Strategies to Facilitate the Ability to Forgive, By Rabbi Elchanan Adler

[1] The notion of mechila speaks to our very humanity. The imperative to forgive, even when absolutely required, does not come easy. All the more so, when we wish to aspire for a higher standard. And yet, aspire we must. While there may be clear-cut instances where we need not forgive, as we have seen in the case of slander, and in the behavior of Sara Imeinu, too often we hide behind excuses to avoid letting go of our grievances. Not only do we ignore the model of Avraham Avinu, we easily fall into the trap of flagrant violations of biblical prohibitions of nekima and netira – vengeance and grudge-bearing. Rather than giving others the benefit of the doubt, we ascribe malicious intent without bothering to check out the facts. And then we come to Yom Kippur and expect Hashem to see the best in us. When we stand before Yom Kippur we cannot afford to fool the Ribono Shel Olam  – or ourselves.

If we genuinely want to be worthy of Hashem’s forgiveness, then it behooves us to see how we can bring ourselves to forgive. As the gemara (Rosh Hashanah 17a) says, “hama’avir al midosav ma’avirin lo al kal pesha’av – one who is less exacting and demanding toward others, will merit that Hashem will also be less exacting.”

What often stands as barrier to granting that stands in the way of granting mechila is seeing the offense for more than it really is. In explaining how one can avoid taking revenge, the Rambam (Middos 7:7) explains that for people of understanding, most slights are really trivial and need not call for retaliation. Yom Kippur is a day that reframes the priorities of life, and helps us to see things for what they are. Having a broader vision about the fragility of life and purpose of creation can inject us with a healthy dose of humility and enable us to overlook many wrongs that may seem very important in the moment but really don’t matter from the broader perspective.

Another reason why we often have a hard time forgiving others, is because we see ourselves as being masters of our own realities – in control of the events of our lives. To some extent, this attitude stems from a lack of emuna that our life’s experiences are a reflection of hashgacha pratis and are Hashem’s way of communicate messages to us. This idea is suggested by Sefer Ha’Chinuch as the basis for overcoming the urge to take revenge and bear grudges. Yom Kippur is a time that allows us to feel a natural connection with the Ribono Shel Olam and see all that happens to us – including life’s setbacks which seem to flow from other people’s conduct as merely messages from Hashem. The more we deepen our sense of emuna in hashagacha pratis, the easier it becomes to bring ourselves to genuinely forgive.

There is an additional strategy that can motivate us to move past our grudges, and extend mechila toward those who have wronged us – the ability to connect with the humanity of the one who offended us, and to recognize that, in a very real sense, we are all part of one family. The Yerushalami in Nedarim (9:4) offers a parable to illustrate how one can avoid the impulse to take revenge: Imagine someone who is cutting meat. As he cuts the meat with the knife in his right hand, he gets carried away and wounds his left hand. It is inconceivable for the left hand to take revenge against the right hand. After all, they are part of the same organism. That should be our perspective on our fellow Jews – we are part of one family.

The sense of the unity of lal Yisrael being part of one family is best symbolized by the notion of shevatim – each with a distinct path, but all as part of a larger collective, embodied by Knesses Yisrael. Indeed, in the Yom Kippur liturgy we refer repeatedly to Hashem as “machalan leshivtei Yeshurun – a forgiver of the tribes of Yeshurun”. Why is Hashem referred to by this designation? And what is this juxtaposed with the appellation “salchan le’Yisrael”?

The Meshech Chochma explains that “salchan le’yisrael” alludes to aveiros between Man and G-d – all of which are rooted in the chet ha’eigel. The second expression – “machalan le’shivtei Yeshurun” – refers to sins being Adam Lachaveiro. Why? Because every sin “bein adam lachavero” has its roots in the sin of Mechiras Yosef, carried out by the Shivtei Kah – the sons of Yaakov Avinu, who sold Yosef into slavery. The very symbol of unity – the notion of shevatim – was put to the test early in our history, and led to inter-personal strife, and almost bloodshed.

When reading the story of Mechiras Yosef, one gets the impression that all worked out in the end and lived happily ever after. However, Rabbeinu Bachyei, at the end of Parshas Vayechi, says something terrifying. He points out that while we find the brothers expressing remorse to Yosef for having wronged him, and while we find Yosef comforting them and reassuring them that all is well and that he will provide for them, we never find Yosef actually extending mechila. Somehow, there was no full closure. Therefore, says Rabbeinu Bechayei, the sin remained unresolved – and came back to haunt us centuries later in the form of the asara harugei malchus – the ten martyrs, which is also alluded to in the Yom Kippur liturgy.

