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Korbanot - Tshuva is the Main Point

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Mar 10, 2011
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Parshat Vayikra is devoted largely to detailing for us the various categories of korbanot.  Chazal teach us that an animal offered as a korban chatat - sin offering, should cost at least one ma'ah, while an animal offered as an asham talui for one who is uncertain whether he sinned (e.g. he was unsure whether he ate chelev (forbidden fats) or shuman (permitted fats)). should have a minimum value of two selaim (considerably more than one ma'ah). 


The Rishonim find this puzzling.  Why is one who is certain he sinned need bring a lesser valued offering than one who is uncertain whether he sinned.  Intuitively we would have thought otherwise.  Rabenu Yonah and the Ramban offer the following explanation: a person who sinned naturally feels remorse over what he did, he arrives in the Beit HaMikdash with a broken heart, wondering to himself how he could have violated Hashem's wish.  On the other hand, one who is unsure whether he sinned is will rationalize to himself: "chances are I did not sin, there is no way that Hashem would have a tzaddik on my level eat chelev.  Such a person must bring an offering of higher value so that he understands the seriousness of what he potentially did, so that he too will bring his offering with a broken heart and make sure not to enter such a situation again, even one of doubtful sin.


Hashem does not need our meat or the sprinkling of blood, it is our heart which He desires.  Perhaps we can now understand why on Rosh Chodesh we say: "may we prepare goats with favor in the service of the Holy Temple may we all rejoice".   The goat-offering of Rosh Chodesh comes to atone for the sin of one who either ate kodshim or entered the Beit HaMikdash while in a state of tum'a.  The prophet teaches us that in the future: "it will happen on that day ... I will remove the false prophets and the spirit of impurity from the land" (Zecharia 13:2).   When there is no impurity in the land then there will be no need to atone for the sin of entering the Beit HaMikdash in a state of impurity.  The offerings will only be "with favor", as fulfillment of the will of Hashem.


The Zohar writes that a Kohen should feel great simcha while serving in the Beit HaMikdash, while the person bringing the offering should have a broken heart.  When the day will come when people will no longer sin then "in the service of the Holy Temple may we all rejoice".   There will be no offerings brought with a broken heart of one who sinned.


I have always wondered why it is customary in many communities on Yom Kippur to sing "ashamnu bagadnu", this does not appear to be cause for joy.  I once heard it explained based on the Gemara which teaches us that when a person repents out of love then his sins will become merits.  Perhaps we are now repenting me'ahava and therefore the ashamnu bagadnu is already to our merit.  There was once a story of a Rav who on Motzaei Yom Kippur approached a Jew who was far from being the greatest of tzaddikim.  The Rav said: you now have so many mitzvoth in your favor.  The Jew responded: "I hope next year at this time to also have so many mitzvoth in my favor."  


On Yom Kippur, on the one hand, we should have a broken heart, while on the other hand it is a Yom Tov with the mitzvah of simcha.  We must balance both things - on the one hand to rejoice while on the other hand to return to Hashem with a broken heart.  In former times people used to take upon themselves many fasts for sins which they had committed.  The Rabbanim in recent generations have spoken against this practice given our weakness and the difficulty fasting would induce.  The primary tshuva is not the fasting but that we should learn to be more careful and to take upon ourselves not to transgress again.  We do not sit and fast all year, but at least on Yom Kippur we should contemplate what we have done wrong and how to mend our ways, along with the feeling the simcha of the Yom Tov.


We don't realize how terrible an aveira is.  Yechezkel HaNavi said in the Name of Hashem: "say to the House of Israel, thus have you spoken saying: since our sin and our iniquities are upon us and we are wasting away because of them, how can we live?" (Yechezkel 33:10).  The people were so broken over their sins that they did not believe that tshuva could atone.  The prophet continues in the Name of Hashem: "as I live, the word of the L-rd Hashem/Elokim I swear that I do not desire the death of the wicked one, but rather the wicked one's return from his way that he may live, repent repent from your evil ways!  Why should you die O House of Israel?" (ibid. 11).  This pasuk is recited at Neila of Yom Kippur.  The prophet is telling us that Hashem does not wish for us to die, He wants us to live and therefore accepts our tshuva.  What we can learn from there is that people of that time understood very well how terrible sin was, so terrible that they could not believe that tshuva would atone. 


