June 16, 2024
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June 16, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Knock Knock, Is Anybody Home?

R’ Yaakov Galinsky brings a story of R’ Naftoli of Ropshitz who once saw someone “klapping” on his chest during the vidui, and he said to him: there is no point in knocking—nobody’s home!

A person might go through all the motions on Yom Kippur and say all the right things, but if one doesn’t believe that indeed he has fallen short, then we might just be knocking on no one’s door.

Going back to the inception of “chet,” transgression, we find an incredible nature imprinted in the human dynamic. Hashem only had one restriction placed on Adam and Chava: not to eat from the Etz Hadaat. At this point in history the yetzer hara wasn’t an internal feature of our makeup but was an external being known as the nachash (snake). He devised a game plan and pushed Chava against the tree, and said, “See? Just like there’s no death from touching it, so too if you eat from it” (Rashi, Bereishit, 3:4). Chava then went ahead and ate from it, then convinced Adam, and the rest is history.

Why’d Chava listen to the nachash? His argument seemed patently illogical, for what does touching have to do with eating? The Siftei Chachamim explains that Chava developed her own beliefs about the Etz Hadaat. She believed that the danger was that the tree itself was a deadly entity even through touch. Hence, once she realized that nothing happened to her, she figured that the tree wasn’t a danger after all, and therefore she ate from it.

Rav Henoch Leibowitz (Chiddushei Halev, Bereishit) asks: Hashem never told Chava that the reason why the Etz Hadaat was forbidden is because it posed a physical danger; that was Chava’s self-made belief. If so, once she realized that touching the tree did not cause anything, why didn’t she realize that her theory about the tree’s danger was mistaken? Inherently, from the fact that she didn’t consider that maybe her reasoning was mistaken and that really Hashem must have had a different reason for why it’s forbidden, it seems to show that she felt that Hashem was wrong about the tree even posing a danger at all! Instead of Chava saying, I was wrong and Hashem is right about the tree, she instead believed that Hashem must have been wrong about the tree the entire time. R’ Leibowitz explains that this goes to show the challenge of reconsidering one’s beliefs to consider that maybe I’m wrong and instead pointing to others [i.e., Hashem in this case] and say that they are wrong.

Adam, who also ate from the tree, also experienced a similar phenomenon. When Hashem put him on the spot in the aftermath of eating from the Etz Hadaat, Adam’s response was “it was the woman you gave me who gave me to eat, so I ate” (Bereishit, 3:11-12). Yes, even Adam seemed to have passed the buck, indicating that he was saying that others (Chava) are wrong, and I’m not. Incredulously, the Midrash (Bamidbar Rabbah 13:3) says that Hashem implored and beseeched from Adam that he do teshuva, and Adam refused. At one point Adam even said (Bereishit Rabbah 19:12), “I ate, and I would eat it again”! We perhaps see from here as well how difficult it is for one to recognize and admit his mistakes, and the lengths he’d go to still think he is right—to the point where Adam felt he was justified and said he would have a second course!

In Parshat Nitzavim (Devarim, 29:18) the Torah teaches that one may hear all of the “tochacha”—the heart-wrenching curses that might occur if one doesn’t listen to Hashem—and yet “bless himself in his heart and say, ‘I will be in peace, even if I follow my heart’s desires.’” On this, Ramban writes that “when this person hears others being cursed, in his own mind he blesses himself and says to himself, ‘I will be in peace from all this [even] when I follow my heart’s desires.’” It’s implicit from Ramban that even when one is hearing such cautionary words from Moshe Rabbeinu, one may still think “that applies to others, for I’m not doing anything wrong.”

Indeed, on Yom Kippur one may pound his chest and go through lists of transgressions and confessions. But if in his heart of hearts he believes that applies to others, while he himself doesn’t really believe that he fell short, then in fact, nobody is really home. Yom Kippur is certainly a holy day, a day steeped in teshuva and coming close to Hashem. However, if one isn’t first close to himself—if he isn’t honest with himself to see where he fell short and how he can improve, then how can one even begin the process of doing teshuva and coming close to Hashem?

Perhaps then we can understand the Yalkut Shimoni (Nach, 103) that says, “Master of the World [Hashem], You claim nothing from a person other than he say before you ‘I transgressed’”! For perhaps only once a person comes to terms with where he is honestly holding can he then truly begin the process of teshuva and the ascent toward a real relationship with Hashem.


Binyamin Benji can be reached at [email protected].

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