Tuesday, October 8, 2019


Erev Yom Kippur
    9 Tishrei 5780/October 8, 2019

               A couple of weeks ago, on a Thursday evening, our oldest child, Shalom, felt some pain on his arm. It was then that he noticed a small mark - presumably a bug bite - with redness surrounding it. When he showed it to Chani, she drew a line around the redness so that we could monitor whether it was spreading.
              On Friday evening, right after davening, he showed me that it had spread. Knowing the potential danger of a spreading infection, particularly if it starts to spread, I showed it to Yisrael Kaplan, a friend and neighbor who is a medic for hatzalah. Yisrael immediately agreed with our concern. He also noted that his daughter had had a similar issue a week earlier and that she was prescribed an oral anti-biotic and cream, which she no longer needed. He suggested that we go together to a local pediatrician so that she could guide us. After examining the affected area, the pediatrician said that those were the exact medicines she would prescribe, and Shalom should take them during Shabbos. She cautioned us that if we did not see improvement, we should come back to her.
              Unfortunately, the following day there was no improvement. When we returned to the doctor right after Shabbos, she felt we should have the wound drained and the anti-biotic changed. We immediately went to Refuah - a nearby clinic that is open late on Motzei Shabbos. After numbing the area, the doctor made a small incision. He then firmly and vigorously pressed and pushed the surrounding areas to ensure that all the pus had been drained. He also extracted a sample to have it cultured to make sure the medicine prescribed was correct for that infection. Finally, he wrote out a prescription for a different oral anti-biotic.
              Famed psychologist Dr. Abraham Maslow once said that one who only has a hammer, tends to see everything as a nail. As it is the ‘season of teshuva’, I was thinking about that experience as it connects to the process of teshuva.
              Our evil inclination makes its initial entry subtly and gently. It doesn’t try to convince us to commit grave sins all at once, knowing that in our hearts we want to do what’s right and don’t want to get lost in the morass of sins. Instead it plants a thought in our minds to “push the envelope”, to do something that’s “not so bad” even though it may be improper or unbecoming. At first it only seeks to stick its “foot in the door” by making a small entry or “bite” into our soul. But then it quickly seeks to spread its venom, causing spiritual infection to spread to other areas. The greatest danger is when it spreads into the spiritual blood stream and makes its way towards the heart.
Rav Huna warns that if one repeats a sin, he becomes numb to its severity and begins to feel that it’s not such a big deal (Kiddushin 40a). When that happens, the sin becomes that much more lethal.
              To rectify sins, one needs to ‘drain the evil’ in the sense that he first desists from performing those iniquitous actions. But beyond that he also has to think about how the sins have impacted him generally. Once someone has breached his own boundaries, it requires greater vigilance and self-imposed restrictions to ensure that the infection not return, or in this case, that he not return to the inflection.
              Along with dealing with the sins themselves, there is also a need for oral antibiotics. With regards to teshuva our oral anti-biotic is tefilla and viduy (confession). There is a required dosage needed to ensure the infection has been properly overcome, as prescribed by the ultimate soul doctors - our Sages. As it says in the Haftorah for Shabbos Shuva “take with you words and return to Hashem” (Hoshea 14:3).
              Our main argument for forgiveness is that our sinful behaviors do not define us; they are an aberration, an external infection as it were, that has invaded our essence and masquerades as a core component. Teshuva, literally, means a return, a harmonization of our external behaviors with our true inner being. I will conclude by saying that there is one more point that connects Shalom’s ordeal with the process of teshuva. As soon as the yetzer hara lures us into sin, he assumes his other capacity as Satan and ascends before G-d to claim our guilt and culpability. The power of teshuva is that it nullifies and neutralizes Satan’s prosecution.
              Where does that parallel in Shalom’s experience? A few days later we received the insurance bills. Like Satan they waste no time claiming our culpability and guilt, and why they don’t have to pay. If only there was a process of teshuva that would help us nullify them...
G’mar Chasima Tova
Good Yom Tov & Chag Sameiach,
R’ Dani and Chani Staum