We are now in the Season of Teshuva (repentance). Next Shabbos is Rosh Chodesh Elul, but – after all – the entire summer is a time of teshuva. Is this not what The Three Weeks are all about?
“The objective of the fast is to arouse the heart to focus on the steps [necessary] for teshuva. This shall serve as a reminder of our evil deeds as well as the deeds of our forefathers … to the point that they caused these calamities to befall them and us….” (Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 121:1)
How do we save ourselves?
Our Rabbis tell us, “Amar Hakadosh Baruch Hu … So says Hashem: My children, open up for me an opening like the eye of a needle and in turn I will enlarge it to be an opening through which wagons can enter.” (Shir Hashirim Rabbah 5:2)
This is tremendously encouraging. It is easy for a sensitive person to become discouraged. I personally am constantly battling my own sense that I am failing and that the task is more than I can handle. Well, this is one of the major tactics of the Yetzer Hara (the Evil Inclination), which is to discourage us to the point that we want to give up, G-d forbid.
Hashem tells us: all I need is the tiniest evidence of your sincere desire to come Home to Me. Just look at yourself honestly. Don’t say you’re a tzaddik, a righteous person.
If we are “mo’de al ha emes,” if we speak truth to ourselves, then Hashem will help us expand the pinpoint of our desire to be close to Him into an opening wide enough for wagonloads of teshuva and Torah.
I don’t want to dwell unnecessarily on the subject of my recent illness, but I cannot ignore the lessons I learned from it. How does cellulitis come into this? The doctors told me that bacteria were probably introduced under the skin through a tiny hole caused by a needle. I had received injections a week prior to the infection right next to the area that later became infected. They were administered by a competent physician, but this tiny hole was nevertheless sufficient to allow bacteria to enter, and a potentially serious infection resulted.
My ever-vigilant chavrusa, Rabbi Shaul Geller, showed me a relevant Rashi on Parshas Masei which discusses how iron is capable of causing death even in the tiniest quantity of mass. “Iron can cause death through the smallest amount, even a needle!” (Rashi on Numbers 35:16)
That is exactly what happened to me, some nine hundred years after Rashi!
This is a powerful metaphor for the Yetzer Hara. All it takes is a tiny opening for the Deadly Enemy to enter. As King David says, “Who can discern mistakes? From unperceived faults cleanse me!” (Psalm 19:13) In the Garden of Eden Chava (Eve) made a “slight” error. She allowed herself to entertain a “tiny” doubt concerning whether Hashem’s Torah was completely applicable in all situations. Perhaps she “knew a little better” than Hashem. From this tiny opening flowed death itself: destruction, war, hatred, sickness, disease, moral and physical pollution, chaos … all the tzouris the world has known until this very day.
That’s how dangerous a needle can be! One pin-hole can cause catastrophe.
By exactly the same process, one pin-hole can bring about salvation!
I have told you before, but it bears repeating: at the age of twenty-three, when I was a newly-married college student and our world seemed to be exploding into hopeless chaos, a pinhole provided our means of salvation. It was 2 a.m. on January 10, 1966, in Ann Arbor, Michigan. I was crying alone, my world literally collapsing into a bottomless pit, when a mental “feather” brushed my face, a “tiny” thought, just a thought. And that thought was: Perhaps there is a G-d!
Think about it. I did not accept the Torah. I didn’t even know there was a Torah! I did not want to admit I was a Jew! I was as stubborn as they come – and probably still am. Check with my wife! – but my world was collapsing, and in that situation you want to save yourself. So I opened that pinhole of belief, that tiny entrance which Hashem so graciously, mercifully and magnificently enlarged until – eight years later, when we met Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis – it had opened wide enough to admit wagonloads of Torah! Can we understand the cosmic chessed (kindness) emanating from the Heaven?
My friends, on Tisha B’Av we recite a Kinnah composed by the Maharam of Rothenberg, whose gravesite in Worms, Germany, my wife and I were privileged to visit. The Maharam writes about the destruction by fire in Paris of 24 wagonloads of handwritten Gemoras in the year 5002 (1242). During this same period, terrible pogroms erupted all over Europe, and two years later there was a massacre by Turkish and Egyptian troops in Yerushalayim Ir Hakodesh. (Source: Jewish Timeline Encyclopedia) “Oh [Torah], consumed by fire, seek the welfare of your mourners, of those who yearn to lodge in the courtyard of your dwelling …those who yearn to roll in the dust of [the Holy Land] … those who walk in the darkness of Golus [and] wait hopefully for the light of day ….” (Kinnah 41)
Amidst the darkness, there is a tiny opening. Even one thought of teshuva will open the gates!
“For … with fire You consumed her and with fire You will rebuild her, as it is said, ‘I will be for her, the words of Hashem, a wall of fire around and I will be glorious in her midst.’ (Zechariah 2:9). Blessed are You, Hashem, Who consoles Tzion and rebuilds Yerushalayim.” (Tisha B’Av Mincha Shemoneh Esreh)
May we all soon see the consolation of Yerushalayim!
Grave of the Maharam of Rothenburg, Worms, Germany