Thursday, September 06, 2018

Lo yoveh Hashem s'loach lo -- hope for change

1) We read in the shir ha'ma'alos m'ma'amakim, "Ki imcha ha'selicha l'ma'an tivarei" -- Hashem, forgiveness comes from you, so that we may come to fear you.  It's a very strange line.  You would think that if there was no forgiveness, we would have more to fear.  But we say exactly the opposite -- precisely because G-d forgives, we will fear him more.  How does that make sense?   

There is a pasuk in our parsha that may shed some light on things.  Our parsha describes the person who disregards the bris between the Jewish people and Hashem, and instead, "v'hisbareich bi'lvavo leimor," he says in his heart, "b'sherirus libi ei'leich," I'm going to do what I want (29:18).  The parsha continues, "lo yoveh Hashem slo'ach lo," Hashem will not want to forgive such a person, "u'macha Hashem es shemo," his name will be obliterated.

All we hear about this time of year is teshuva.  Tanach is filled with admonitions asking us to do teshuva.  Yet here, in the parsha we read right before Rosh haShana, the Torah tells us that G-d will not forgive this wrongdoer.  What kind of message is that?

The Beis HaLevi answers that we put the quotation marks in the wrong place.  "Lo yoveh Hashem s'loach lo" is not the Torah's response to the wrongdoer -- it's a continuation of the wrongdoer's statement.  It also belongs in the quotation marks.  The sinner is not just rejecting the bris with Hashem, but more than that and perhaps worse than that, he  rejects the possibility of undoing his disavowal of the bris.  When there is no hope for change, there is no check on evil. When there is no hope, there is no reason to not do whatever you want because it's not going to make a difference anyway.

Last week Rabbi Y Y Jacobson spoke in Far Rockaway and he quoted the Ba'al haTanya as saying a similar explanation of the pasuk in shir ha'ma'alos.  Imagine a person who has lost millions and is being pressured by the bank to repay everything.  He knows he has no chance of repaying anything close to what they are asking for, so he figures why bother -- might as well spend the money on something enjoyable.  Once you are in debt way over your head with no chance of paying it back, what's a little more or a little less?  "B'sherirus libi ei'leich!"  But if the bank tries to work out a payment plan, forgives the interest, and tries to help the person recover, then things are different.  "Ki imcha ha'selicha" -- Hashem is willing to work with us on a payment plan, bit by bit, one step at a time.  He gives us the hope that we need, the belief that we can in fact make amends and correct things.  There is no reason to throw everything away -- there is a life preserver that gives us a reason to hold onto our yiras shamayim.

2) Others suggest a different pshat in that pasuk in Nitzavim "lo yoveh Hashem s'loach lo."  It doesn't say "lo yislach lo," that Hashem will not forgive -- it says "lo yoveh," Hashem does not want to do it.  Hashem does not kavyachol want to give a free pass to a person who has done such wrong.  However, Hashem does it anyway.  Such is the greatness of teshuvah.   

3) And for the sake of completeness, let me give you a different pshat in the pasuk in the shir ha'ma'alos.  There are a lot of people who are looking for quick fixes.  They want a segulah, an easy solution.  Tell someone who has sinned that they have to fast x days, give $x to charity, wear X, say X, etc. and it's a done deal.  Wave the magic wand, and poof, it's all good.  No one is really afraid of sin if that's all it takes to make things better.  But that's not what it's really all about.  "Ki imcha ha'slicha" -- forgiveness only comes from G-D, with a capital G.  Nothing else works.  It's hard to stand naked (spiritually, emotionally, psychologically) before the King of Kings and face up to what we do with our lives.  "L'ma'an tivarei" -- that's something that should make you tremble. 

4) Tos. writes that we blow 100 shofar blasts because of the 100 cries of Sisra's mother as she waited for him to return from battle, eventually realizing that he would in fact never be coming home.  The connection between shofar and the cries of Sisra's mother is baffling.  My wife suggested the following: The Midrash writes that because Ya'akov caused Eisav to cry when he took the brachos, therefore Mordechai ha'tzadik had to suffer and cry at Haman's hands (see post here).  Causing pain, even to one's enemy, is a dangerous thing.  

The tears of Sisra's mother had the potential to arouse a kitrug against Klal Yisrael.  Therefore, we need the kol shofar to temper that judgment.  The cry of the shofar, genuichei ganachy'lukei yalil, drowns out the cries of our enemies. 

5) Lastly, in case I don't write before Rosh haShana, I wish everyone a kesiva v'chasima tovah for the upcoming year.


  1. 2) "However, Hashem does it anyway."

    but only because we blast our whereabouts to the firmament by shofar, opposite adam ha'rishon at the start (3:8)

  2. The Ramban, at the end of his introduction to Parshas Devarim, says the same explanation of כי עמך הסליחה as the Baal HaTanya.