Today we are far from that level, we assume that if we sin we need only fast on Yom Kippur, say a few prayers, and that is the end of it.  It is true that tshuva helps, but to completely atone it must be a deep and not merely superficial repentance. Rabenu Yona says that tshuva is like cleaning a garment, every little cleaning is an improvement but it takes hard and consistent work to completely remove the stain - this is not an easy task.


Let us analyze the chet haegel.  The Jewish people made a Golden Calf.  Moshe descended Har Sinai and when he saw what was happening he broke the Tablets and sent the Leviyim to kill those who has served - 3,000 in all.  Moshe Rabenu then takes the egel, spreads the ashes in water and forces the Jewish nation to drink from it and like the Sotah water those who were guilty died.  Hashem then sent a plague from which many died.  Moshe prayed to Hashem to forgive the nation for their sin. 


Moshe then spends 40 days asking Hashem for forgiveness.  He spends another 40 days atop Har Sinai and comes down with the second set of Tablets on Yom Kippur.   Even after all that, the second set of Tablets was not on the level of the first ones.  The first ones freed us from the angel of death and from shibud malchuyot - subjugation to the other nations - no other nation would be able to conquer us.  The second set did not free us from this and we suffered exile and many other troubles, they were not on the level of the first ones.  The first Tablets were compared to Adam HaRishon prior to the sin, while the second ones were compared to his level after the sin.  


Moshe Rabenu prayed that the Jewish people return to the level they were on prior to the sin, but Hashem would not accept this.  "On the day that I make My account, I shall bring their sin to account against them" (Shmot 32:34) - when Hashem punishes us He will punish us for the chet haegel as well.  We see that it is not easy to reach such a level of repentance that sins disappear altogether, for after all of Moshe's efforts and Hashem's accepting the sin did not altogether disappear.  


We find a similar example in the case of Yeshayahu HaNavi.  Yeshayahu HaNavi sinned in a way that appears almost trivial.  He said "I dwell among a people with impure lips" (Yeshayahu 6:5) referring to the Jewish people.  Immediately following his statement: "One of the Serpahim flew to me and in his hand was a coal; he had taken it with tongs from atop the altar" (ibid. 6).  This coal was so hot that even the Seraphim (angels that are composed entirely of burning fire) were unable to grasp it with their bare hands but required the assistance of tongs.  My esteemed teacher Rav Dessler zt"l explained that this heat refers to his closeness to Hashem - it was so intense that even an angel could not touch it. "He touched it to my mouth and said: 'behold this has touched your lips; your iniquity has gone away and your sin shall be atoned for'" (ibid. 7).  By being touched by this coal, says the angel, Yeshayahu has atoned and his sin has been lifted.  


Hashem immediately asks: "Whom shall I send, and who shall go for us" (ibid. 8) - who will be the one to admonish Am Yisrael (see Rashi there).  We must realize that being a prophet of rebuke is not a plush job that only involves the honor of being called up for Shlishi or Shishi every Shabbat.  The job entails much suffering and persecution.  Yeshayahu himself said of his task: "I submitted my body to those who smite and my cheeks to those who pluck, I did not hide my face from humiliation and spit" (Yeshayahu 50:6).  


In spite of all this, Yeshayahu, unlike other prophets such as Moshe Rabenu, Yirmiyahu, and Yechezkel, who did their utmost to avoid being sent on these missions, immediately rose and volunteered: "and I said: 'here I am! send me!'" (Yeshayahu 6:8).  In his efforts to repair the damage caused by his sin, Yeshayahu was willing to endure all the suffering and humiliation that comes with the job of rebuking the nation.  (The description certainly held true for the tenure of the wicked Achaz.   We can safely assume that during the reigns of the righteous kings of Yehuda such as Uziyahu, Yotam, and Chizkiyahu, he lived in relative peace and tranquility.).


