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Vertluch: Parshas Matos-Massei

When dealing with a lady who makes a neder, a vow, the Torah notes that if she were to make a vow and her husband was to nullify it, even if she didn’t know that it was nullified, or simply says ‘I don’t care’ and she breaks her promise, she still needs to get a kapara from Hashem – ‘vaHashem yislach la’. The gemara in kedushin (81) wonders about this and asks, why she needs atonement if there is no misdeed? The gemara answers, it is because she had intended on sinning and did not know that her husband had nullified her vow and since she thought she was sinning, she requires atonement. The gemara continues and makes a kal v’chomer: If someone who thinks they sinned has to ask forgiveness from Hashem, how much more forgiveness must one ask from Hashem for actually committing a sin?

We can learn from here a tremendous lesson. If someone intends to sin – even if they don’t actually do anything wrong – they still need atonement. With this concept in mind I would like to share with you a powerful story.

There was a famous Rosh Hayeshiva who would travel throughout the year to collect money for his institution. He would travel to many different out of town states and had specific people with whom he would stay by and with whom he would collect by. He would travel for a few days at a time and then come home to his family, for Shabbos.

On one of his trips out of town, he would stay by a religious man who ate kosher, kept up with the daf hayomi and seemed to be a pious Jew. It so happened that on one of his trips abroad, he was scheduled to fly home on a Thursday night but due to poor weather his flight was canceled. With no way to get home, he phoned his host and asked if he would mind if he returned and joined him for Shabbos. His host responded that it would not a problem at all, but warned him that there is something he must know. When the Rosh Hayeshiva asked what that was, his host replied, ‘I just want you to know that I desecrate the Shabbos.’ With complete shock the Rosh Hayeshiva asked him how that can be. The man began with a story:

When I was just a young boy, in my teenage years, I found myself away from my family in a country called America. I was sent to my relatives with whom I was to live by. When I arrived, they told me that they couldn’t just have me just hanging around as it was too expensive to support me, especially when money was scarce. They told me I would need to chip in by going out and getting a job to help pay for my stay, food and upbringing. With no other choice I set out and found myself a job.

That Friday afternoon, as I was getting ready to leave work, I told my boss to enjoy his weekend and that I would see him on Monday. With a puzzled look he asked me what I meant. When I told him that I keep Shabbos, he responded ‘no work Saturday means no work Monday. We’re operational six days a week here.’ Not wanting to desecrate Shabbos, I left and lost my job.

When I came home to my cousins they informed me that in order to stay with them they would need me to get another job, again, to help with expenses. So I went out and looked for another job the following week, and I got one. Unfortunately, the same thing happened at this job too. After my third job I realized that I’m young and if I want to live and have a place where I can sleep and eat, I would have to work on Shabbos. With that in mind and with no other option available, the following Shabbos morning I davened early and headed to work. I decided to minimize my desecration as much as possible and I walked twenty blocks to shul and then to my building, up six flights of stairs where I worked. As I reached for the door I stretched out my hand and touched the doorknob. Upon feeling the cold knob, I let out a shriek and I yelled SHABBOS! I turned around and ran from the building as fast as my feet could carry me. I continued running and running until I had run out of breath and I literally fell on top of a bench and passed out.

When I woke up, I found a Jewish man with a beard sitting next to me. He asked me what I was doing there and I explained to him what had happened. I told him that I came to the realization that in order for me to have a bed at night and food to eat, I would have to work on Shabbos. He told me he would take care of me and that I didn’t need to work on Shabbos. He took me in to his home and watched over me, for years, until I got older.

Upon hearing this story, the Rosh Hayeshiva was confused; ‘Hadn’t you told me that you desecrated the Shabbos?’ he asked him.

The man answered, “On Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, I was m’chalel Shabbos! When I made that decision, on every single one of those days, to go into work and desecrate the Shabbos, I was in essence m’chalel Shabbos every single day!” This man felt the need for atonement for intending to desecrate the Shabbos many years earlier.

That is the meaning of the pasuk; ‘vaHashem yislach la!’ Atonement for a sinning intention.

There are two elements to sinning. One is to sin and the other is to rebel. If a person has the intention to sin, then he is also rebelling. One must have an understanding that all Jews are servants of Hashem and we must recognize that our purpose on this world is to make Him proud. Not only to stay away from sin, but to have no desire, no intention of ever considering a sin, even for the sake of our livelihood or even if we find out later that perhaps we didn’t actually sin. As we can see, even those ’sins’ need atonement.

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