Torah thought forFriday 5 Tishrei 5783 September 30 2022

Parashat Vayelech - Shabbat Shuvah - Repent Whilst You Still Have Strength!

(translated by our dear friend Rav Daniel Levy Shlit”a, Leeds UK)

This Shabbat, after the Reading of the Torah, we shall read the Haphtarah, which opens with these words, “Return, Israel, unto Hashem your G-d, for you have stumbled in your iniquity” (Hoshea 14:2). The essence of this Shabbat is preparing in advance of Yom Kippur, about which it states, “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). Therefore it is customary in all Jewish communities that the great rabbanim give derashot before large audiences, words of Torah and the mitzvah of teshuva. Sometimes, depending on the circumstances they encourage the tzibbur to mend their ways in specific areas relevant to the time and place.

Every person, man or woman, from young to old, must understand the importance of these day which we are in. On the one hand these are amazing days during which Hashem is close to all who call him. On the other hand, these are also days that we are required to accept genuine responsibility. It is forbidden for a Jew to be complacent and quiet, rather he must awaken and consider his actions and accept upon himself good resolutions. To give tzedakah and pray from the depths of his heart, in order that Hashem will have mercy upon us and renew a good year for us and forgive, pardon and atone all our sins, which are the cause of all troubles.

Kind David a”h said, “Praiseworthy is the man who fears Hashem, who greatly desires His commandments” (Tehillim 112:1). The Talmud (Avoda Zara 19a) states that our chachamim stated, what is the meaning of “a man” who fears Hashem? Is the reference to a man and not a woman? What does the word “man” emphasise?

Our chachamim explain, happy is a person who repents when he is still a man. Meaning when he still has his strength when he is still young. Then his repentance is better received, for he is man conquering his yetzer hara (evil inclination). He strengthens himself and literally repairs his damage and now he rises from level to level. A person such as this, happy is he and happy is his lot!

However, someone who repents to Hashem after he has become old, when he is already weak and his strength has almost left him and his health is precarious, then, even though his repentance is received, as it states, “You reduce man to pulp” (Tehillim 90:3), nevertheless this is not excellent teshuvah.

Maran, the grandfather, Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef ztv”l, quotes a relevant parable. A wealthy man, respected and generous, had a new top of the range car. A local person asked him to lend him the car for a couple of days and the man agreed. He lent him the car, leaving it with him. He used it for all his needs, travelling long and short journeys. Only after a prolonged period when the car broke down many times, the transmission and braking systems failing, until the car ceased worked altogether. The outward appearance of the car was pristine black. Then he “remembered” to return it to its’ owners. Understandably he explained the delay with various excuses.

Is it conceivable that the car owner will simply accept the return of the car and forgive the behaviour? Certainly not! Likewise when a person comes to repent in their old age, at a time when his whole-body shakes and is frail, and full of pain. His heart is barely with him, and he is unable to go to the Bet HaKenneset and pray with the congregation. At a time when he is unable to fulfil many mitzvot. Is it possible to accept such a teshuvah? However, despite everything, Hashem in his mercy and abundant kindness, has His right hand extended to receive repenters. The chachamim found an indication for these ideas from the passuk, “When you are in distress and all these things have happened to you, you will ‘finally’ return to Hashem your G-d and obey him” (Devarim 4:30). That despite old age arriving, nevertheless, a G-d who is merciful and compassionate is Hashem. And He forgives and pardons all who repent to him.

However, the person who returns to Hashem whilst they are still a “man,” whilst they still have their strength, about him it is said, “A hero conquers his adversity.” Additionally, he has the hope that he will educate his sons and daughters in Torah ways. For the matter is still within his hands to guide them on the correct path. In contrast, a person who returns to Hashem in his old age, his children have already grown up and he has no influence over them. Therefore the passuk continues, “Praiseworthy is the man who fears Hashem, who greatly desires His commandments. Mighty in the land will his offspring be” (Tehillim 112:1-2), for one who repents whilst he is still a “man,” young, then he may merit to bring up his children in the Torah way. And then his children will be “A generation of the upright shall be blessed” (ibid.). This is how Maran zt”l explained it.

Therefore, dear brothers, beloved Jews, we must make a huge resolve to repent. Sometimes a person says in his heart, slowly slowly, I will progress on my own. But he doesn’t appreciate the implications that he loses the huge gain of one who repents and fulfils the Torah whilst still strong! To what is the comparable? To a woman who dresses immodestly and when it is pointed out to her, she replies that for now I am young, when I am older, aged 60 or 70 years old then I will certainly be like my grandmother, with exceptional modesty! Anyone who hears such a response will laugh. For the main test is when a person is young and according to the difficulty, so is the great reward. What benefit is there with these answers?

So a person thinks to himself, I won’t study Torah, but this is purely because I am terribly busy with my business. In the evening I need to rest a bit, therefore I am interested in the news and other useless things for a few hours whilst in front of the computer. He fails to understand that when he will be old and not accustomed to Torah-study, then studying will be so much harder. Moreover, he currently loses the most precious form of “work,” utilising the time for mitzvot and good deeds. For this world is only like a waiting room before the World to Come! Woe to this person, for his heart, is a good heart, but in practice he wastes his days with nonsense. Woe to him and woe to his soul!

Every person, man or woman, should consider how much we wish and desire to receive Hashem’s goodness. How much our heart yearns to greet our own sons and daughters! How much we want what is good for them! During these days, all our lives are decided, whether spiritually or physically. Therefore praiseworthy is the man who does this [see Yeshaya 56:2], strengthen yourselves and let us strengthen together, to repent with things that need strengthening. May Hashem see our situation and see our efforts, and then despite that we are not complete tzaddikim and that we haven’t fulfilled our debts in this world, nevertheless, in His goodness and kindness, may He have pity and mercy on us, may he renew for us a good year and satisfy all our hearts’ desires for goodness in serving Him.

Shabbat Shalom

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