Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Why Must I Say "I'm Sorry"?

by Rabbi Reuven Spolter
Jewish Studies Lecturer

Judaism is anything but easy. While most nations celebrate their New Year with drinking, partying and staying up late, we spend our New Year coronating God as king of the world, while we also engage in an extended process of self-evaluation and introspection. The entire period culminates with…that's right, a day of fasting spent entirely in shul.
Moreover, Teshuvah can be quite complicated. While repentance suffices for the sins I committed against God, the same cannot be said for the sins I committed against someone else. The Mishnah in Yoma (8:7) tells us that, עבירות שבין אדם למקום, יום הכיפורים מכפר – "Yom Kippur atones for sins between man and God". (Of course, you have to repent for Yom Kippur to work its magic.) But what about עבירות בין אדם לחבירו – "sins between man and his fellow man? Teshuvah is not enough. For these sins, we must do more.
שבינו לבין חברו אין יום הכיפורים מכפר, עד שירצה את חברו.  את זו דרש רבי אלעזר בן עזריה, "מכול, חטאותיכם, לפני ה', תטהרו" (ויקרא טז,ל)--עבירות שבין אדם למקום, יום הכיפורים מכפר; שבינו לבין חברו--אין יום הכיפורים מכפר, עד שירצה את חברו. 
Yom Kippur does not atone for [sins] between man and his fellow man until he appeases his friend. Rabbi Elazar ben Azaria extrapolated this idea from the following verse: 'From all your sins, before God, you shall be purified." (Vayikra 16:30) Yom Kippur atones for sins between man and God. [But] Yom Kippur does not atone for [sins] between man and his fellow man until he appeases his friend.
Indeed, Rambam (Hilchot Teshuvah 2:9) adopts this approach in Mishneh Torah, stating that you must first appease the victim of your sin before Yom Kippur can offer atonement.
We've always taken this fact for granted. After all, it makes intuitive sense, at least at first. How can God forgive you if you haven't even apologized to the person you hurt? And yet, the more I think about it, the less sense it seems to make. Why indeed should I have to apologize to the person I hurt? Let's assume that I stole money from a neighbor. I feel terrible about it, and vow never to repeat my sin. Moreover, I return the money, leaving an anonymous envelope full of cash on his doorstep. I've made him whole. I confessed my sin to God, and will truly never commit that sin again. Why should I have to then go to the neighbor and confess? Why should my atonement hinge on his goodwill (or lack thereof), state of mind, and sensitivity?
Moreover, it's not so clear that the verse that Rabbi Elazar ben Azaria quotes says what we think it says. The verse he quotes says,
כִּי-בַיּוֹם הַזֶּה יְכַפֵּר עֲלֵיכֶם, לְטַהֵר אֶתְכֶם:  מִכֹּל חַטֹּאתֵיכֶם, לִפְנֵי ה', תִּטְהָרוּ.
For on this day shall atonement be made for you, to cleanse you; from all your sins shall you be clean before the Lord.
Read the last phrase again: "From all your sins shall you be clean before the Lord." It doesn't say "some". It says "all." This would seem to go against both the Mishnah and the Rambam. Yet, the translation really hinges on how you read the verse, and where you pause during the reading. I'll explain:
Option 1: If you read the phrase: מִכֹּל חַטֹּאתֵיכֶם, לִפְנֵי ה', תִּטְהָרוּ (with a pause after the word חטאתיכם), then the phrase means "from all your sins shall you be clean before the Lord."
Option 2: If you read it without a pause after the first two words the meaning changes dramatically: מִכֹּל חַטֹּאתֵיכֶם לִפְנֵי ה', תִּטְהָרוּ – "from all your sins [committed] before the Lord, you shall be clean."
Which reading is grammatically correct? When we check the trop (טעמי המקרא), 
מִכֹּל֙ חַטֹּ֣אתֵיכֶ֔ם לִפְנֵ֥י ה֖' תִּטְהָֽרוּ
we see that there's a zakef katan – a small pause – after the words מכל חטאתיכם. Option 1 is correct. The Torah seems not to distinguish between different types of sins. At least according to the simple text, Yom Kippur offers atonement whether we apologize or not.
This, I believe, is why the Mishnah notes that Rabbi Elazar ben Azaria extrapolated this idea from the verse. It's not the simple meaning. It's a drush, and the Mishnah says so explicitly. The Mishnah continues:
אמר רבי עקיבא, אשריכם ישראל, לפני מי אתם מיטהרין ומי מטהר אתכם--אביכם שבשמיים:  שנאמר "וזרקתי עליכם מים טהורים, וטהרתם . . ." (יחזקאל לו,כה), ואומר "מקוה ישראל ה'" (ירמיהו יז,יג)--מה המקוה מטהר את הטמאים, אף הקדוש ברוך הוא מטהר את ישראל.
Rabbi Akiva says: Fortunate are you O Israel! Before whom do you purify yourselves? [And] who purifies you? Your Father in Heaven! As it is said: “I will sprinkle upon you pure water and you shall become purified” (Ezekiel 36:25), and it is further said: “The hope of Israel is the Lord” (Jeremiah 17:13), just as a mikvah purifies the defiled, so too, does the Holy one Blessed is He, purify Israel.
It's a famous quote, and a beautiful idea. But is it just a nice ending to the Masechet (it is the last Mishnah of Yoma), or is Rabbi Akiva chiming in on the previous issue? One could suggest that Rabbi Akiva is in fact arguing with Rabbi Elazar ben Azaria, and suggesting that Yom Kippur purifies everyone, for every sin – regardless of what category the sin falls in. In fact, this is exactly what the Sefer Meor Einayim (quoted by the Tosfot Yom Hakippurim) suggests:
וראיתי בספר מאור עיניים (דף קכד ע"ב) דפירש דראב"ע סבירא ליה דמי שיש לו עבירות שבין אדם לחבירו אין הקב"ה מכפר לו אפי' על עבירות שבין אדם למקום. ור"ע חולק עליו וס"ל דאפילו על עבירות שבין אדם לחבירו הקב"ה מכפר אף על גב שלא ריצה את חבירו ואין דבריו מחוורין אצלי.
I saw in the book Meor Einayim who explained that Rabbi Elazar ben Azaria held that God does not offer atonement to someone with sins between himself and his fellow man – even for the sins he committed against God. Rabbi Akiva argues with him and it is his opinion that God atones even for sins committed against one's fellow man, even though he did not appease his friend. And [Meor Einayim's] words are not clear to me.
While the Tosfot Yom Hakippurim (and Rambam and pretty much everyone else) disagrees with Meor Einayim, the opinion is fascinating. Why indeed should my atonement hinge not only my asking for, but my receiving my friend's forgiveness? It's not enough just to ask; I have to actually make strenuous efforts to secure his forgiveness. Why is it so important that the person I hurt forgive me?
This is a great question to ask ourselves as we struggle to pick up the phone, call and offer a sincere apology before Yom Kippur.

