Is Peace Within Our Reach?
Is Change Possible?
The following is a traditional story, yet quite relevant to our modern day struggles: A great Rabbi met Elijah the prophet and asked him, “Master, when will redemption come.” “Today!” answered the prophet, “Today, if you would only listen to His voice!” (Sanhedrin, Ps. 95/7)
Rav Yaakov Meir Shechter points out, “The entire Torah…..applies only to the present, for it is impossible to command a person over the past, and the future is beyond hid control. And yet, the evil inclination confuses us. It makes us obsessed with our past deeds and preoccupies us with worries about the future. In the meantime, it steals away our present, and robs us of our eternal life.
This being the case, we are fortunate that teshuva is a commandment from God, for were it not, we would never imagine such a thing is possible. For in the act of teshuva, we involve ourselves with the past at the expense of the present. Everyone knows that it is futile to cry over spilled milk. When an act is done, it is finished; there is no reason to complain about it……
Nevertheless, because God has commanded us to regret our actions and admit our mistakes, by doing teshuva (repentance and return) we are not merely dwelling on the past, but fulfilling a positive commandment in the present. The Hebrew word chet
(sin) means literally. "missing the mark." Generally, we call a sin, a mistake or a wrong-doing. This reminds me of the old expression "two wrongs don't make a right," but two Wrights made an airplane (the Wright brothers invented the first aircraft). Even more remarkable is the fact that teshuva actually repairs the past. In The Path of the Just, Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzato explains that the act of teshuva works similarly to the annulment of a vow. Just as a vow is annulled by uprooting it from the beginning as if it were never made, likewise, when we do teshuva, it is as though we had never sinned. This is why the prayers on Yom Kippur night begin with Kol Nidre.
On the day we stand before God in teshuva, we ask Him to release us from our sins, the same way we are released from our vows. Maimonides writes: ‘A person who does teshuva should not think that he is far from the level of Tzaddikim (righteous people) because of his mistakes, for God loves him as if he never sinned at all…Teshuva draws close those who were distant. Yesterday they were despised by God, they were lowly, far, and repulsive; today they are beloved and close.’ When we do teshuva the evil we did entirely ceases to exist in creation, for by uprooting our desire
for sin, it is as though we have uprooted the very act itself. The Rav (Rabbi Doctor J.B. Soloveitchik) points out the description of the individuality and the autonomy of the repentance faith gesture should not be associated with Tertullian's apothegm credo quia absurdum est.
Neither should it be equated with Kierkegaard's ''leap into the absurd.'' The Halakhah (dynamic legal decision) insists upon the dialectical movement between these two worlds - namely the rational, cultural majestic world, vs. the realm of pure faith without clear logos and rational. They do indeed exist concurrently, according to Halakhah. The Halakhic view is "'terribly'' articulate, unpardonably dynamic, and especially consistent, insisting that feeling become thought, and experience be acted out and transformed into an objective event. (The actual doing of commandments.) Kierkegaard's existential world like Schliermacher's pietistic world, is a place of silence and passivity. Far removed from the complex array of historical events, not hungering for action of movement." ( Lonely Man of Faith )
There is another thing to be gained from the past and that is lessons for the future. For we learn that crime does not pay, and that it is bitter to turn our backs on God and on our fellow mankind. We can also learn from our mistakes and develop different strategies in the fight against the evil inclination.”
Final Words of Encouragement
Minister of Foreign Affairs Silver Shalom recently addressed the General Assembly of the United Nations. Speaking on holocaust remembrance he said as follows (paraphrased): The fact that so many survivors played a part in the building of the state of Israel , is in of itself, a remarkable fulfillment of Ezekiel’s prophecy. As the prophet said, “Thus says the Lord. Behold o’ my people, I will take you from the graves, I will put my spirit in you and you shall live in your own land, in the Land of Israel . “ Mr. President of the UN, said Silver Shalom, Israel represents one heroic attempt to find a positive response to the atrocities of the second World War…..Today, we again are pitted against the forces of evil, those for whom human life - whether it be the civilians they target, or their own youth, are of no value, nothing but a means to their goals.
Through commonsense, truth, and justice, millions of our fellow human beings can be freed from tyranny, oppression, and mind control. If Israel were to reach out with the seven universal commandments of Noah, with honesty compassion and strength, millions of Muslims could be liberated. In this new environment of freedom of thought and speech,, with access to objective knowledge of history, they could begin to make productive and healthy choices in life.
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