Elul, the last month in the Jewish calendar, is to be spent preparing for the
upcoming High Holidays. Because G-d judges and "sentences" the entire world
on Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur, it is only fitting that we try to correct our
flaws and repent before that time. That way, when we come before G-d for
judgement on these holidays, we will find favor in His eyes (assuming our
repentance was sincere) and be judged for a good year.
The Talmud (Yoma 86b) writes "Rav Meir used to say Great is repentance, that
because of an individual who repents, the entire world is forgiven, as the
verse says (Hoshea 14:5) I will rectify their waywardness, I will love them
gratuitously, for My anger has turned away from them."
How is it that an individual's repentance can have such extensive effects?
How is the repentance of an individual so powerful that is has a worldwide
impact? The commentators on the Talmud explain the roots of this power in
different ways. The Maharsha explains that we see elsewhere in the Talmud
(Kiddushin 40b) that a person should always view himself as if his sins and
merits are equally balanced. That way, if a person does one mere Mitzvah, the
scales tip in his favor and he is forgiven and judged favorably. The Gemora
expands on this. The entire world, therefore, is composed of people whose
sins and merits are equally balanced. All it takes to assure that the global
scales tip in the direction of merit is one Mitzvah done by one person. One
individual doing one Mitzvah can save the entire world. But how does this
relate to repentance? The Maharsha explains that if a person sincerely
repents, and repents out of his or her love of G-d, G-d changes the sins of
the individual into merits. If an individual wholeheartedly repents, the
previously balanced scales will most certainly tip in the direction of merit,
both for the individual and the entire world. Any and every individual has
the power literally to save the world. Repentance is the root of that power.
The Anaf Yosef explains this power of repentance in another fashion.
Repentance has several components. Fasting, weeping, and confessing are all
important parts in the repentance process (see I:34, I:28 ). When a person
fasts and weeps as part of the repentance process, he has removed G-d's wrath
from the world. Once G-d's wrath is removed, G-d no longer judges with His
attribute of strict judgement. Rather, He judges with compassion and mercy.
When G-d judges with mercy, He accepts repentance that is not complete. He
accepts from many only a confession without the fasting and weeping that
should accompany it. The person who sincerely repents causes the entire
world to be viewed in a more favorable light, enabling many more to have
their less than wholehearted repentance accepted. He causes the entire world
to be judged with mercy, so that the world's salvation is more readily
The Anaf Yosef further explains that the verse quoted by the Talmud is now
better understood in its entire context. The chapter begins "Return Israel
unto Hashem your G-d, for you have stumbled in your iniquity." The verse is
telling us that we must return to G-d, we must repent with a complete heart
as we have sinned. If we repent, G-d's wrath will be removed. "Take words
with you and return to Hashem, say to him May you forgive all iniquity and
accept good intentions, and let our lips substitute for bulls." G-d's
forgiveness of those who do less than a complete repentance, who have good
intentions, comes with mercy. That mercy comes after the wrath is gone. "I
will rectify their waywardness, I will love them gratuitously...." Why does
this happen? Because "... (for) my anger has turned away from them" as a result of those
who have wholeheartedly repented.
May each and every one of us merit to save the world this Elul.
This issue of YomTov is dedicated to the merit of Refa'el Yaakov ben Rachel,
who should have a complete and speedy recovery.
Check out all of the posts on Elul and Rosh HaShana. Head over to
http://www.torah.org/learning/yomtov/ to access the YomTov Page. Then click on the icon for the holiday of your choice.