(Torah Portion Shoftim) Conscious About Guilt
King David writes in the Book of Psalms, “G-d is close to all those who call upon Him sincerely.”
Rabbi Mattisyahu Solomon asks an obvious question: “If one is calling out to G-d, isn’t he naturally calling out sincerely. What does King David mean by, G-d listens – to those who call to him earnestly?”
Reb Mattisyahu explains, “What it means is that G-d, whose quintessence is truth, is close to those who are honest with themselves and present themselves humbly before G-d, truthful about their inner selves, their weaknesses, shortcomings and faults.”
Acknowledging one’s own imperfections is essential for a relationship with the Almighty.
The Torah relates that as the Jews gather to go to war, an officer addresses them announcing exemptions from the war. He proclaims, “He who built a house and did not yet settle in it; he who is engaged to get married and he who planted a vineyard and did not enjoy its fruit, are to return home.” The officer then announces, “Anyone who is fearful and weak hearted shall return home.”
Rashi quotes two opinions in the Talmud about what ‘fear’ is referring to. Reb Yose Haglili understands it literally; if a person cannot handle warfare due to fright, his reluctance will have a ripple effect on others and he therefore returns home. Rebbe Akiva understands that fear refers to one who is concerned that the sins that he committed would leave him vulnerable during war.
Rabbi Aron Leib Shteinman asks, “If this person realizes that he has sinned, why doesn’t he repent on the spot and he would no longer have to fear his sin?” Rabbi Shteinman, explains that perhaps the person would feel that his repentance is insincere since it was done through the fear of the war rather than from purity of heart.
Dr. Neil Nissel offered the following insightful answer: “Perhaps, the person’s sin was between man and his fellow, and the only way to be absolved from such a sin is if he asks the person forgiveness. Since war is looming it may be impossible to track him down.”
Rashi continues and explains that the Torah gave the other exemptions unrelated to sinners, so that when all those exempted got up to leave for home, those who are leaving because of their sins would not be highlighted and embarrassed, for people would assume that their exemption is for the other reasons unrelated to sin.
Such is the consideration for someone who is honest and acknowledges his shortcomings.
Yismach Moshe makes an interesting observation: “In the Mitzvah of repentance, the Torah only commands us to express and confess our sins (to the Almighty). The question is why doesn’t the Torah specifically command the other components of repentance such as feeling remorse over one’s sin?”
He answers in the following intriguing and inspiring fashion: Generally speaking after one has committed a sin and his passion and evil leaning has departed, his inner being and true essence immediately feels remorse and he is overcome by feelings of guilt over what he has done. It thus becomes apparent that the sin was an error, since it occurred by way of the coercion, urges and passion of his evil inclination.
Since remorse follows immediately after one sins, there is no need for a direct command for remorse in repentance.
Says Rabbi Avrohom Schorr, it turns out that G-d bestowed us with tremendous kindness and favor by directly setting into motion a repentant feeling after one sins in order to propel and lead one on the path to achieve a proper atonement.
This special allowance for repentance extends only to one who is honest with himself and acknowledges that what he did was improper.
The month of Elul, is deeply associated with the initiative and inspiration of repentance – it is well within our grasp to achieve and succeed!
Wishing you a restful, peaceful
and inspirational Shabbos!
Rabbi Dovid Saks