.” This means: Because I am aware of my intentional sin and the possibility that it is now counted as an unintentional sin, but not as a merit, I will repent again in order to turn it into a merit. (Simcha L’ish p.447)

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“Baruch atah Hashem, the King Who pardons and forgives our iniquities and the iniquities of His people, the family of Yisrael, and removes our sins every single year, King over whole world, Who sanctifies Yisrael and the Day of Atonement.” (The conclusion to the middle berachah of the Yom Kippur shemoneh esrei)

R’ Yekutiel Yehuda Halberstam z”l (1905-1994; Klausenberger Rebbe) cites R’ Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev z”l (1740-1809), who said: When we recite this berachah, we are like a child who wants a candy or a cookie but his father won’t give it to him. What does the child do? He recites a berachah on the food, knowing that his parent won’t allow the berachah to be said in vain. Similarly, we say a berachah, “Baruch atah Hashem, the King Who pardons and forgives our iniquities . . . and removes our sins every single year,” in the hope that Hashem will not allow our berachah to be in vain. (Haggadah Shel Pesach Halichot Chaim p.25)

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“Al chet” / “Over the sins . . .” (From the Yom Kippur confession)

R’ Moshe Weinberger shlita (Woodmere, N.Y.) writes: When a person sins, he falls to a state lower than who he really is. To return, a person must climb “over” his sin, to the part of himself that preceded his bad choices. (Song of Teshuvah p.30)

A related thought:

“No adam / person shall be in the Ohel Mo’ed when he [the Kohen Gadol] comes to provide atonement in the Sanctuary until his departure.” (Vayikra 16:17 – from the Torah reading for Yom Kippur morning)

Rabbeinu Bachya ben Asher z”l (Spain; 14th century) quotes the Talmud Yerushalmi, which says that even angels may not be in the Kodesh Ha’kadashim / Holy of Holies while the Kohen Gadol is there. [See Yechezkel 1:10, which uses the word “adam” in connection with angels.] R’ Mordechai Menashe Zilber shlita (Stutchiner Rebbe in Brooklyn, N.Y.) writes that the angel referred to here is the yetzer hara / satan. That angel is not an inherent part of a person, but rather is an outsider. A person’s true, inner essence is pure and holy, like the Kohen Gadol. On Yom Kippur, when a person wants to return to Hashem, to enter the Holy of Holies, he must leave the angel, the yetzer hara, outside. Only the Kohen Gadol that is within each person should enter.

R’ Zilber explains that this is why our Patriarch Yaakov fought Esav’s angel and not Esav himself (see Bereishit ch.32). Even Esav was pure on the inside; it was only the angel, the yetzer hara, of Esav with which Yaakov had to contend. (Otzar Gilyonei Torah 5769 p.319)

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On the Importance of Appeasing Those We Have Hurt

Our Sages teach that one cannot achieve atonement unless he appeases those against whom he has sinned. Some say that one cannot achieve atonement even for his sins against G-d unless he has properly atoned for his sins against man, and received forgiveness. (Kaf Hachaim 606:3)

Why? Because atoning for only some sins is like immersing only part of one’s body in a mikveh. Obviously, one does not attain purity by doing so. (Mussar Hamishnah)

R’ Avraham Halevi Horowitz z”l (16th century; father of the Shelah Hakadosh) observes:

The obligation to ask forgiveness from those we have offended does not mean doing what is commonly done, i.e., that shortly before Kol Nidrei, one approaches his friends and asks their forgiveness. Inevitably, the friend responds, “You did not do anything for which I have to forgive you.” Then, these two friends forgive each other, something that was not necessary at all, since they were always dear to each other and would never wish each other harm.

In contrast, R’ Horowitz continues, enemies tend not to ask forgiveness from each other. Rather, each one says, “If he were interested in peace, he would come to me.” A wise man, however, would recognize that the true sign of strength is humility, and he would take the initiative to appease his enemy, even if his enemy is in the wrong. (Emek Berachah)

R’ Shlomo Zalman Auerbach z”l writes: Requesting general forgiveness for all sins that one has committed against another is effective only for minor offenses. [If one committed a more serious offense, he must specify it when he requests forgiveness.] (Quoted in Halichot Shlomo: Moadim p.44)

If one who has sinned against you does not come to you to seek forgiveness, you should make yourself available to him so that he might ask forgiveness. (Mateh Ephraim)

Because Yom Kippur does not atone until one appeases his neighbor, one should be certain to recite the following prayer (part of Tefilah Zakkah) which is printed in many machzorim:

“I extend complete forgiveness to everyone who has sinned against me, whether physically or financially, or who has gossiped about me or even slandered me; so, too, anyone who has injured me, whether physically or financially, and for any sins between man and his neighbor--except for money that I wish to claim and that I can recover in accordance with halachah, and except for someone who sins against me and says, ‘I will sin against him and he will forgive me’--except for these, I grant complete forgiveness, and may no person be punished on my account.

“And just as I forgive everyone, so may You grant me favor in every person’s eyes so that he will grant me complete forgiveness.”


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