The Ten Days of Repentance: Ideas for Inspiration
By: Rabbi Yehudah Prero
The ten days from Rosh HaShana to Yom Kippur are called the "Aseres Y'mai
Teshuva," The Ten Days of Repentance. During these days, we continue reciting
the S'lichos (penitential prayers) and we continue to focus our prayers and
thoughts on repentance. In the Torah portion of this week, Netzavim, the
Torah tells us (Devarim 30: 11-14) "Because this commandment which I have
commanded you today, it is not hidden from you, and neither is it far off. It
is not in heaven, so that you should say 'Who shall go up to heaven for us,
and bring it to us, so that we may hear it and do it?' Nor is it beyond the
sea, so that you should say 'Who will go over the sea for us, and bring it to
us, so that we may hear it and do it?' But this matter is very near to you,
in your mouth and in your heart, that you may do it." What is this matter
that is near to us? Both the Ramban and S'forno explain that this matter is
repentance. The commandment which is not hidden from us is that of
Rabbi Chayim Shmuelevitz is puzzled in that these verses do not appear to
describe reality. If repentance is so near to us and not hidden from us, as
the verse says, than why don't we find everyone repenting? Many people who
sin definitely know that their actions are not proper, yet they do not desist
from that behavior . If repentance is so near, why don't sinners chose the
path of repentance?
Rabbi Shmuelevitz answers that the stumbling block for man is that he become
accustomed and acclimated to his situation. Man will become so comfortable
with his situation and level of observance that complacency will set in and
the need to change for the better will never be realized. A person will
become set in his ways, and not bother to change and repent, because the need
is not seen. What is it that can get a person to snap out of the status quo?
A snap into reality can best be accomplished with something startling,
something surprising ( see # 37 for a similar concept). The example Rabbi
Shmuelevitz gives is that of a person who was not familiar with the concept
of death. This person lived his life without knowing that all eventually
comes to an end. One day, he suddenly sees someone die right in from of him.
Wouldn't this person be so shaken that he would undoubtedly repent and change
Repentance is very near to us, and indeed it is within our grasp. However, we
have to be aware that there is a need to change. We have to inspire ourselves
to change. Only once we have overcome this hurdle can we start the process of
repentance. One way of inspiring ourselves to start this process is to
literally jump-start ourselves. We need a shock, something startling, to make
us "wake up and smell the coffee."
Rabbi Shmuelevitz brings an example of this from a Medrash. The Medrash tell
us that Yakum Ish Tzroros, a nephew of Rav Yosi ben Yo'ezer, was riding on a
horse on Shabbos, leading his uncle, the great sage Rav Yosi, to his death by
hanging. Yakum, in order to ridicule his Torah observant uncle, said to him
"Look at the horse that my master gives me to ride upon, and look at the
horse that your master gives you !" (meaning to say that Rav Yosi's devotion
to G-d and the Torah was for naught, as here he was being led to his death).
Rav Yosi answered back " If this (providing you with such a horse) is how
G-d rewards those who go against him, even more so to those who obey his
will." Yakum, perplexed by this response, asked back "Is there anyone who
obeys the word of G-d more than you?" Rav Yosi replied "If this is what
happens to those who obey the word of G-d, even more so to those who go
The Medrash tells us that these words entered Yakum's heart like poison, and
he ended up committing suicide out of despondency. Later on, when Rav Yosi
was on his deathbed, he saw that Yakum preceded him to the Garden of Eden.
Rabbi Shmuelevitz notes that we see from here how to inspire repentance. Rav
Yosi, by responding the way he did to his nephew's questions, was setting his
nephew up for a "shock," for a jolt into reality. When the jolt came, it was
so powerful that it caused Yakum to feel so bad about his past evils that the
life he had led was of no meaning anymore. If we are able to create within
ourselves a sense of wonderment, surprise, and shock, we can start down the
road to complete repentance. If we are able to snap ourselves out of
complacency and our self created status quo, we can reach that which is near
to us - complete repentance and a return to G-d.
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.
For questions, comments, and topic requests, please write to Rabbi Yehudah Prero.
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