12 Kislev 5781 / Saturday, November 28, 2020 | Torah Reading: Vayeitzei
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A Destroying Angel    

A Destroying Angel

It is written, "Return to Me and I will return to you" –wherever you may be trapped. Even when you see no way out, I will come to meet you, to deliver you. This is the path...


It is written, "Return to Me and I will return to you" – wherever you may be trapped. Even when you see no way out, I will come to meet you, to deliver you. This is the path of true teshuva, repentance.
There was a prince who lived a long way from his father. "Return to your father," his friends told him. "I'm unable to," he replied. His father sent him a messages, "Travel as far as you can, and I will meet you the rest of the way." Thus God says to the Jewish People, "Return to Me, and I will return to you" (Zechariah 1:3).  Pesikta Rabbosi 45:9
It is said that even the transgressors of Israel are filled with regret over their sons (Shevat Musar on Nedarim 9b). Deep within, they don't want to rebel against their Maker. Even though they have already succumbed to their evil inclinations, their hearts can still be aroused to abandon their ways. The problem is, when they begin to reflect on their deeds, the evil inclination misguides their thinking. "If you want to repent," it tells them, "you must do so completely, from the bottom of your heart, with absolutely pure intentions, and no ulterior motives. But you cannot do that since you are already so blemished." And so they do not repent. By perverting the truth, the evil inclination pushes the transgressor away, convincing them that all hope is lost. It cites a hundred clear proofs from the Torah and Talmud that they can no longer repair what they have damaged, neither in their relationship to God, nor to their fellow men. Thus, it leads them into its trap deeper than ever, further along in their evil ways (Likutey Halachot Hitchot Ribit 1:24).
The same thing can happen to the most devout individual. With this approach, the Evil One prevents him from advancing in avodat Hashem, in his Divine service. When a person is feeling down, asleep as it were, in the service of God, the Evil One pays no attention. But, as soon as he starts to wake up, the Evil One applies one of his successful tactics. He may boost the person's enthusiasm until it is greater than his present level of observance. The Evil One shows him all sorts of halachot that he is not fulfilling. The person cannot maintain this level of practice and begins to lose enthusiasm, until he gives up entirely. Thus, the verse says: "In the way I go – even the way of Torah – they have laid a trap for me" (Tehillim 142:4).
This was Esav's (Esav) ploy. When he saw that neither he nor Lavan could overcome Yaakov (Jacob) directly, he tried a more subtle trap: to convince his brother that he was coming to help. "I will leave you some of the men that are with me" (Bereishit 33:15). Let me leave you some more pious fellows, he offered. He tried to influecne Yaakov in a friendly way, a "truthful" way. By this, the evil inclination defeats even the most sincere. The verse says: Yehuda has gone into exile, because of affliction and great servitude (Eicha 1:3). The Chida comments on this: Jews can remain bereft of mitzvot because of their enslavement to a single mitzvah with all its stringencies.
I heard an appropriate parable regarding this (from the Kozmir Rebbe, I believe). When the thieves want to rob a jewelry store, they first enter in the guise of simple customers. Suddenly, one of them grabs a piece of jewelry and runs out. The owner leaves his store to run after him and, at that moment, the other thieves empty the store of all its goods, hundreds of times more valuable than what the first one stole. When the owner returns he finds everything gone, and realizes that his pursuit of the first thief for the small object was a mistake that caused him to lose so much more. This is how the Evil One deceives a person. It draws his attention to one stringency of halacha, thereby robbing him of the rest of his Torah and mitzvot.
Who knows how many sinners remain bound in their way, how many mitzvot and how much Torah study they have lost as a result of these thoughts! Although such thoughts seem to originate from the side of truth, coming for the person's benefit, their real purpose is to distance him from God and to increase evil in the world.
Rabbi Gedalyah Kenig z"l, told me about a man he knew who constantly doubted the quality of his tefillin. First, he questioned the shape of the boxes; were they square enough? Then the separations, then the threads, then the straps. These doubts plagued him every minute he wore them, until one day he became so depressed that he simply stopped putting them on. Clearly, this was the work of the Evil One, God save us. It caused him to have all these doubts, apparently for his own best interest, but in the end it made him lose everything.
A Destroying Angel
In the first lesson of Likutey Moharan, Rebbe Nachman discussed one of the stories of Rabbah bar Bar Chana: "There is a certain wave that sinks ships, that is preceded by sparks of white fire" (Bava Basra 73a). This "wave" is the evil inclination that seeks to destroy the greatness of a Jew (Rebbe Nachman makes an association between the words sfina – ship and safun – importance). The "white fire" is its ability to disguise itself in mitzvot. Its intention seems to be to promote our avodat Hashem, our Divine service, but really it only wants to "sink the ship" God forbid.
Acount Taking
