Yom Kippur

The Gemara in Berachos 37b says: “In the place where the repentant stand, the completely righteous cannot stand.” In Sefer HaMiddos, Shaar Ha-Ahavah, chapter 13, the Maggid expounds on this teaching. He links it to a charge from Yeshayah (verse 31:6): “Turn back regarding the way you have deeply strayed, O Children of Israel.” The Hebrew word that I have rendered cautiously as “regarding the way” is la’asher, and the Maggid notes that it is an odd choice. We would have expected to see the word mei’asher, meaning “from the way,” but instead we find the world la’asher, literally meaning “to the way.” Rashi renders la’asher as “to the one from whom,” and reads it as referring to Hashem. The Maggid, however, takes a completely different approach. It almost seems, he says, that Yeshayah is suggesting that a person should turn back, far be it, to his sinful ways. In resolving this apparent conundrum, the Maggid brings out a profound message.
He develops the point with an analogy. A rich nobleman had a faithful servant who served him conscientiously for several years. In the same city, one of the wealthiest and most prominent merchants lost his business and all his assets, and subsequently put himself up for hire as a servant. The nobleman, upon hearing about the matter, hired this former merchant, and even paid him double what he paid his other servant. He explained his decision as follows: “My other servant is a loyal worker, and he desires with his whole heart to fulfill his duties properly. Still, there is a big difference between the work of a servant, even one who carries out his duties perfectly, and that of a man who works for himself. A servant, who is obligated to work for his master, finds his work a heavy undertaking and does not exert himself to do more than is expected of him. A man who works for himself, on the other hand, plunges into his work with relish; his desire for gain spurs him on, and he exerts himself to extremes, skimping on food and sleep to press on toward his goal. A man who has worked his entire life as a servant has no concept of this type of exertion. But a man who has worked for himself knows it well, and, if he later takes a position as a servant, he understands what he has to do to truly fulfill his master’s wishes. Moreover, a servant who has always worked for someone else simply does what he is told, without any strategizing, but a servant who once worked for himself knows what it means to mull over turn a situation day and night to develop a strategy that will yield maximum gain, and he puts this experience to use for his master’s benefit.
Similarly, someone who has served Hashem all his life, although his soul is pure and his intent is sincere, has no concept of the effort exerted by a wicked man who seeks to gratify his own desires. The wicked man who is wedded to pleasure or honor is in constant turmoil in his quest for further gratification. As is written in the Yom Kippur haftarah (Yeshayah 57:20-21): “The wicked are like the raging sea that cannot rest, and whose waters churn up mire and mud. ‘There is no peace, said my God, ‘for the wicked.’” And so, when a wicked man reverses course and decides from now on to serve Hashem with all his heart, he puts forth a wondrous effort. For he understands how far he must go; he realizes that he has not fulfilled his obligation to Hashem until he serves Him with the same zeal with which he previously served his selfish wishes. If he is told he must learn Torah a whole night long, he recalls the many nights he spent awake engaged in card games and other frivolous pursuits, without proper meals and sleep, and he sets himself to the task. This level of devotion is what Yeshayah is calling for in the charge we quoted at the outset: “Turn back to serve Hashem with the same depth with which you previously strayed.” If a wayward man heeds this charge, he can reach spiritual heights that a person who has served Hashem his whole life cannot imagine. This is what the Gemara means when it says that “in the place where the repentant stand, the completely righteous cannot stand.”
Yet, even someone who has served Hashem his whole life can gain a sense of the repentant man’s zeal – by looking out into the world and observing the extremes people go to for the sake of worldly gains. As the Rambam says (in his introduction to Mishnayos Zeraim), the physical world is kept running by the efforts of crazy people. If we take note of the tremendous exertion and zeal of these crazy people – how they literally put their entire guts into their work – we all can see how far we must go in serving Hashem. Let us all strive to serve Hashem with full devotion, each to the very best of his ability. If we do, we will be worthy of being called “people who love Hashem.”
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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