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Today you are all standing before Hashem your G-d (Devarim 29-:9).
After the ninety-eight curses that Bnei Yisrael heard at the end of Ki Savo, they were devastated and questioned whether they could possibly withstand such terrible punishments. Moshe Rabbeinu encouraged them with the opening words of this week's parashah: — Today you are all standing." Although you have sinned many times, all of you still stand today before Hashem.
Was Moshe trying to minimize the severity of the Divine reproof or imply that it was only a threat that would not be carried out? Furthermore, how could Moshe say that all were alive and well despite their sins, when in fact tens of thousands had perished in the Desert?
Rather Moshe's intention was to assure the Jewish people that the purpose of the curses was not to wreak vengeance on them for their sins, but to insure their survival as a nation. And, therefore he told them collectively — kulchem — you still stand today. After all the sins and all the punishments , the tzibbur (community) is eternal. The concept of death does not exist with respect to the community. Those who perished died not as individuals, but as a part of Knesses Yisrael, which is eternal, and therefore they still survive.
Conversely, one who separates himself from the community and says, — I will do as I see fit," will not be forgiven and will be utterly destroyed. Our relationship to Hashem is only through the tzibbur. The Torah was not given to individuals; nor were the covenants made with individuals. Our relationship to Hashem is as members of Knesses Yisrael. Rambam (Hilchos Teshuvah 3:24) classifiers an apikores (heretic) as one who keeps all the mitzvos but separates himself from the Jewish people. Without a link to Klal Yisrael, there can be no link to Hashem and Torah.
Hillel taught (Pirkei Avos 2:5): "Do not separate yourself from the community." The Mishnah then continues with what seems on the surface to be additional, unrelated teachings of Hillel. However, a surface to be additional, unrelated teachings of Hillel. However, a deeper study of the Mishnah reveals that they are in fact the rebuttal of various arguments for cutting oneself off from the community.
"Do not believe in yourself until the day you die." Do not think that you are strong enough spiritually to function on your own without the supportive community of Torah observers. Do not rely on your apparent spiritual security, for it is never guaranteed.
"Do not judge your fellow until you have reached his place." In your criticism of the other members of the community, don't convince yourself that you would be better off separated from them. Rather judge them favorably and understand the circumstances that generate those actions which offend you. See their good points. Avoid what is negative without separating yourself entirely.
"Do not make a statement that cannot be easily understood on the ground that it will be understood eventually." People are sometimes frustrated that their views and opinions are not accepted by the tzibbur, but one must realize that the fault may lie in his views and not in the tzibbur. Perhaps his opinions are not fit to be heard and accepted.
And finally, "Do not say, 'when I have time I will learn,' for perhaps you will never have time." There ar those who feel that the community responsibilities infringe too greatly on their time and potential for personal development. They therefore conclude that disassociating themselves form communal involvement will give them more time to learn. Never reckon that time can be generated by avoiding a mitzvah. That time might never materialize. Hashem will not permit one to benefit by neglecting his communal responsibilities.
One of the benefits of being part of the klal is that as part of a united entity one's individual failings may be overlooked. Knesses Yisrael is eternal, pure, and holy, and one benefits by strengthening his connection to it. But he cannot reap the benefits from the tzibbur without accepting the concomitant responsibilities. Do not delude yourself that "Lema'an sfos harava es hatzeme'a" — that two adjacent fields are of necessity irrigated together, even though only one of them deserves the water. That is a fantasy.
Although each individual must be concerned with his personal judgment on Rosh Hashanah, as a tzibbur we dress up and eat as a sign of confidence that Hashem will exonerate us as members of the klal. The Ten Days of Repentance are days for intensifying our link to the tzibbur. For that reason, every individual during that period has the same assurance that his entreaties to Hashem will be heard that the tzibbur does year round. During those days the individual and the tzibbur become one.
Thus, the shaliach tzibbur on Rosh Hashanah is granted a special power to represent every individual, even those who are proficient in prayer, and therefore not included in the shaliach tzibbur's prayers the rest of the year.
Elisha offered to pray for the childless Shunamite woman on Rosh Hashanah. But she responded, "I dwell amongst my nation." Rabbi Chaim Shmulevitz explains her response: "Don't single me out, for the power of the tzibbur is greater even than the prayer of G-d's chosen prophet."
