Vertluch: Parshas Vayelech/Yom Kippur 5773


There is an interesting halacha that is brought in Shulchan Aruch (orach chaim 203; 1) which states, that during aseres yemei teshuva a person who during the year isn’t stringent on eating pas palter or cholov stam, nonetheless should try to be stringent with these customs during these ten days. Even if a person does not plan on continuing this custom after Yom Kippur, they should still observe it.

There is a famous question posed as is what is going on here? Are we really fooling Hashem? Teshuva has to be sincere and authentic. What is the point and goal by instructing people to take on certain stringencies that they know they do not plan on keeping?

I would like to suggest an answer I heard in the name of my Rosh Hayeshiva, Harav Chaim Zev Levitan, shlit”a.

There are certain people who get inspired very easily, while others have a harder time to do the same. Many a time when people are inspired, they start feeling the need to get closer to Hashem-especially around Yom Kippur time-and they say ‘The Yomim Noyruim are coming let me work on myself.’ But after trying and trying they see rather quickly, that it is not so easy. Many will attribute their lack of ability to do teshuva to a deficiency in fearing Hashem. So they learn mussar seforim and may even listen to shmuessen, but the fact is that the case may not just be that they lack yiras shomayim. Rather, the culprit here-of the inability to do teshuva-is the due to the koach of ‘hergel’; that they are set in their ways and have a difficult time in dealing with change.

Chazal tell us that Noach built an Ark for one hundred and twenty years. He was a tzadik and the gadol hador of his day. The reason why it took so long to build was in order for people to ask him what it was for and to hopefully be inspired to repent. And as we know from the parsha, that is exactly what happened; yet, it didn’t have any effect on them. Here you had an adam gadol telling them what was going to happen but no one listened. All the animals were waiting to be called into the Taiva. At that point, no cat was chasing a mouse and no lion was eating anyone; and all the people witnessed this but they still did not do teshuva. Nevertheless, even after the rain started coming down, the people still had not done teshuva. Where did they have the ability to be unmoved by every single sight that they saw? Especially after what Noach had predicted exactly what would happen?

Rav Sholom Schwadron, zt”l, comments that had Noach walked in one day and told the entire generation that in one week there will be massive flooding and they must awaken themselves right now, it might have worked. But Noach started building the Ark and a week later it was still there. Another week later and it was still there. A month later, and he was still there. They understood that each morning when they would pass Noach, on their way to work, he will be working on his Ark. They became accustomed to the sight and they therefore lost their ability for it to affect them in a positive way, allowing themselves to remain unmoved. They were set in their ways; it became normal for them. This was the reason for the ordeal of Noach-because it became part of their life.

Gemara in Sota (2a) says ‘anyone who sees a sota in her state of disgustingness will forbid himself from drinking wine.’ Mabit, in sefer Bais Elokim, writes that the meaning of this is someone who witnesses what transpires from a human being on something that they performed because of wine, will immediately have to do something to internalize the sensitivity and to gain that burst of inspiration; to not allow it to become second nature. You see it? You’re inspired? Act on it right away!

The same is true over here. Even if a person isn’t stringent on certain behaviors all year-we just went through a Rosh Hashana and we were mamlich Hakadosh Baruch Hu; we proclaimed Him our King. We are on a mission to try to get closer to Hashem. We want to show Hashem that we have the ability to change. Our daily routine doesn’t have to stay the same. By doing so, what we are saying is ‘I have the ability to change.’ Even if one doesn’t plan on keeping it-break the habit, to prove to yourself that you can change. We have it within ourselves to change. The greatest barrier that prevents a person from doing teshuva is his inability to change. He has what it takes, it’s in him-but he has his routine.

With this thought in mind may we all be zoche to act upon being inspired immediately and to allow ourselves to change for the better. By doing so may we merit to be sealed in the book of life, to a gmar chasima tova, a gut gebentched yur and a fruitful and healthy year where we will iy’h merit the coming of Moshiach.