Selichot: Keys To Forgiveness Part II #16

12 09 2011
Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rabbi Avishai David

Selichot: Keys to Forgiveness, Part II

The Gemara refers to Selichot as seder tefilla, namely an order of prayer which parallels Shemone Esrei. Shemone Esrai consists of praise, requests, and thanks. In a similar vein, Selichot begin with praise, move on to requests and the thirteen attributes of mercy, and end with thanking Hashem for his beneficence.

Judaism views man as an incongruous being. On the one hand, he can rise to unbelievable heights, greater than angels. On the other hand, he is like dust and ashes in his helplessness and worthlessness and total dependence on Hashem. This paradox seems to be at the heart of what Selichot is about. We approach Hashem in an intimate way. We address Him in the second person. But then we move on to bakasha, as we cry and plead for forgiveness.

The Rambam says that the way of repentance is to shed tears and implore Hashem for forgiveness. We recite Selichot after midnight, a time of eit ratzon (favor). We invoke Hashem’s mercy by reciting the thirteen attributes. The halacha is that someone praying alone doesn’t say the thirteen attributes. Rav Soloveitchik explains that this is because it is tantamount to a davar shebi’kedusha (a holy prayer), which requires a minyan (quorum of ten men). A davar shebi’kedusha is defined by the poskim as a dialogue between the prayer leader and the congregationand with it we sanctify Hashem‘s name in public. The Rambam writes that although Hashem always accepts our teshuva, it is most accepted in the days of grace, yemei ratzon, when Hashem comes down to be with us. This is why we recite Selichot during this period.

Selichot are comprised of three elements, which parallel the three elements of the soul: nefesh, ruach, and neshama. The Zohar says nefesh is a dark light rooted in the physical being, the source of emotion. It produces heat and relates to the lowest level of a person through the physical body. The next level, ruach, is a white light. It is the source of intellect, relates to our spiritual aspect, and not only provides heat, but also illumination. Finally there is the neshama which is a hidden incomprehensible light. Teshuva is possible because of this mysterious light that can never be corrupted. The neshama is the impetus for return.

The Rambam explains that nefesh is the source of feelings and physical drives. Its goal is pleasure and self-gratification. By nature it is limited. The ruach, the intellectual side, seeks higher truth. We need both the nefesh and ruach to serve Hashem. Emuna is defined in two ways, l’haamin, to believe, and l’hodea, to know. Belief stems from nefesh, the source of emotion, but there’s also an obligation to understand and connect to Hashem intellectually with the ruach.

Jews throughout the millennium have given up their lives to sanctify Hashem’s name. They were not necessarily great talmidei chachamim, but simple Jews who had pure emuna stemming from nefesh. Giving charity, doing acts of kindness, and deveikut b’Hashem, all flow from nefesh. Yet ruach is also a critical factor in serving Hashem. Intellect plays a pivotal role in studying and understanding Torah in a profound way. The greater the understanding, the greater the deveikut (attachment) to Hashem.

The Aseret Hadibrot are repeated twice in the Torah. In Parshat Yitro they address the ruach. In Parshat Va’etchanan they focus on the nefesh, the fire of Torah. Both are necessary. Selichot addresses the nefesh state of teshuva with the goal of reaching the ruach and the neshama.

On Yom Kippur, the Torah commands us to afflict the nefesh. “V’initem es nafshoseichem. You shall afflict your nefesh.” In this way, a person is motivated to experience the torment of his sins, which will in turn arouse him to pray and repent. In Selichot, we ask Hashem for mercy to bring us back to teshuva. We ask Him to help us rid ourselves of the yetzer hara so that our inner core will sparkle again. We focus on nefesh, then we move on to ruach, which in turn helps us bring our neshama to the fore. This is accomplished through teshuva, tefila, and tzedaka (repentance prayerand charity).

May the power of Selichot and the thirteen attributes, accompanied with the promise that no prayer ever goes unanswered, help us come back to Hashem.

 

 





Repent! A Survey of Al-Hateshuva-Two Processes of Teshuva #2

5 09 2011
Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rabbi Hershel Reichman 

Two Processes of Teshuva In Hilchot Teshuva, the Rambam discusses the three segments of vidui (confession): admitting to the sin, regretting the sin, and committing not to sin again. In the first chapter, the Rambam mentions charata (regret) and then kabala al h’aatid (commitment). In the second chapter he mentions kabala al h’atid and then charata. Obviously both elements are necessary, but why is the order reversed?

The Gemara discusses two ways in which a person can be released from his vows, charata-regretand pesach-an opening. Pesach is based on miscalculation. The person wasn’t aware of all the facts, miscalculated, and made a vow. Charata is when the person knew all the facts but couldn’t control his emotions. He made a vow and now regrets it. Charata and pesach stem from two different parts of the human psyche, intellect and emotion. Logic helps us understand and come to conclusions. Emotions control and direct our actions. The struggle between what we know and feel is the conflict between the good and bad inclinations. Either the mind knows what’s right and the heart pulls towards the reverse or the heart intuitively feels what’s right and the mind comes to the wrong conclusions. Pesach is intellectual while charata is emotional. Sin can come from the heart or mind just as repentance can result from an emotional or logical awakening.

Sin is a disease of the soul. Illness indicates imbalance. Just as a physical illness has symptoms, so too does a spiritual sickness. Pain lets us know that we are ill and that we should address the dysfunction quickly. Guilt is a gift from Hashem. It’s the pain of the soul signaling us to get back on track. It’s Hashem telling us to fix ourselves.

The Torah describes the Jewish people’s emotional reaction to chet ha’egel and chet meraglim, “Vayisablu”-They mourned. When a person realizes that he’s failed spiritually, he reacts with depression, sadness, and disappointment. When he sees that he’s tarnished his tzelem Elokim (spark of divinity), he mourns for his soul. Aveilut is a yearning to return to one’s unblemished past. The Jews grieved because of their sins. They remembered the days when Hashem performed great miracles for them. They relived the giving of the Torah and the special bond they formed with their Master. They mourned the purity, the holiness and the closeness they once had. Now after the sin, they felt the loss of this closeness and purity.

Regret is a form of anger directed at oneself. This is supposed to lead to repentance. Teshuva driven by emotional pain requires focusing on the past. It’s much like charata for a vow. This is why the Rambam mentions this teshuva in the first chapter. Many times a person doesn’t have this emotional awakening. He doesn’t know how sick he is. He struggles. His heart is full of desire and then his mind says no. This is teshuva of the intellect and it is more difficult than teshuva of the emotions. Emotional teshuva can happen quickly because the person is eager to escape the pain. Intellectual teshua is slower, because the mind has to overcome emotional proclivity to sin. It can take years, or a lifetime. Intellectual repentance is not a reaction to the past but rather an effort to get back on track for the future.

The mind and heart of a Jew are a receptacle for the Divine Presence as it says, “V’asu li mikdash v’shachanti b’sochom.” Hashem assures us, “I will reside within each of you.” We’re not alone in the process of teshuva. We are partners with Hashem. May the awakening within our hearts and minds bring us to complete repentance.