Yom Kippur is also a day meant to healing that rift. There is a passage in the Machzor, just after reciting Seder Avoda that enumerates a list of halachos which characterize the day of Yom Kippur:

Yom assur achilah, yom assur bi’shesiyah, yom assur bi’rechitzah, yom assur bi’sichah, yom assur bi’tashmish ha’mittah, yom assur bi’ne’ilas ha’sandal

These are specific restrictions which are unique to Yom Kippur. Then, we continue:”Yom simas ahavah ve’rei’us, yom azivas kinah ve’sacharus- A day of establishing love and friendship; a day of forsaking jealousy and competition.

Apparently, Jewish unity is as defining an aspect of Yom Kippur as are the basic restrictions. On Yom Kippur, we parallel the angels not only in our ability to refrain from earthly pleasures, but also in our ability to epitomize shalom – as it says “oseh shalom binromav”. In explaining the basis for asking mechila before Yom Kippur, the Tur (OC 606) cites a Midrash Pirkei de’Rebbi Eliezer, which states “Mah mal’achei ha’hares beineihem kach Yisrael B’Yom HaKippurim.” The Rav also explained that reconciling with one another before Yom Kippur is necessary because the nature of the kapara extended on Yom Kippur is not an individual kapara but a collective kapara – as we say at the outset of the day, “ve’nislach le’chal adas bnei Yisrael”. In order to be worthy of that special gift of Divine forgiveness, we have to join together as one people in a spirit of genuine unity and reconciliation.

As we beseech the Ribbono Shel Olam for His forgiveness, may we all mirror that spirit of behavior in our own lives – not just looking at the technical halachic requirements, but connecting to the essence of the midos of the Ribono shel olam, the melech mochel ve’solei’ach. May we use these precious days to shed old grudges, trivialize old slights, see all that happens around us as messages from Hashem to guide us to be better people, reach out to others, love our neighbor as ourselves. In this zechus, may we all achieve reconciliation with Hakadosh Baruch Hu, and may we all be worthy of all of His blessings in the coming year – nachas and good health, prosperity and productivity in all of our endeavors.

[1]Adapted from a Shiur given by Rabbi Adler on Sep. 14, 2010 entitled “Kinus Teshuva Drasha 5771- Mechila in Human and Halachic Terms: How Can I Ever Forgive You? Can I Not?”.  The Shiur is accessible with Mekorot at http://www.yutorah.com/lectures/lecture.cfm/748933/rabbi-elchanan-adler/kinus-teshuva-drasha-5771-mechila-in-human-and-halachic-terms-how-can-i-ever-forgive-you-can-i-not-/.

Rabbi Elchanan Adler has served since 1998 as a Rosh Yeshiva at Yeshiva University’s Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary, where he occupies the Eva, Morris and Jack Rubin Chair in Rabbinics.

 

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Teshuvah and Kapparah in Tefillah Zakkah, By Rabbi Jeremy Wieder

Tefillah Zakkah, the prayer recited by many before Kol Nidrei, is comprised of three parts.  The first section consists of a confession of a myriad of sins committed through the agency of the various body parts a person possesses.  The final, and overwhelmingly largest, section consists of a plea for mercy and forgiveness, while acknowledging that by right we should have to suffer much to atone for our sins; we cast ourselves at God’s mercy because that suffering would be overwhelming.  In between is a short paragraph in which we state that we have likely have harmed others and repentance for those sins cannot lead to atonement until we have appeased the victims of our actions.  Thus, we hereby forgive all others for (virtually) all that they have done to us and ask God to cause us to be viewed favorably in the eyes of others so that they will grant us the same forgiveness for any harm that we have done them.

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Whacky Willows: Why Strike the Aravot on Hoshana Rabbah? By Alex Maged

On the festival of Succot, we gather the daled minim per the Torah’s command: “And you shall take for yourselves… the fruit of the splendid tree (esrog), date palm fronds (lulav), a branch of a braided tree (hadasim) and willows of the brook (Aravot)” (Lev. 23:40). Then, on Hoshana Rabbah the final day of Succot, it is customary to beat the fourth of these daled minim, i.e., the willow branches, on the ground. The details of this “willow-whacking” custom are shrouded in mystery; the Gemara records that the custom existed in the times of the Beit HaMikdash (Sukkah 44b; see Rashi ad. loc.), but precious little has been written on both the origin and meaning of this custom.