The Beit Hamikdash was standing during Yeshayahu's lifetime, which means that not only did he observe Yom Kippur during each of those eighty years, but every year the Seir Hamishtale-ach was brought - the goat that serves to atone for minor transgressions even in the absence of tshuva (see Rambam Hilchot Tshuva 1:2).  (The Seir Hamishtale-ach service was not performed during the reign of Achaz, for Chazal tell us that the wicked king cancelled all Beit Hamikdash service - see Sanhedrin 103b, but during the time of the righteous kings, the service was certainly carried out).  If the Seir Hamishtale-ach atones even without tshuva, how much greater an effect can it have if accompanied by tshuva, and we can safely assume that Yeshayahu did repent. 


In spite of all this, eighty years after having committed that seemingly minor infraction, Yeshayahu was killed for it by his own grandson Menashe king of Yehuda (see HaGaot HaBach Brachot 10a, note 2).  Yeshayahu was killed by being hit in the mouth - as punishment for the words that came forth from his mouth, it was an affront to the honor of Israel to call them "a nation of impure lips" (see Yevamot 49b). Eighty years of tshuva, eighty years of Yom Kippur, all the Seirim sacrifices, and all the suffering and humiliation that Yeshayahu endured were not sufficient to totally eradicate the sin as if it had not occurred.  


Chazal teach us: "the removal of Achashverosh's signet ring was greater than forty-eight prophets and seven prophetesses who prophesied to Israel, for they were all unable to return the Jewish nation to the path of righteousness whereas removal of the signet ring did return the Jewish people to the path of righteousness" (Megilla 14a).  


All the prophets and prophetesses of Israel could not move them to repent, but "the king removed his signet ring from his hand and gave it to Haman" (Esther 3:10) sparked them to immediate action.  Why did the prophets not succeed in moving the nation?  Did they not prophesy of terrible calamities awaiting them?  Why did these prophecies not spur them to repent?  Perhaps the prophecies left room for delusions, for allowing themselves to think they would never take place.  People began wondering: "who is right?  Perhaps the false prophets have a point!  When Nebuchadnezzar king of Bavel waged war, there were of course "experts" who pointed out that he was still a great distance from the Beis HaMikdash - he would never get that far.  As he got closer and set a siege around Yerushalayim, they announced: "we've seen this before - Sanherib also placed a siege around Yerushalayim during the days of Yeshayahu and in the end it was he who fell." (See Melachim II 19:35-37).  With such excuses it is impossible for the words of any prophet to awaken the people.  


They rationalized that perhaps the false prophets were right: "the kings of the earth did not believe, nor did any of the world's inhabitants, that the adversary or enemy could enter the gates of Yerushalayim" (Eicha 4:12) There was no limit to the ways in which they could convince themselves that the Beis HaMikdash would never be destroyed.


In Shushan, however, within a very short time the Jewish people were faced with a grave and threatening danger.  They awoke one morning and went to Shacharis, only to suddenly discover what was awaiting all the Jews in the one hundred and twenty-seven countries under Achashverosh's sovereignty.  There was no time for excuses - the sudden jolt, the shock that destruction awaited them in a mere eleven months, shook them to their very foundations.  Had events developed slowly, there would have been time for excuses.  


What happened?  That same king, who had invited them to his feast, was now going to allow them to be annihilated.   We must realize that at that royal feast not only was every imaginable delicacy available, but even the kashrus was guaranteed, as the Megillah states: "to do according to each man's pleasure" (Esther 1:8) This meant that whoever ate only Bada"tz food received food under the supervision of the Bada"tz, the same applied to those who relied only on She-eris Yisrael or any other form of Mehandrin hechsher.  Imagine, any hechsher they wanted was available (see Esther Rabba 2:3), why should they not participate in such a feast?  It's almost a mitzvah!  Suddenly out of the blue they are confronted with a decree: "to destroy, to slay, and to exterminate all the Jews, from young to old, women and children" (Esther 3:13) Such a jolt shook their hearts as well as their minds.  The shock of it all awakened them to repent.