There are times when even the most earnest self-accounting is a ploy of the Evil One to overthrow us. I saw a frightening illustration of this from the Ziditchover Rebbe. The verse says, "And [Yosef} came into the house to do his work" (Bereishit 39:11). The Targum translates this as, "He came in to go over the accounts." The Ziditcover explains that Yosef began to make a self-accounting. This cast him into depression and almost caused him to sin with Potiphar's wife (Sur meRa 27b). A person should be neither depressed over the past nor worried about the future. He should simply "snatch" as much Torah and prayer as he can. He should avoid excessive halachic stringencies and unnecessary concern about what was or what will be. When everything is said and done, nothing good ever comes from this.  
Go as Far as You Can
This is the meaning of the Midrash cited at the beginning of the chapter. A person who feels distant from God should not be too hard on himself. He should listen to his Father's words, "Go as far as you can, and I will meet you the rest of the way." God does not ask us to go the entire distance alone, only to do what we can. Whether it is a little of a lot doesn't matter, just as long as we are involved with Torah and prayer, avoiding evil, trying to do good and begging God for His compassion. It's especially important to recite Tehillim (Psalms) for they purify the heart and help us serve God in truth and sincerity. If we can do this, God will surely free us from the traps of the evil inclination. Even when there is no rational hope of escape, we must still believe in God's infinite power of deliverance.
It is written, "Return to Me and I will return to you" – wherever you may be trapped. Even when you see no way out, I will come to meet you, to deliver you. This is the path of true teshuva, repentance.
Thus God says: "Make Me an opening the size of a pinhole and I will make you an opening broad enough for a wagon team" (Shir Hashirim Rabba 8:3). This is how wide the door is opened above for a person who does a little teshuva below. If this is the best we can do, though it is no more than a minute amount of effort, we will ultimately reach awesome heights that are totally out of proportion to our actions. We only must do what we can from our side.
"The evil inclination attacks us daily," says the Talmud. "If God did not help us, we could not withstand it" (Succah 52b). Our only hope is to cry out to God constantly, 'Open the gate for me" (see Yalkut Shoshana, by Rabbi Elimelech of Lizensk).
The Most Important Teshuva – Crying Out to God
Reb Nosson writes of an amazing discourse he heard from Rebbe Nachman about the greatness of God (Likutey Halachot, Nedarim 4:27). Although he declares it impossible to convey what he heard in writing, he shares with us inspiring words about how e can still go on, no matter where we have fallen. God is so great that we must never give up. The most important teshuva is in crying out, as int is written: "God's face is against those who do evil. They cry out and God hears" (Tehillim 34:17-18). When sinners repent and cry out to God, He hears them and saves them from their troubles.
The Pesikta comments on the importance of crying out to God in teshuva. All the prophets called Israel to repentance, but Hoshea actually taught them how. 'Take with you words and return to God. Say to Him, "Forgive all iniquity and receive us graciously' (Hoshea 14:3)" (Pesikta Rabbosi 44)
Rebbe Nachman said that even if a person lies in the mud, he should still cry out with all his might. God's greatness is unfathomable, and His compassion towards every Jew is infinite. The Kabbalah teaches that the Jewish People are foremost in God's mind. This means to say that they share the closest possible relationship with the Holy One. It is explained in Likutey Moharan that God exhibits two types of love for the Jewish People. "Temporal Love," which is measured love of which we can have some conception, and "Transcendental Love," which is totally beyond all human comprehension. The latter is like the love a father has for his child even before conception, while the child still exists only potentially in the father's mind. It is a love impossible to understand now, but which will be perceived in the World to Come, with the revelations of the highest secrets of Torah (Likutey Moharan I:33).God acts towards  the Jewish people as if in the closest familial relationship. AS the verse says, "Israel, a nation related to Him" (Tehillim 148:14). "All their afflictions pains Him as well" says the prophet Yeshayahu (63:9), for the suffering of Israel touches the highest, innermost worlds.
Even if the merits of our forefathers are exhausted, and Israel herself is unworthy, writes Rabbi Moshe Cordovero, God still remembers the love the Jewish People once showed Him. "Thus says the Lord: I remember the devotion of your youth, your love as a bride, when you went after me in the wilderness, in a land that was not sown" (Yermiyahu 2:2).
All this teaches us that God's compassion is everlasting. He hears all our cries and is close to all who call upon Him, "to all who call upon him in truth." In a famous letter to Rabbi Gershon Kitov, the Baal Shem Tov writes of a divine vision he experienced, in which he saw great sinners being accepted into Gan Eden, not as a result of their own efforts, but through the help they received from God. The love and compassion God showed them was so remarkable that the Baal Shem Tov himself was astonished (Ben Porat Yosef, reprinted in Sefer Baal Shem Tov on the Torah).
(Used with permission from the author. From the book "In all my Ways" Keren Ohr Publications).

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