However, the text of the tefillah we recite before performing this ritual does include an instructive reference to the “custom of the prophets.” This phrase would seem to suggest that the ritual was instituted by the “prophets”—or, at least, that it is modeled after some practice or ceremony that dates to the era of the prophets. Indeed, in Nevi’im Rishonim, we do find an episode whose central elements correlate with those of the Aravot ritual. Here is the scene, from Sefer Melachim Beit:

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Why Eat On Erev Yom Kippur? By Devir Kahan

 

A particularly strange halacha exists that requires us to eat on Erev Yom Kippur. Most laws pertaining to the actual day of Yom Kippur might be difficult to do, but at least they make almost immediate sense. We understand these laws, and we can relate to them. Knowing full well what the day of Yom Kippur is we would expect to pray, meditate, spend time doing serious introspection. We would additionally expect to fast, even, and to take out the sifrei Torah and hold them close.

To have a law, though, that specifically mandates eating before all of this begins is strange to say the least, and is seemingly quite difficult to relate to. To make things even stranger, we are told by Chazal that if we do, indeed, eat on the day preceding Yom Kippur it is as if we fasted on both that day and on Yom Kippur itself! How does this make any sense at all? It is quite literally the very opposite of the reality.

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Rosh Hashana : The Birth of Freedom, By Rabbi Warren Goldstein

The key to understanding the themes of Rosh Hashanah is the date. The Day of Judgment for the world was not chosen arbitrarily, but is specifically on this date – not because it is the first day of the year (in fact, the Mishnah mentions four different kinds of new years), but because it is the anniversary of the creation of Adam and Eve. As we say in the Rosh Hashanah davening after each time the shofar is blown, “Hayom harat olam– Today the world was created.”  This is because human beings are the reason for Creation. As the well-known Mishnah (Sanhedrin 4:5)  says, “He who saves one life is considered to have saved an entire world; and he who destroys one life is considered to have destroyed an entire world.”

We understand that Rosh Hashanah is the day Adam and Eve were created. But what is the connection between this and judgment?

To answer this, we must first take a look at what makes the human being unique. G-d created many things in the world; why is the human being considered to be “an entire world” unto himself?

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Notes on Chazarat ha-Shatz of Musaf of Yamim Nora’im: Vocalization, Punctuation, and Meaning, By Rabbi Dr. David Berger

Regrettably, most congregants, myself included, do not fully understand every line of the many piyyutim that appear in our liturgy. Generally speaking, the texts that we recite on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur tend to be somewhat easier to follow than many selichot, kinot, and yotzrot composed for other occasions. Nonetheless, they are not without their challenges. I present here a number of observations that should help enhance our understanding of what most of us see as the most important prayer services of the year.

  1. Near the beginning of chazarat ha-shatz of musaf on the first day of Rosh Hashanah, we find the lines Dibberot elleh divrei ha-berit galleh be-zikhron shillush berit. The tune impels almost all chazzanim to pause after elleh. This, however, is a mistake. The lines mean, “Remove (roll away) the words elleh divrei ha-berit (the three words that follow the tokhachah (or tokhechah) in Ki Tavo and hence represent that tokhechah) through the remembrance of the threefold covenant (with the patriarchs).” Thus, the words elleh divrei ha-berit must be said as a single phrase. It is not terribly difficult to do this.

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The Titanic Sacrifice of the Ram, By Zachary Orenstein

The images that the event of Akeidat Yitzchak generally conjure are Avraham’s compliance, Yitzchak’s selflessness, and their unity in order to fulfill the ultimate sacrifice for God. However, the day that is more focused on the Akeida than any other is called Yom Teruah and its climax is the sounding of the shofar; Avraham’s sacrifice of the ram steals the show.[1] This oddity is exaggerated when looking at how the Torah records the sudden change in what is being offered. “Vayeilech Avraham vayikach et ha’ayil vaya’aleihu li’olah tachat binno- Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering in place of his son.״ (Genesis 22:13) The word the Torah uses for “in place of” is “tachat.” Nachama Lebowitz explains based on the Benno Jacob’s reading of Ayin tachat ayin – an eye for an eye, that from many of the places where the word tachat is used in Tanach, it is clear that it implies replacement or compensation for something lost. The argument by “ayin tachat ayin” is that even in Pshat it cannot be about revenge, but rather it has to be describing a way to replace the eye; thus, Chazzal say that the Torah is commanding monetary compensation to replace at least one function of the eye, which is helping to make a living. If this is true, then how could the Torah use the word “tachat” to describe replacing the sacrifice of Yitzchak with the sacrifice of a ram? How could sacrificing an animal begin to compare to the act of sacrificing a child such that it could be referred to with the terminology of a valid compensation?

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