There was no way to fight the enemy, for there was no Jewish army.  Even had they tried to influence Achashverosh to repeal the decree it would have been of no use because, as Achashverosh said to Mordechai: "for an edict which is written in the king's name and sealed with the royal signet may not be revoked" (Esther 8:8) Achashverosh himself would be unable to rescind the terrible decree.  There were no natural means at Israel's disposal by which to defend themselves.  Any weapons available in Shushan would have been confiscated by the Achashdarpanim and Pachot and given to the enemies of Israel, all the Amalekite subjects of Achashverosh who would use them to fight against the Jewish nation.  The only recourse was teshuva!  It had to happen soon for in just a short time Haman was going to hang them.  Although at a later stage Achashverosh would permit them to battle the enemy, they had no way of knowing that at this point.


Chazal ask why it was that Esther invited Haman to her feast.  Inviting Achashverosh is understandable, for it afforded her the opportunity to lay out before him the dire circumstances of her people and to stress how they needed to be saved from Haman.  Why did she want Haman present at her feast?  One of the explanations suggested by Chazal is that it was designed to prevent Bnei Yisrael from relying on Esther to save them.  If they were under the impression that Esther in fact was aiding and abetting Haman they would realize that they could not rely on her, but only on Hashem.  Teshuva would be their only savior.  Should they feel, however, that she was on their side, it is possible that their repentance would be lacking in sincerity.  They had to come to the understanding that nothing could save them except teshuva.


In Egypt the decrees were less harsh than those in Shushan, for Pharaoh did not set out to kill the Jewish people.  He tried, not always successfully, to kill the children, but he had no plans to kill the adults.  In Shushan it was decreed that every Jewish man, woman, and child must die.  The miracles in Egypt, however, were far greater.  It was there that we witnessed ten plagues and many other supernatural events.  In Shushan, however, everything appeared to conform to the laws of nature.  This is one of the reasons that the book we read on Purim is called Megillas Esther, from the word hester - hidden - for Hashem's countenance was concealed from us.  It was not readily apparent that Hashem had punished them and then saved us.  The story of Achashverosh, on the surface does not appear out of the ordinary.  A drunken king has a spat with his wife - that is nothing unusual.  He gets rid of her and then wants a new wife, certainly understandable.  Later on two of his servants plot to kill him.  The Hand of Hashem is not apparent in this story.


Chazal tell us that Bnei Yisrael were initially angry with Mordechai for not having bowed down to Haman:  why does it bother him to bow down?  Why must he go stirring up hatred against the Jewish people, why not take part in Achashverosh's feast?  When their destruction was decreed, they understood that Mordechai was right and it was they who were wrong.  Their desire to go to the feast had been in order to foster good relations with the king and the non-Jews of the time, now they realized that the only path was one of teshuva.  In the end, the Hand of Hashem became clear to all, for suddenly "venahafoch hu" - everything changed for the best and Haman was hanged.


In fact the Jews of Shushan reached higher levels than did those who were present at Har Sinai.  Regarding the acceptance of the Torah at Sinai, Chazal teach us that Hashem "covered them with the mountain as a vat" (Shabbat 88a) (to coerce them into accepting it).  In Shushan, however, kiyemu vekiblu - as Chazal explain "they established that which they had already accepted" (ibid.) they reaccepted the Torah.  This time they accepted the Torah willfully understanding that all these decrees are the guiding Hand of Hashem.  Nothing happens that is not a result of Divine Providence - the decrees as well as the salvation.


Baruch Hashem, it was Haman and his sons who were hanged while the Jewish nation remained intact, for kiyemu vekiblu - they accepted the Torah willfully.  This was one time when the Jewish nation's repentance was complete.  We must do our best to follow the example of our ancestors in Shushan and regret our aveiros and try to improve, learn Torah and observe mitzvoth as they should be observed, we will then no longer have to sing ashamnu bagadnu and will see a true fulfillment of layehudim hayta ora vesimcha vesasson vikar ".

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