Beset by many evils and troubles, the will say, "It is because Hashem is no longer with me that these evil things have befallen me." On that day I will utterly hide My face because of all the evil that they have done...(Devarim 31:17-18).
Rambam says that this admission of guilt and regret is still not a full confession, and therefore Hashem continues to hide His face. But the hiding is different: no longer is it a hiding of Hashem's mercy, allowing evil to befall them, but rather a hiding of the ultimate redemption. That change in Hashem's relationship contains a hint to their ultimate redemption when their repentance is complete.
To better understand this Rambam, we must first understand the function of verbal confession in the teshuvah process. Sefer Hachinuch (Mitzvah 363) offers two explanations of the benefit of verbal confession. First, verbalizing one's repentance creates the feeling of conversing with a second party, which, in turn, sensitizes a person to the reality of Hashem's presence, Hashem's awareness of his every deed, and the need to render an account before Hashem. The greater a person's awareness that his sin was one in Hashem's presence, with His full knowledge, the greater His shame and regret.
Secondly, verbal expression intensifies the process and leaves a more lasting effect.
In addition to regret over the past, teshuvah also requires a commitment not to repeat the sin again. That commitment must be so decisive, resolute, and firm that Hashem Himself can testify that at the moment of confession, the sinner does not contemplate ever committing that sin again. Just as a vow to do or not to do something in the future requires verbal expression, so, too, does the commitment not to repeat past sins.
Sefer Yereim specifies another dimension to verbal confession -- supplication for atonement. There must be a clear recognition of the seriousness of the damage caused by the sin, both in terms of the damage to one's soul and one's relationship to Hashem, and in terms of the effect on the world by closing the conduits of blessing. For this, one must entreat G-d to forgive, heal and repair the damage. Just as prayer and supplication must be verbalized to establish a feeling of communication, so, too must one's entreaty for atonement.
There is yet another aspect of confession that relates to the nature of sin itself. Sin, says the Maharal, is one neshamah of the Jew. It cannot blemish the neshamah itself. Rather it superimposes layers of impurity that separate one from his essence. Since the Jew's connection to Hashem is through that untainted essence, when he becomes distant from his essence, he also becomes estranged from Hashem.
Teshuvah, then, is the return of the Jew to his essence and the breakdown of the barriers that separate him from Hashem. Hashem does not leave the Jew when he sins; rather the Jew loses contact with Hashem, Who still resides within the essence of his soul. As Chazal say on the verse, "I am asleep, but my heart is awake" (Shir HaShirim 5:2), my heart refers to Hashem. Though the Jew sleeps and loses consciousness of Hashem, Hashem still occupies his heart.
By articulating his sin in vidui, the Jew makes it something external to himself. Then he is able to detach those layers of sin that have accreted on his neshamah. Vidui itself becomes an act of purification. Thus, Targum Yonasan translates the word "purify" in the verse "Before Hashem should you purify yourself" (Vayikra 16:30), as "confess." The confession is itself the act of purification.
It is this last aspect of full vidui which is lacking in the confession, "Because G-d is not with me, all these misfortunes have befallen me." Although this statement expresses regret, recognition of the devastation resulting from sin, and even hints to a commitment to avoid this state in the future, it is still lacking. There is no recognition that it is not G-d Who has deserted us, but we who have become detached from ourselves and therefore from Hashem.
When a Jew feels Hashem has abandoned him, says Sforno, he gives up hope, since he thinks that it is G-d Who must first return. But in truth it is man who has strayed from his essence, and he can find G-d where he originally left Him. Teshuvah is thus literally redemption: "Return to Me for I have redeemed you" (Yeshayahu 44:22). One redeems his untainted essence from the layers of sin and impurity that encrust it.
As long as we fail to comprehend this aspect of redemption, G-d continues to hide the face of redemption from us. When we appreciate all the aspects of vidui, including that recognition that Hashem remains where He always was, waiting for us to strip away the barriers, we can look forward to both personal and national redemption.
Reprinted with permission from Artscroll Mesorah Publications, ltd.
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