Simply Changing Seats

The secret things belong unto the LORD our God; but the things that are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law[1].

train

This verse is best understood within the context of judgment. Since we cannot see into the private areas of a man’s home or heart, these secret things are in G-d’s domain; it is His responsibility to judge and correct errors committed in private. Contrary to public opinion and political correctness, the sins a man does in public, on the other hand, are our responsibility to address and judge. Heaven forbid a posek[2] decide to forego a judgment when righteous judgment is needed. While avodah zarah[3] was a major problem during the First Temple period and sinat chinam[4] was a major facet in the destruction of the Second Temple, I am a firm believer that the failure of the poskim[5] to address these issues caused the destruction.

A man fron Beit Shemesh wanted to visit his family who recently moved to Jerusalem. This also was an opportunity, he considered, to climb the hills of Jerusalem and spend some time in the Ramban Synagogue on Hayehudim Rd. Perhaps this would be a good way to rekindle the long-cool wick of his love for Hashem. He climbed aboard the train and settled in a seat to watch the sites come and go. After a few minutes his heart sank when he realized he was heading in the wrong direction. Instead of heading toward Jerusalem and his family, he was headed toward Tel Aviv…

This short parsha is almost always read on the Shabbos right before Rosh Hashanah, and it is beautifully appropriate. Please indulge me as I read a short passage…

When these things come upon you, the blessing and the curse… …and you recall them to mind among all the nations where Hashem… …has driven you, and (you) return to Hashem your God, you and your children, and obey his voice… …with all your heart and with all your soul, then (He) will… …have mercy on you, and He will gather you again from all the peoples where Hashem your God has scattered you… …(He) will bring you into the land your fathers possessed… …(He) will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love (Him) with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live… …You shall again obey the voice of Hashem and keep all His commandments that I command you today… …(He) will again take delight in prospering you, as He delighted in your fathers, when you obey the voice of Hashem your God, to keep his commandments and statutes that are written in this Sefer Torah, when you turn to Hashem your God with all your heart and with all your soul[6].

  • veshavta
  • metsavecha
  • shvutcha
  • tashuv
  • tashuv

These words are used in the above passage and they share a common root word: shuv, which to me is expressed best in the translation to come home. These verses are a promise that in the future we will look at our lives and wonder why things are so terrible. We will see the promised blessings are far from us and the tochachos[7] are staring us in the face. With teshuva[8], we can return home.

…He immediately thought of two scenarios: First, he could get off the train, go to the other track, and buy a new ticket for the eastbound train to Jerusalem. Second, he could just ride the train to Tel Aviv and do something there; after all, he already spent the money on the ticket. Why waste it?…

When it comes to teshuva, most of us do not want to change trains because we have to admit we made a mistake. We are so prideful that admitting we are or were wrong almost causes pain, but vidui[9] is required if we want forgiveness. When was the last time you told G-d you were sorry?

…The man in the train spoke to a fellow passenger and told him his woes. “I want to get to Jerusalem, but if I get off the train at the next stop, I will feel like a fool.” The man said, “There is a third choice. Get out of your chair and change seats. Those seats face the back of the train. If you sit there, at least you will be facing Jerusalem, your intended destination.”

For the past month, the month of Elul, we have been repairing our relationship with Hashem and others. It’s better we judge ourselves instead of leaving the judgment to G-d. These secret things belong to Hashem our God[10], so we should not delude ourselves into trying to hide them or pretend they don’t exist. However, most people, me included, throw the same aveira[11] into the water every year during Tashlich[12]. Those of us who do this are deluding ourselves. We simply changed seats in a train heading in the wrong direction and our eyes are on a destination that is getting farther and farther away.

[1] Deuteronomy 29:28

[2] Posek: someone qualified to judge based upon Torah law

[3] Avodah zarah: unauthorized worship, idolatry

[4] Sinat chinam: baseless hatred

[5] Poskim: plural of posek

[6] Deuteronomy 30:1-10

[7] Tochachot: curses

[8] Teshuva: repentance

[9] Vidui: confession

[10] Deuteronomy 29:28

[11] Avaira: sin

[12] Tashlich is a time of personal confession of sin, which involves dropping either pebbles from your pockets or pieces of bread into a body of water

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