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Parashat Shoftim

I was looking for the switch that could take me – overnight – from summer break mode directly into Elul self-perfection mode. I found it. Yishai Ribo’s new song, called Seder HaAvodah, brought me to Elul mode. The music, enchanting. The words, tear jerking.

ואם אדם היה יכול לזכור את הפגמים את החסרונות את כל הפשעים את כל העוונות בטח כך היה מונה: אחת. אחת ואחת. אחת ושתים. אחת ושלוש. אחת וארבע. אחת וחמש. ישר היה מתייאש כי לא יכול היה לשאת את טעם מרירות החטא את הבושה את הפספוס את ההפסד.

And if a person would remember all of his blemishes, his weaknesses, all the different types of sins, he would for sure start to count, like the Kohen Gadol on Yom Kippur, One, one and one, one and two, one and three, one and four, one and five, … Right away, he would despair,… because he would not be able to bear the bitterness of the sin, the embarrassment, what he missed out on, who he could have been, and the loss.

And then Yishai Ribo sings:

ואם אדם היה יכול לזכור את החסדים את הטובות את כל הרחמים את כל הישועות בטח כך היה מונה: אחת אחת ואחת אחת ושתים אחת מאלף אלפי אלפים ורוב ריבי רבבות ניסים ונפלאות שעשית עמנו ימים ולילות

And if a person could remember the kindness, the goodness, all the mercy, all the salvations, for sure he would start to count, One, One and one, One and two, One of thousands of thousands, and myriads of miracles and wonders that You did for us, day and night.

So, there are two ways to count, to make an accounting of the soul. Two ways to judge ourselves, how we have been over the past year. How many things we have done wrong… which equals to how bad we have been. Or, how much we owe. How much we are not deserving.

There are two ways to do Teshuva. Fear and love. When you do Teshuva out of fear, you may erase your sins, but when you repent out of love, all of your sins turn into merits. (Yoma 86:) Why is it that teshuva from fear can’t accomplish what teshuva out of love can accomplish? Fear and love are important factors to balance in all of our relationships. When there is too much closeness in a relationship, we feel too heimish, and we can say or do things that don’t respect the boundaries of the other person. When the relationship is built only on fear, one cannot enjoy the company of the other. So, both fear and love are important. Why, then, is repentance from love going to turn the sins into mitzvoth, while repentance of fear does not achieve this? Why does the repentant get more than one who did not sin to begin with?

In the Idiot’s Guide to Peoples Skills, it says the following. When you apologize, tell the person how much you value him/her. Often people want an apology because they feel that what you did devalued them. People who feel disrespected or slighted are angrier and less prone to receiving your apology. Take care of their feelings and their egos first, so they can hear what you say.

When you sin, you did not just sin. You showed G-d how, in your mind, you devalued Him. The devaluation needs to be rectified first, before you ask Him forgiveness for the sin. So, first you need Love, you need first to count and recognize all the good that G-d has done for you, before you count your wrongdoings. Otherwise, just asking to wipe away the sin brings with it a reminder of the lack of respect that was involved. When you start to mention all of the good things that another person, or G-d, has done for you, before you say how sorry you are, you have a better chance of getting real forgiveness. And sometimes, this process of love works so effectively, it makes the relationship stronger than what it was before the sin.

When we start to learn how G-d is running our bodies and our minds so perfectly, we begin to realize that we have no idea how “high-maintenance” our lives actually are!  The average amount of blood, in adults, is 10 pints. In under a minute, your heart pumps blood to every cell in your body. Sneezes can travel at more than 100 miles an hour. Wrinkles form on fingers and toes when they soak, in order to improve traction. All the computers in the world have about the same computing power as one human brain. G-d knows us, inside and out, in all the spiritual and physical details of our being.  He knows us far better than we know ourselves. So how could we ever wrong Him? How could we ever dare to think that He is not aware of our innermost thoughts, or how we behave, when no one is looking? How foolish! How devaluating! It almost does not even make sense, how we forgot Him!!!

This is not hard to understand when we begin to grasp how our Yetzer Hara works. He has a special spray, that he sprays on us to make us forget how much we are dependent on G-d and how involved G-d is in our lives. Here is an interesting fun-fact I learnt. Mosquito repellent doesn’t repel mosquitoes; it blocks their sensors, so that they do not know you are there! The Yetzer Hara has this spray that blocks our sensors, so that we do not know that G-d is there!

Here is another fun-fact. Until he died, Christopher Columbus believed that he had landed in Asia, instead of in the “new world”.  One can live an entire life as a smart person, an achiever, someone who changed the world for the better… and at the same time, live till his last day, not even knowing where he is. Not knowing that he is surrounded by G-d, he is enveloped by G-d.  G-d is there, at his side, running his whole life.

So, the first step to Teshuva is to count all the things that we know that G-d did for us, is doing for us and will do for us, realizing that at best, we can know only a microscopic part of it all. Only then can we undo our lack of respect and correct the thoughts and actions that blocked our sensors to know that He is so close.


About the author, Yosef

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