27 Kislev 5782 / Wednesday, December 01, 2021 | Torah Reading: Mikeitz
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Yonah and the Whale    

Yonah and the Whale

One's own teshuva isn’t enough! Loving Hashem means to ease His suffering by helping one's fellow Jews find their way home as well.


Bitter Tears 

Rabbi Yisroel Salanter z"l, the founder “mussar movement” and a righteous and brilliant Torah scholar who found himself working in the Jewish community of Paris for a few years. At the time, the community was struggling to maintain their connection to Torah and Mitzvot. Reb Yisroel would constantly find himself worrying about his fellow Jews who were slowly deteriorating spiritually and assimilating. He would cry bitter tears of anguish so often that it started to impact his vision. He went to an ophthalmologist, who happened to be an Orthodox Jew. The doctor advised him that the only way for his eyes to heal was to refrain from crying.  

To this, Reb Yisroel responded: "How can you, an ultra-Orthodox Jew, ask me not to cry when so many of our fellow yidden are far from our heavenly Father?!"  


Anguish into Action: Returning the Lost  

Today and throughout the generations, we have seen Torah observant yidden anguish over the spiritual state of their fellow Jews; over their challenges, struggles and behaviors that are contrarian to Hashem and His Torah. However, they don’t merely anguish; they act. Born from their deep love for Hashem and His Torah, these yidden would work to bring their fellow Jews back to Hashem, to educate and engage them in a way that inspired them to change course; to come closer to Hashem through His Torah and Mitzvot.  

When a yid lives a life that is not aligned with the Will of Hashem, it has a potent spiritual impact above. When Jews are lost spiritually, when they are distant from Hashem, the Shechinah weeps and anguishes over the Jews who are wandering in the darkness of spiritual emptiness, who feel disconnected. When a yid is sensitive to this spiritual reality, how could he not do everything in his power to help return these lost children to their Father in Heaven; to ease Hashem’s pain.  


True Ahavat Hashem  

In Sefer Hamitzvot the Rambam explains that the work of outreach, this avodah of helping yidden return to Hashem is included in the commandment of “you shall love Hashem, Your God.”  

When you truly love someone or something, you want to share your feelings, your passion, and your excitement with others. You want other people to love that thing or person in the same way that you do. Ahavat Hashem, love for Hashem, works similarly, explains the Rambam. If you love Hashem, if you are excited about your relationship with Him, about learning His Torah, about observing His Mitzvot, how could you not want to share that with as many people as possible? Loving Hashem means loving His children. Committing yourself to Hashem inevitably means you want to share that commitment with others; you want to inspire, to educate and help those who are lost to return to Hashem. You want to bring light to their darkness  


Selfless Forgiveness  

This is a concept and avodah, work, that you must connect to even more strongly during your own process of teshuva, repentance.  

Rabbeinu Yonah explains in Sharei Teshuva that one of the critical elements to teshuva is not only repenting for a specific transgression or sin, but helping others repent from that very same sin. It is not only about you. You need to help others return; to help other yidden rectify those same mistakes in their own lives that you have experienced in yours. This is the meaning of the verse in Ezekiel (18:30) "Return and bring others back from all your transgressions.” The prophet instructs us that returning and repenting over your sins is not enough. You need seek forgiveness and recommit yourself to Hashem and you must help others do so as well.  

A ba’al teshuva, someone who repents and wants to strengthen his connection to Hashem, who wants closeness not distance, who wants to repair and retore his relationship with Hashem, will inevitably try his utmost to alleviate any of Hashem’s suffering or pain caused by the Jews who are lost. He will help them find their way home, too. He will reunite them to their Father in Heaven, through learning His Torah and observing the mitzvot.  

On the other hand, if a person works only on themselves, they are preoccupied with their own relationship with Hashem, their own spiritual well-being, it is abundantly clear that they are only concerned about their own needs and not that of Heaven. Their teshuva, repentance, is not a true repentance. It cannot be about you, but Hashem.  

Our sages express this very idea when Chazal in Yalkut Shimoni (Parshas Ki Sisa) describes that when Aharon HaCohen wanted to repent over the sin of the Golden Calf, he did not just work on himself. Rather, he went through the entire Jewish encampment teaching every and any Jew how to learn Torah and pray. Aharon knew that the only path to true repentance was to reconnect other Jews with Hashem and reestablishing their relationship as well as his own.  

