Illuminations #221, Elul, 5779, Parshat Nitzavim

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Illuminations #221, Elul, 5779, Parshat Nitzavim

Torah Gems

“For this commandment that I command you today – it is not hidden from you and it is not distant. It is not in Heaven… nor is it across the sea… Rather, the matter is very close to you – in your mouth and in your heart – to perform it” (30:11-14).
The Ramban writes that this is a reference to the mitzvah of teshuvah. Many people who see this Ramban question how teshuvah is considered so close to us, i.e., so easy to do, if in actuality we still seem to have the same heavy package of the same wrongdoings year after year! The Chofetz Chaim (whose yahrtzeit is the 24th of Elul) tells the following parable that may shed some light on this misnomer.
There was once a man who always bought large quantities of wine to sell on credit, and never ended up paying back the wholesaler. One time when he came to buy more merchandise, plead as he may, the wholesaler flatly refused, stating that he could not give him credit for he had never paid what he owed before! As they argued, another customer who overheard the disagreement advised the man to buy a small quantity: “Only buy what you have the ability to pay for now, and then he will give it to you. After you sell that, with the profit, you could buy a little more. Slowly but surely you will build up your business credit.”
The Chofetz Chaim says that our debt to Hashem – our sins and misdeeds – are too great. We will never be able to pay it up, to return with a full teshuvah on all of them at the same time. In past years we “took credit”, claiming that this time everything was going to be different; we would improve our ways. But of course, here we are again with the same debt as the year before, maybe even larger!
So let’s take the other customer’s advice: We will “acquire a little” by doing teshuvah on something we are sure we can “show a profit on.”
Let us choose one small matter that we believe we will be able to successfully improve, where we can do complete teshuvah. Then, little by little, we can build up our “credit.” That will be our first step to becoming millionaires!

Parsha Pearls

Two points about teshuvah: The great rishon, Rabbeinu Ephraim, writes that nothing stands in the way of teshuvah! The passuk in our parshah (30:2) writes, veshavta – meaning, when you embark upon doing teshuvah, then, ad Hashem Elokecha – it will bring you all the way up, close to Hashem Yisbarach! Or as the Targum Yonassan ben Uziel puts it, “Your teshuvah will reach the kisei hakavod of Hashem your God,” which is the closest a person can get!
Another point which is explained by the sefer Otzros HaTorah, based on the sefer Tzeror Hamor, is that even if one’s teshuvah is not complete it is still accepted. We see this numerous times in Navi and Chazal. This is written explicitly by the Mabit (Beis Elokim – Teshuvah 12). Unlike other mitzvos, where if, for example, you have tzitzis with three corners instead of four, you have accomplished absolutely nothing, teshuvah is different: “Regret alone even without abandoning the sin helps a little, as does abandoning the sin without remorse…”
Everyone, without exception, has the ability to do teshuvah to some degree!

Glimpses of Greatness

The Chayei Adam (138:5)1 writes the following: “Since erev Rosh Hashanah is the last day of the year, and Chazal have received a tradition that whoever does teshuvah one day of the year, it is considered as though he has done teshuvah the whole year, therefore, it is customary that everyone fast, wake up early, and recite many selichos and viduyim. Some have the custom to go to the cemetery… and increase their tzeddakos and tachanunim…”
A person should not wait until Yom Kippur, but should do teshuvah with all his heart, particularly regarding sins of bein adam lachaveiro (and especially kibud av va’eim). One should involve themselves all day in Torah and mitzvos. It is befitting to immerse oneself in the mikvah, and not to divert one’s mind from teshuvah the whole day.
Indeed, the Shelah Hakadosh, who refers to the avodah of the month of Elul as bedikas chametz – searching through all our deeds and finding the chametz – the yetzer hara – our aveiros, refers to erev Rosh Hashanah as biur chametz – eliminating, abolishing and getting rid of those aveiros.

Halacha Weekly

Q. How is making simonim with foods on Rosh Hashanah different from Divination?

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A. The Talmud (Sanhedrin 65b) explains: What is Nichush(Divination)?… One that says my bread fell from my mouth, my walking stick fell from my hand,  his sons call after him, a raven calls to him, etc. “The Rabbis taught ‘lo tenachashu…’ (‘You shall not practice divination,’ etc.) …., For example those that divine by a mouse, birds. or fish.’ Rashi explains: ’[when one does this] at the time one leaves on the road or when one starts some new matter.’  However, at the beginning of the New Year we eat from the head of a ram or fish as a simon tov, (as a good sign)?  How are simonim on Rosh Hashanah different from nichush?

Az Nidbaru (4-45, R. Biyanim Zliber) writes ‘all matters that are prohibited by Nichush… [speak]  specifically [of a] matter that does not have any reason…’  It is stated in the Gemara (Chulin 95b): ”Shimon ben Elazar says ‘a house,  child and a woman’ (Rashi explains: ‘[at the time ] one builds a  home, or has a son, or marries a woman.’)  Even though there is no Nichush it is prohibited to divine, relying [at such times] on Divination, there is [nevertheless] a simon (Rashi  explains: there is a  sign in general: one obtains from it that if one is successful in the first transaction in a business  after buying a house, or having a child, or marrying a woman, it is a sign that he will go forth and be successful and should accustom himself to continue in this path. If not,  one should not  accustom himself to go further than is necessary (in this new direction ) because there is concern that he will not be successful. R. Elezar says ….’and things established through occurrence three times.’  Rashi explains: To be successful or not successful. …like for Yaakov who said, ‘ Yosef is no more, Shimon is no more and you are taking Binyamin (from me)?’ The Shulchan Aruch (YD 179-4) rules “ ‘A house, a child, and a woman,’ even though [in these cases] this is not Divination there is a simon (sign).” Ramah:  There are opinions saying that a person is permitted to make for himself a sign in a matter that will come about in the future. Like Eliezer the servant of Avraham  [did before meeting Rivkeh]… and there are those that prohibit (it)  and [say only] a person who acts establishing it as a sign does not need to go , in these[cases] there is [a reason] to say that this is a sign that from Heaven they are preventing his hand [from acting] , then it is permitted to avoid going for this reason.  [However,] a person who acts simply and trusts  G-d, [G-d’s]  lovingkindness will surround [and protect] him.’