From HaGaon Rav Zevadia HaCohen Shlit”a, The Head of the Batei Din in Tel Aviv
(translated by our dear friend Rav Daniel Levy Shlit”a, Leeds UK)
This Shabbat is called Shabbat Shuvah after the Haphtarah that begins with the words “Return (Shuvah), Israel, unto Hashem your G-d, for you have stumbled in your iniquity” (Hoshea 14:2). The essence of this Shabbat is a preparation of Yom Kippur, about which it is said “This is because on this day you shall have all your sins atoned, so that you will be cleansed. Before Hashem you will be cleansed of all your sins” (Vayikra 16:30). The quintessence of teshuvah is like the words of Rabbenu HaRambam who writes: “What is teshuvah? That the sinner should leave his sin, remove it from his mind and resolve never to do it again, as the passuk states, “Let the wicked one forsake his way” (Yeshaya 55:7), and likewise he shall regret his past as the passuk states “For after my returning I regretted” (Yirmiyahu 35:18). Hashem will testify for him that he won’t return to this sin again. He is [also] required to confess verbally and to list his sins.
In fact prior to his Rambam writes, “Yom Kippur is a time of teshuvah for everyone, for the individual and the many, it is the end [of the process] of forgiveness and pardoning for Am Yisrael. Therefore all are obligated to make teshuvah and confess on Yom Kippur” [Hilchot Teshuvah 2:7]. And so during the Neilah prayer, a person arrives all pure and clean, and merits to be sealed for good life and shalom. This is the quintessence of this powerful and awesome day, the day of Yom Kippur.
However, we request in our prayers also for personal things. For example, “seal us in the book of good life”, “write us in the book of food and good livelihood”, and so in this way there are other examples. There are those who add requests in their prayers for specific needs, health, livelihood, children, good marriages and similar examples. But we must remember that that the main aspect of this great day is teshuvah and resolutions for the future. But it is understood that in order to live pleasant Torah lives we need good health, good livelihood and other [material] things, and therefore it is considered appropriate to pray for them, whilst mindful however, that these are of secondary importance to teshuvah and good deeds, and observing Torah and mitzvot.
It once happened with a well-known Chassidic Rebbe that one of his chassidim came on erev Yom Kippur to receive a berachah. The chassid requested from his Rebbe a berachah for a good livelihood, for wealth and success in his business. His Rebbe got angry with him and said to him, “This is what you request? It is erev Yom Kippur!” He was angry and shooed him away. The chassid was embarrassed and stood dejected in the corner of the room. After him entered another chassid to the Rebbe’s room. He turned to the Rebbe and asked for advice in personal matters and afterwards asked his Rebbe for a berachah. The Rebbe blessed him with all his heart that he should merit to a good livelihood, to success in his business, to wealth, success in all good things. The first chassid was astonished and turned to his Rebbe with a question, “Rebbe! Why is it that you related to my friend in such a beautiful manner, and you blessed him that he should merit to a good livelihood. Yet when I approached you with a similar request you shooed me away from you in contempt?” The Rebbe responded to him, “Let me compare this to the following analogy. A man traded in precious stones and bought gold, diamonds and precious pearls from a shop owned by a well-known trader. When he came to put his luggage on his wagon he saw that the wheels of his wagon were squeaking due to a lack of grease. The dealer asked the shop-keeper for some grease which he immediately willingly gave him. A simple wagon driver who was nearby saw this and also asked the shop-keeper for some grease to improve his wagon too. The shop-keeper retorted, “This is a diamond shop, not a garage for wagons! So I won’t be giving you any grease!” The wagon-driver asked, “But why then did you give the fellow before me a large amount of grease for free? Why do you deprive me?” The shop-keeper replied, “The chap before you, purchased from me merchandise for 100,000 USD and requested some grease so that he could transport his merchandise from here to wherever he is travelling. But you want just grease for your wagon, so you should go to a garage, there they will sell you grease to remedy your wagon, but not by me.”
“So are we speaking in the same manner” said the Rebbe to the chassid, “For the chassid who came just now, came to seek advice about his children’s education, about accepting the yoke of Heaven in his home, about doing acts of kindness and mitzvot. Only at the end did he request from me a berachah for a good livelihood to enable him to fulfil all his spiritual ambitions. A person such as this is worthy for a berachah on Yom Kippur. But you on the other hand, only sought wealth and success in business, so you are not worthy to receive any berachah!”
In real terms this is the “mussar haksel” [lit. “morality of the mind”, or spiritual lesson of rebuke] that we must take on board ahead of Yom Kippur. That its quintessence is teshuvah and accepting the yoke of Heaven and the yoke of Torah, and only for the ability to do these things do we also seek good health and livelihood and other good decrees.
Shanah tovah, ketivah v’chatimah tovah to all Beit Yisrael!