Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

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5 Shevat 5760 - January 12, 2000 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Opinion & Comment
Pull Unto Yourself and Take

by L. Jungerman

"Pull unto yourself sheep and take -- and slaughter the Pesach sacrifice." Says the Midrash -- pull your hands to you and separate yourselves from idol worship.

All that is necessary for a Jew wallowing in the forty-nine gates of defilement is for him to pull out one hand, to remove it. Sanctity is within hand's reach. All one need do is stretch out one's hand [away from the impurity and towards the purity].

"Israel has a unique quality," writes the Maharal in Gevuros Hashem, Chapter Eight. "They are completely divorced from pettiness and baseness. Their sins are incidental, not integral."

Their isolated sins do not filter down into the marrow of their bones; they remain on the surface, superficial. At the first sign of awareness and desire to change, they are able to take the initial step and affect the transformation.

In Hamussar Vehadaas, Maran HaGaon R' Dovid Povarsky zt"l expresses his wonder at the words of Rabbenu Yonah in his letter Yesod Hateshuva. There Rabbenu Yonah suggests a policy for man to embrace, after "he has sinned but wishes to return to the fold of the Shechina's wings through repentance." This sinner is invited to listen to wise counsel: "I will make you wise and inform you which path to follow." He is surely referring to guidance and long-term exercise that will remove a sinner from the morass in which he is stuck so that he can begin his self improvement.

But Rabbenu Yonah offers an altogether simple formula: "On that day [of his decision], he should cast aside all of his sins and pretend that he is newly born, with a clean slate of neither debits nor credits. That is the first day of his new reckoning of deeds. On that day he shall take a new direction that will not lead him astray from the righteous path. He will pretend that he has discarded the heavy burden of sins and the weight of his transgressions . . . It is proper and good for him to cast off his sins and create a new heart within him."

What is the significance of this advice? How can a person get up and decide, one fine day, that he is starting afresh by simply flinging away his sins and creating for himself a new heart? Rabbenu Yonah says this is possible. With a well designed, serious motion, he can effect a complete about- face.

Maran R' Dovid points to the words of Chazal on the verse, "Shake yourself off from the dust." Like a hen. When a hen pecks in the dirt, she does so furiously, energetically, so that the dust flies every which way and gets into every fold and feather. She becomes so laden with dirt and dust that it seems impossible to clean her. The only method that works is if she, herself, gives a thorough shake that sends every feather quivering -- and loosens all the dirt. Only the hen is capable of freeing herself of the debris she has accumulated.

Shake yourself from the dust. Pull [your hand away] and take.

"Those who clung to Baal Peor," say Chazal (Sanhedrin 64) were fastened like a bracelet on a woman's arm, whereas, "You who cleave unto Hashem your G- d" cleave and adhere truly. Rashi comments, "It is their praise, their advantage. Adherence is even stronger than clinging, since bracelets do not adhere to the skin. They `embrace' and jangle loosely on the arm, to and fro. Those who adhere are actually and truly stuck. Firm and fast."


That is the whole secret. A Jew is never fully adhered to sin. At worst, he clings, embraces [foreign ideologies], but still jangles to and fro, loosely, with ups and downs. Sinners are often beset by regrets. Everything floats on the surface, while their root continues to be their security, to anchor them down. "But their soul," says Nefesh HaChaim, "still remains intact, and will always endure, whole. The deeds of a person can never actually alter or ruin it."

This is why a complete transformation is always attainable, close at hand. "This can be likened to a hairy person and a bald one who were both standing near a barn. Along came a wind and showered a rain of chaff upon them. The one with a shock of hair had a difficult time ridding himself of the chaff, whereas the bald one merely passed his hand over his head and shook it right off."

Jews do not have a thick mane of hair in which sins can become entangled. Their heads are smooth, so to speak, exposed. If a sin `lands' on a Jew's head, it remains on the surface and all he need do is pass his hand across his head to remove the chaff.

This thought should be very encouraging. Not much is needed for the entire Jewish people to shake themselves up from the dust. To pick themselves up from the ground and give a quick, thorough, cleansing shudder. Sufficient a flash of arousal, and "Upon you will shine Hashem and His glory will appear upon you." The rest will follow naturally. When Israel falls, it plummets to the ground. But they can pick themselves up from the ground and shake the dust off in a twinkling, just like the hen. It has happened; it is happening and the process will continue to take place.

Each one and his moment. Time bides. The great moment will yet come for all of us collectively.

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