This is what teshuva must be about. It needs to be global; it needs to be about and anyone else you can help. When you are sincere about teshuva, and rebuilding your relationship with Hashem, then you want to bring other Jews along with you. You want to return as many lost children to their Father in Heaven as you possibly can. You do not become preoccupied with your own salvation and forgiveness, but in helping ease the anguish Hashem feels over the sins of all Jews.  

We find this same idea expressed in Tehillim (51:15). When Dovid Hamelech, King David, wanted to do teshuva for his own shortcomings, he wrote, “I will teach transgressors Your ways; and sinners will return to You.”  


All Debts Are Forgiven 

There is a well-known parable described in the seforim hakedoshim:  

There was once a kingdom. Like all kingdoms, the king taxed the citizens to keep the kingdom functioning. Over the years, the taxes kept increasing. One of the cities in the kingdom decided that they had had enough and simply stopped paying their taxes. As time went on, the city’s outstanding tax liability kept compounding until it had become an enormous sum. It did not take too long for the kingdom’s finance minister to realize that there was something wrong the kingdom’s cash flow. When the minister examined the books, he quickly released that the shortfall was the result of this one city not paying their taxes.  

It was time to go and collect. However, expecting resistance, the kingdom dispatched a battalion of troops to accompany the minister to help enforce the collection and punish anyone who would refuse to pay their share.  

Word quickly spread throughout the city that the soldiers were on their way to collect the taxes. One poor man in the city did a quick accounting of his personal assets and realized that it was impossible for him to pay his share. So, he decided that at the very least he will work to ensure that everyone else paid their due. He went throughout the town discussing with his fellow citizens how important the king was, how their taxes helped keep them safe, to create a lovely place to live; how the king has always been benevolent and fair.  

When the battalion finally arrived, they were unexpectedly greeted with open arms and citizens were prepared and eager to pay their debts to the kingdom. When the minister was making a final count, he realized that one citizen had only paid a small portion of his debt. The ministers made inquiries and learned that this this one man who was truly unable of paying all of the taxes owned. However, this was also the person that helped everyone else in the town understand the importance of the king and the kingdom. He helped everyone see the impact of their taxes on their own well-being as well as the overall kingdom. It was this poor man who not only made everyone comfortable with paying the taxes, but even made them excited to do so.  

The minister truly didn’t know what to do. When he returned to the palace, he told the king about this one poor citizen who, although couldn’t pay his own debt, helped the kingdom by ensuring everyone else did. The king immediately had a letter drafted and sent to this man declaring that his actions clearly prove that he is a loyal and loving servant of the king; all debts were forgiven.  

Similarly, when a person has, God forbid, sinned, he has made choices that have led him away from Hashem and His Torah. His behaviors have created distance, his actions built walls between himself and Hashem. Even though he may now want to represent, to return, to repair, he may simply not have the means to completely satisfy his spiritual “debt”. However, if he accepts the role ad responsibility of helping others find their way home to Hashem, to repay their debts, then his own debts will be forgiven as well.  

Perhaps this can explain the custom to read the story of Yonah on Yom Kippur as the haftarah at Minchah. Yonah suffered tremendous agony because he was unable to help the people of Nineveh repent. The Midrash (Yalkut Shimoni Jonah Remez 551) explains that the story of Yonah teaches us that if you can help others return to Hashem and repent and you do not, you will be met with suffering and pain, God forbid.  

As Yom Kippur approaches, this is a critical lesson for every yid to understand and internalize. It is natural to be concerned with your own actions, to reflect on your own shortcomings and to seek forgiveness for yourself. However, that cannot become your sole preoccupation. You must realize that Hashem longs for all of His children to be near Him; He is pained by every yid’s spiritual shortcoming. You have a responsibility, if you truly love Hashem, to help ease that suffering by helping your fellow Jews find their way home as well. May we all recommit ourselves honestly to Hashem, His Torah and Mitzvot and to help others come near and repair their own relationship with our Father in Heaven. Through these efforts, this commitment, and this work, may you and all the Jewish people be forgiven and sealed in the good book, the Book of Life, and blessings. Amen. 

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