Just Think, You Can Do Better

Rabbi Yehoshua Grunstein

Rabbi Yehoshua Grunsteinאף על פי שהתשובה והצעקה יפה לעולם, בעשרת הימים שבין ראש השנה ויום הכיפורים היא יפה ביותר, ומיד היא מתקבלת (הרמב”ם, הלכות תשובה ב, ח)

“Even though repentance and prayer are wonderful, during the 10 days between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur they are all the more beautiful, and they are accepted immediately.” (Rambam’s Code, Laws of Teshuva, 2, 8)

Repentance, change, transformation… these are difficult for anyone to achieve, and all the more so to accomplish in a mere 10 days. It therefore seems rather strange that the Rambam seems to challenge us to do it in this short time, writing that if we are successful, our repentance is “is accepted immediately.”

In my opinion, the Rambam’s charge is not to totally transform oneself; that takes time and effort, far more then just 10 days. Rather, the Rambam was speaking of another kind of teshuva, which is indeed possible.

When a man marries a woman, he can [if both consent] add a condition to the validity of their marriage. One of the many conditions the Talmud allows is the following:

“על מנת שאני צדיק, אפילו רשע גמור מקודשת, שמא הרהר תשובה בדעתו (מסכת קידושין, דף מ”ט עמוד ב’)

“If a man says to a woman: ‘Be betrothed to me on the condition that I am a righteous man,’ then even if he was a completely wicked man she is betrothed, as perhaps he had thoughts of repentance in his mind.”
(Tractate Kiddushin 49b)

How can the mere thought of repentance carry so much weight?

The Minchat-Chinuch [19th Century legal commentary on the Sefer ha-Chinuch, written by Rabbeinu Yosef Babad] explains:

 …דבאמת, צדיק ורשע אינו תלוי בכפרה כלל, …כיון שמתחרט ושב הוי צדיק. והכא נמי נהי’ דאין לו כפרה בתשובה בלב. מכל מקום הוי צדיק כיון שמתחרט לפני קונו יתברך…( מנחת חינוך, מצווה שס”ד)

“…in truth, being called a righteous man versus a wicked man is not dependent upon full atonement….and if one feel remorseful and [wants] to return to God, he is righteous. Indeed, there is no full-atonement for [the mere] thought of teshuva in one’s heart. However, he is righteous, because he feels remorseful before God.” (Minchat Chinuch, Mitzva 364)

While we may not be able to change our entire lifesyle or habits in just 10 days, this shift in mindset is enough to change our status. In the words of Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik:

 ….הפקעת שם רשע אינה קשורה כלל עם מושג כפרה וחלותה אלא עם מעשה התשובה עצמו – חרטה וקבלה, (“איש ההלכה-גלוי ונסתר”, עמ’ 93)

“Expropriating the label of ‘wicked’ is not connected to the concept of atonement but rather to the act of teshuva itself – feeling remorseful and thinking of changing one’s actions for the future.” (Ish HaHalacha, Galui VeNistar, p. 93)

During the 10 days of teshuva, we may not be able to completely transform ourselves. But we can and must self-examine, internalize that we are not perfect, feel remorseful for some of our actions and determine to improve. The mere thought that we can do better can tip the scale from being considered “wicked’ to being thought of as “righteous.”

Rabbi Yehoshua Grunstein is Director of Training and Placement for the Beren-Amiel and Straus-Amiel Educational and Rabbinical Emissary Programs


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