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Monday, September 21, 2009

The Chumros of the Aseres Yemei Teshuva

Chazal say (sotah 2a) that it is as 'difficult', so to speak, for the Ribono shel Olam, to successfully match a chasan and a kallah as it was to split the Red Sea at the time of Yetzias Mitzrayim. Similarly, there is a Gemara (Pesachim 118) that says that it is as 'hard' for Hashem to provide a parnassa for a man as it was to split the Red Sea. How are we to understand these puzzling Gemaros?

It's hard to know what constitutes "difficulty" for the Ribono shel Olam. But Chazal do tell us that a conflict arose as Klal Yisrael left Mitzrayim. When Hashem told the sea to split, the sea, or the malach that represented the sea, refused, because Halalu ovdei avoda zara, vehalalu ovdei avoda zara-- this group worships idols and that group worships idols. In other words, the sea protested and said "Yes, when I was created, I was created on the condition that when this time will come, I will suspend natural law and allow the fleeing Jews to cross me, and then inundate the pursuing Egyptians. But where are the Jews? I see no difference between the two groups. Both look like idolaters. Why should I save the lives of one group and drown the other, when they are basically indistinguishable? They all look like Mitzrim to me." But Hashem said that while the difference might be only incipient and vestigial, nonetheless, there was a difference, and Hashem insisted that the Red Sea split.

When a young couple goes out, they are on their best behavior; they dress, eat, and talk with a constant awareness that they have to make a good impression, that they cannot disappoint the person who has committed their lives to them. A few years later, the perspective has entirely shifted. The spouse is taken for granted, children and profession are the foremost if not the only concerns, and so forth. This is not the Chasan and Kallah of a few years ago. That the relationship built on entirely different personnae survives is a miracle- a miracle akin to the splitting of the sea.

When we daven on Yom Kippur, we stand there in our kittels, we don't eat, we don't engage in unnecessary talk, we spend twenty four hours like pure angels, and we ask Hashem to please, please, give us a tranquil life and financial success so we can do chesed, and so we can learn and support those who learn. So Hashem looks down and sees us behaving in the holy manner that we were born to achieve, and Hashem brings the malach of bracha and parnasa and hatzlacha and says "Look, see this beautiful, holy man? I want you to bring him all the blessings he is asking for." A few weeks later, the malach is summoned to do his work, and he comes down to the world, and he looks at the man, and the malach says to himself, "Who is this guy? This isn't the person Hashem showed me on Yom Kippur, the tzadik with an angelic countenance whose pure tefillos and desire to serve Hashem brought tears to my eyes! This guy I see in front of me blew off his chavrusa because he got araingetohn into fantasy football on his stupid computer. There is no way this is the same person." And the malach goes home.

The Mechaber in OC 603 says that during the Aseres Ye'mei Teshuva, everyone should try to avoid Pas Palter, and should be machmir on things that he normally would not be. This is certainly a meritorious thing, and any builder will tell you that when you lay the foundation, you have to be hyper-meticulous, because the most trivial, initially invisible deviation will set in place a trajectory that, after you build ten stories, will cause a disasterous collapse. The Aseres Ye'mei Teshuva are the year's foundation, and nothing is 'inconsequential": we need to set the foundation of the year into place without even the most minor flaw.

But let's try to remember that after Yom Kippur, when the real world reasserts itself, when petty concerns seem momentous, when Sukkos duties demand our attention, that we need to retain enough of the Aseres Ye'mei Teshuva so that when the malach comes down with the bracha, at least he'll find some resemblance to the person Hashem pointed out to him on Yom Kippur.