Students From Beit Chana in Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine Spend the Summer at Orot Israel College

by Mrs. Aliza Lipsker
Program Coordinator, Elkana Campus

At the end of an exciting, challenging, and experiential month-long learning program, one of the students declared, “What will I take back to the Ukraine? I will take all of Eretz Yisrael with me!”
The student was part of a group from Beit Chana in Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine – a branch of Orot Israel College, where young Jewish women study to become teachers in Jewish schools throughout the former Soviet republics. The students spent a month in Israel, focusing on Hebrew, Judaic studies, pedagogy, and Israeli life and culture.
From nine in the morning until ten at night, the daily schedule included stimulating classes, fun trips, and assorted extracurricular activities. The students slept in Orot’s beautiful new dormitory in Elkana and enjoyed Rachel’s delicious cooking. All the meals were designed to showcase Israel’s bountiful food and produce.
Every day after davening in the morning, Beit Chana’s own Rav Moshe Webber delivered a shiur on Chassidut. Next, the students spent four hours learning Hebrew. Under the able tutelage of Mrs. Sarit Gizbar and Mrs. Nurit Alkalai, the classes – many of which were held in Orot’s state-of-the-art pedagogic center – revolved around the study of classic Hebrew songs. And as the girls traveled the country, these songs were always on their lips.
Other classes included teaching methods, Torah, Halachah, the Jewish home, and the Holocaust, and the students visited the renowned Shem Olam Institute of the Holocaust and Faith in Kfar HaRo’eh.
Evenings were devoted to dance, art, make-up, and flower arranging classes as well as various social events, such as a special activity in honor of Tu B’Av. During the day, the girls had time to swim in Orot’s pool and catch some waves at the Herzliya Beach.
The program included numerous trips. For example, on Tisha B’Av, the girls visited Yad Vashem and recited Kinnot at the Kotel, and on a different occasion, they toured the Knesset, the Old City, and Ir David. Other trips included stops in Acco, Teveriyah, Meiron, Tzfat, and the Golan Heights. The girls went rafting, jeeping, and boating; visited Mini Israel, the Armored Corps Museum in Latrun, Luna Park, and the Invitation to Silence exhibit in Holon; and spent Rosh Chodesh Elul in Hevron and at Kever Rachel.
During the moving farewell ceremony, the students planted trees from the Seven Species on the Orot campus and were awarded diplomas. Rav Professor Neria Guttel, President of Orot Israel College, spoke to the students. Each girl shared – whether in Hebrew, Russian, or some combination thereof – what she had gained from the incredible program and her wonderful stay in Israel. All the girls agreed that they hoped to return!

