The Days of Repentance

It is written (Yeshayah 32:9-10): “O complacent women, arise and hear my voice! O self-assured daughters, pay heed to what I say. Days upon years will the secure women tremble.” In Ohel Yaakov, parashas Nitzavim, the Maggid interprets this passage homiletically as conveying a message about the rigors of the days of repentance.
The Maggid speaks of three methods by which we can be purged of our sins. The first method is by going through Gehinnom after death. This method is unfathomably harsh. The second method is by being punished by a Beis Din. The third method is by a purging process that the sinner effectuates himself, by bitterly lamenting his evil deeds and taking steps on his own to atone for them through fasting and similar afflictions, prayer, charity, and Torah study. When a person acts on his own to avenge the affront to Hashem’s honor that his sins caused, Hashem is pleased. As the Gemara in Berachos 7a says: “One self-reproach in a person’s heart is better than many lashes.” The days of repentance are thus very precious, for they have the special power to purge a person of all types of sins, for which he would otherwise have to suffer harsh punishment in Gehinnom. By observing these days, a person can rectify his sins quickly and much more easily. We should be filled with joy to have this opportunity. Indeed, the faithful and strong-hearted, who serve Hashem with love and accept affliction gladly, rejoice over these days as if they had found a great treasure – they immerse themselves in the prayers and forget about their skipped meals and lost sleep. Many people, however, take the opposite attitude, viewing the days of repentance as a burden. Going to shul for selichos seems a chore; the long services on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur seem tiresome. The Maggid interprets the verse we quoted at the outset as advice to those who take this attitude – to those who yearn to sit in complacent comfort and who balk at any strain.
He brings out the idea with a parable. In a certain city, there lived a great genius who constantly came out with new inventions, the likes of which no one had ever seen. He made a living selling these inventions, and he did well, for people were eager to grab his marvelous wares. But one man never bought any of his inventions; while he was rich enough to afford them easily, he was very miserly, and regarded the inventions a waste of money. After a time, the inventor came out with something especially wondrous: a small cake made of ingredients so filling that a single serving would meet a person’s food needs or ten days or more. He went to the marketplace with a basket of these cakes to offer for sale. The miser passed by, and the inventor called out to him and said: “Come, my friend, buy some of these cakes.” The miser replied: “You know I’m not interested in frittering away my money on your foolish inventions.” The inventor responded: “On the contrary, this product is meant for people like you. Someone who spends freely feels no need to economize by buying a food like this; he’ll figure that if he feels hungry tomorrow morning, he’ll buy some fresh bread. But with you, your great tightfistedness demands that you buy my new super-filling cakes.”
Similarly, with people who crave ease and are loath to submit to any strain, this very aversion demands that they submit to the rigors of the days of repentance. They should cherish these days dearly and embrace them eagerly, for through the strain they undergo during these few days, they can gain peace and comfort for the entire rest of the year (and avoid much greater suffering that they would otherwise have to endure, including a possibly lengthy period of suffering in Gehinnom after death). As our opening verse states: “Days upon years will the secure women tremble.” The period from the end of Elul to Yom Kippur has a special power through which a few days of trembling can meet our quota of trembling for an entire year. Let us take advantage of this opportunity.
K’sivah V’Chasimah Tovah!
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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