This past Purim, after receiving our Mishloach Manos of Covid-19 from the Far East, many of us breathed a sigh of relief, grateful that the pandemic had not hit September time. Who could possibly imagine spending Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur wearing masks, practicing social distancing, and barely praying with a minyan? However, here we are, a week before Rosh HaShanah, preparing to celebrate the Yomim Noraim “Corona style,” adapting to what was six months ago the unthinkable.
Human beings are extremely resilient and can acclimate to almost any situation, no matter how outrageous it may initially appear. While this trait is basic to human survival (and sanity) and something for which we must thank Hashem, nevertheless, its spiritual repercussions leave much to be desired.
Regarding the Mitzvah of Repentance, the Torah says in this week’s Parsha, “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 near to you—in your mouth and your heart—to perform it.” In other words, repentance is not rocket science. A person can make an about-turn and start marching towards Hashem in the blink of an eye.
However, asks Reb Chaim Shmulevitz (1902-1979), if repentance is indeed so easy, why does it not feature more regularly in our day-to-day lives? If, spiritually speaking, repentance washes whiter than other detergents and removes even the toughest stains with relative ease, why do we leave it until Yom Kippur to start cleaning up our act?
Reb Chaim answers that our general apathy towards repentance does not stem from a lack of appreciation of its benefits, rather from an inherent belief that we do not need to change. Since we are so adept at growing accustomed to our circumstances, any wrongful conduct we may perform quickly becomes part of our habitual routine and, consequently, removed from our consciousness. Only what lies at the forefront of our minds grabs our attention; anything else flies by without a moment’s thought.
Accordingly, to capitalize on the spiritual gift of repentance, we need to access our subconscious. Reb Chaim explains that this can only be achieved by an introspective process of self- questioning. Instead of coasting along on cruise control, we must constantly query our modus operandi and ask ourselves if what we are doing falls in line with what Hashem expects of us.
Indeed, the Mitzvah of Shofar also embodies this principle. The Rambam writes that the Shofar’s cry proclaims, “Wake up sleepy ones from your sleep and you who slumber, arise! Inspect your deeds, repent, remember your Creator!” The Shofar is designed to jolt us out of our bad habits and reassess the everyday conduct of our lives. Unless we crack open the mundane routine of our lives, repentance will forever remain a valuable, albeit irrelevant, tool in our spiritual development.
In memory of the Neshama of Reb Asher ben Tzvi Haynoch
L’iluy Nishmas Aidel bas Avraham
L’iluy Nishmas Chaim ben David