The Talmud relates the story of a man named Elazar ben Durdia who was known to lead a rather immoral lifestyle. When he visited one such consort, she told him that heaven would never accept his teshuva, his repentance. This so shook Elazar ben Durdia that he went to the field, sat between two hills and asked the hills to pray on his behalf. The hills told him they could not. Panicked he asked the sun and the moon to pray on his behalf, but they too answered that they could not. Finally he begged the stars and the constellations to pray on his behalf, but alas, they also responded that they could not. Elazar ben Durdia screamed “The matter depends solely on me!” With that realization, Elazar ben Durdia put his head between his knees and wept and continued to weep until his body gave out and he died.
In many ways this period immediately following Yom Kippur is more difficult, and possibly even more important, than Yom Kippur itself. The fasting, the prayers and the beating our chest are vehicles to bring us to reflect on how we need to do better. The entire nature of the day is focused on this. However, it is much harder to put those thoughts and hopes of self-improvement into practice the next day when we return to the normalcy of our lives interacting with our spouses and our co-workers and friends.
The good part is that is indeed possible to make those changes. Elazar ben Durdia’s realization “The matter depends solely on me!” is our realization. We have that ability to change, to be better, to become the person we want to be.
Say it to yourself, “The matter depends solely on me!”
Shabbat Shalom one and all
Rabbi Moshe Maimonides, known as the Rambam (Spain, Egypt 1138-1204), wrote in his work Hilchot Teshuva (The Laws of Repentance) that there are four steps to repentance. First one must acknowledge that the act was wrong, second there must a confession of having done the act. Next, there is sincere regret over having done the act and finally there is a promise and determination not to repeat the act. Coupled with these four steps is the necessity to go to the person we have wronged and ask forgiveness. This is the difficult part because it means the offender must humble himself to the one he hurt and admit the offense.
There is a very moving prayer called Tefila Zaka which is recited prior to Kol Nidrei. The word “zaka” means “pure” and comes from the Book of Job (16:17), “and my prayer is pure.” It is unclear who wrote this prayer, but the first time it was mentioned was in the work on Jewish law called The Chayei Adam, compiled by Rabbi Avraham Danzig (1748-1820). At first it was published as a pamphlet and by the 1880’s it was incorporated into the traditional machzor. In Tefila Zaka, the author writes, “I fully and finally forgive everyone, may no one be punished because of me . . .”
While it is indeed difficult to ask for forgiveness, as people generally find it hard to humble themselves in front of others, especially those they have hurt, sometimes it is even more difficult to forgive. It is not easy for one who has been hurt to have to relive that hurt and let go of the pain and the embarrassment of the particular incident. Obviously we are not talking about heinous crimes for which there is no forgiveness. It is also acknowledged that depending on the offense sometimes we are just not ready to forgive, but it can be something to work towards.
As we stand on the threshold of the holiest day of the year, let us strive to not only ask forgiveness from those we have hurt, but also to forgive those who have hurt us.
Wishing you all an easy and meaningful fast. May we return on Thursday with clean slates
The first verse in Psalm 126 says, “A Song of Ascents, When HaShem will return the captivity of Zion, we will be like dreamers.” The Talmud, in Tractate Ta’anit, comments on the phrase “we will be like dreamers,” and relates the story of Choni the Circle Maker who one day came upon an elderly man planting a carob tree. Choni asked the man how long it would take for the carob tree to grow and bear fruit. The man answered 70 years. “You realize,” said Choni, “that you will no longer be alive to enjoy the carob.” The man answered Choni, “Just as my ancestors planted for me, so too, I am planting for my descendants.”
The elderly man was a dreamer. He looked towards the future and dreamed about what he could provide for his progeny. The realization that he would not be with his descendants did not make a difference, for he understood the impact he could still make on those who would come after him.
This week’s Torah portion, VaYelech, takes place on the last day of Moshe’s life. In the parsha he commands the Jewish people that the Torah should be read to the entire Jewish community at the end of the Sabbatical year (every seventh year). This is the mitzvah of HaKail. Every man, woman and child was to hear the reading of the Torah. Moshe is the elderly man in the carob tree story. The elderly man provided for his descendant’s physical sustenance. Like the elderly man, Moshe, is a dreamer, looking toward the future, and through the Torah he is providing for the Jewish people’s spiritual sustenance, realizing the impact he can still have even when he is no longer with them.
What is our big dream? We are at the beginning of a new year. 5776 is only five days old. We are now in the 10th day of the school year. Let us be that elderly man, let us be Moshe. Let us dream of the future, a future that is bright and full of potential, a future that is the promise of all of our children.
Yes, dream, and dream big.
Shabbat Shalom to everyone.