To Learn and To Teach

by Rabbanit Nomi Shachor 
Tanach Department, Orot Israel College


When the Education Ministry recently unveiled a brand new junior high school Tanach curriculum, many teachers felt unprepared to handle some of the more complicated topics in Breishit and Vayikra. In particular, they were unsure how to approach such daunting subjects as marriage, childbirth, and forbidden sexual relations.
With these teachers in mind, Orot Israel College decided to offer an advanced in-service training course to provide teachers and educators with a broad array of tools and skills for teaching Tanach to junior high school students. Some ninety teachers from across Israel participated in the three-day program.
Among the program’s highlights were talks by guidance counselor Mrs. Avital Ben-Hur and Orot Israel College’s own Rabbanit Nomi Shachor, who focused on appropriate pedagogic techniques, educational values, and how to decide which topics to emphasize and which topics to underplay.
The program proved to be a huge success, and the organizers received numerous letters from the grateful participants. For example, Talia Arad, a physical education teacher, wrote about Rabbanit Dr. Yael Zohar’s fascinating lecture on Megilat Esther:
“The idea behind the words, ‘Do not imagine to yourself.’ (Esther 4:13) With these extremely stirring and inspiring words – which speak to Esther’s very essence - Mordechai addresses Esther. ‘Who knows whether it was for a time like this that you attained the kingdom?’ (Esther 4:14)
“Do not think only of yourself. Have faith and confidence. You have the power to change history and your nation’s fate. And so, Mordechai tells her, you must be alert. HaKadosh Baruch Hu sends you signals, and you must pay attention and act. Do not waste this opportunity.
“Before going to the king, Esther prays and thus gets in touch with her inner essence. With great self-sacrifice, she accepts the mission of saving her brethren. ‘And if I perish, I perish.’ (Esther 4:16) It is true that ‘the dead cannot praise God.’ (Tehilim 115:17) However, self-sacrifice is necessary, and I will do everything in my power to save my people.
“These words are still relevant today. How many times have we found ourselves facing signs from Hashem Yitbarach? How many times have we planned on traveling to a certain place but instead arrived somewhere else, and by chance (and there is no such thing as chance), we met someone new?
“Although we choose our own paths, we are accompanied by endless signs. Sometimes we heed these signs, and sometimes we ‘scorn’ them. We often ask ourselves if this is the right time? For a wedding? To give birth? To go to work? And so on…
“On a personal note, I was able to relate to Rabbanit Zohar’s words, when she spoke about Esther and opportunities. I almost wasted the opportunity to marry a widower and his four children. After having been a single-parent with four children of my own for about seven years, I was presented with this opportunity. But when I felt that the relationship was going nowhere, I ended it. Two months later, HaKadosh Baruch Hu once again signaled that this was my life’s course. Today, we have been married for two years, and about half a year ago, a sweet baby girl joined our family. So yes, the signs and the questions always exist, and self-sacrifice is necessary…
“I pray that Esther will continue to inspire us with her self-sacrifice and her connection to her inner roots, and may we always remember where we came from.
As we begin the new year, we add our voices to her beautiful prayer.