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Teshuva - Keep it Real

by Rav Gidon Binyamin - Tzom Gedalya 5780

We are focusing on teshuva at this time. Rosh Hashana, during which we focus on the
larger picture, has passed, and now everyone has to engage in their own personal

I would like to speak about two fundamental points - Teshuva in general and then a few
specific points.

Teshuva is not an easy mitzvah, and the older we get the more difficult it becomes. When
we’re young we think that we can make changes easily. When I was younger and learned
here in Sha’alvim in shiur alef, there was someone, I believe Zvi Kaspi, who compiled a list
of a few pages of vidui. He gathered all of the different types of vidui that appear in the
Chayei Adam and other seforim. One looks at these sheets and sees “I didn’t make a
bracha with proper kavanah” and as a young student you say, “That’s it. I accept upon
myself to always have kavanah when I make a bracha.” I don’t know about you, but I don’t
accept upon myself to have kavana in every bracha that I make, because I know that I
won’t have proper kavana in every bracha that I make. I try, but I know that I won’t
manage. Or another example. I look at the list of vidui and see “I was mevatel Torah” and I
accept upon myself not to be mevatel Torah. Maybe some people here are capable of this.
I am not coming here today to tell those who can do this not to. However, anyone who is
capable of doing this and is sitting here has already transgressed since they are sitting
here and are being mevatel Torah since they don’t need this sicha. So we need to know
what we are capable of and what we are not capable of, and this is really not a simple

We have to know where to look to understand the idea of teshuva in a deeper way.

The Admor Hazaken, the first Lubavitvher Rebba, speaks about three parts of a Jew
based on the word Yisrael.
1) Yud 2) Sar and 3) Kel

Kel is the G-dliness in is. This is also the first of the 13 middot. Hashem Hashem Kel….
That is the first midda. Infinite light which is inside every Jew. Those are the last two
letters of Yisrael.

Sar - What is Sar? The ruler. The strong, significant part of man is the Sar inside of him.

And what is the Yud? The yud implies continuous, as in the posuk:
‫ה‬,‫ איוב א‬- ‫ָכּכָה י ַעֲ שֶׂ ה אִ יּוֹב כָּל הַ יָּמִ ים‬
The word “yaaseh” means that it will continue.

What is Yisrael? A powerful, infinite light within every Jew that we are meant to continue.

And what are we meant to do? In essence, we are pulled towards Hakadosh Baruch Hu,
but we have to search.
֖ ֶ ֱ‫וּבִקַּ שְׁ תֶּ ּם מִ שָּ ּׁם אֶ ת־י ְה ֹ ָו֥ה א‬
‫ כט‬,‫ דברים ד‬- ָ‫ֹלהיָך וּמָ ָ ֑צאת‬

What is “M’sham”? Inside ourselves. It’s inside the depths of who we are. The “there” is
really “here”, very close to home. We have an infinite light inside of us, and in truth we are
very close to Hakadosh Baruch Hu, however the infinite light is covered with many layers
that we have to peel away, shake off, dig through. We have to invest effort to discover our
true selves.

There’s a famous story about the Jew from Chelm who was looking for his lost coin under
his flashlight. When asked where he lost the coin he pointed somewhere else. When
questioned why he is looking here, he responded, “Because here there is light, it’s dark
over there.”

There’s another story which is a bit more complex:

Rav Simchah Bunim of Peshischa would tell every young chosid who started off in his
yeshiva the following story:
R’ Isaac son of R’ Yekelish of Cracow repeatedly dreamed that he should journey to
Prague and that there, near the courtyard of the king, underneath the bridge, dig in the
ground, find a great treasure and become rich. He journeyed to Prague, and when he
came there, went directly to the bridge next to the King’s courtyard. But soldiers were
standing there, guarding it day and night, and he was afraid to dig in the ground to search
for the treasure. But he was distressed, for how could he return home with nothing after
working hard to make the long journey? So every day he approached the bridge, going
here and there… The captain of the guard, standing there, seeing a Jew coming every day
going around the bridge, called him and softly asked what he was looking for and for
whom he was waiting for these last few days. He (R’ Isaac) told him the whole story. The
captain began to laugh and said, “Who believes dreams? I dreamt that I should journey to
Cracow, and there find somebody called R’ Isaac son of R’ Yekelish, and that if I dig there,
in the home of the Jew, I’ll find a great treasure under his stove. But do you think I give any
credence to dreams?” … When R’ Isaac heard the captain’s words, he understood that the
purpose of his coming was to hear these words and to know that the treasure wasn’t here,
but in his home, and that he had to dig and search for the treasure in his own house, and
there he would find it. He returned home, searched, found the treasure in his house under
the stove, and became rich.

(This is how the story appears in the book The Quest for Authenticity, P. 22)

Of course the message of this story is that the treasure is inside of us, and yet sometimes
we have to go very far, to Cracow, India, the Far East, to realize this.

And there is another story that I will share with you that Rav Yechezkel Yakovson told me
many years ago.

A traditional Jew came to paint Rav Yakovson’s house. In the middle of the paint job the
painter asked Rav Yakovson if he knows where R’ Tarfon is buried.

Anyone who knows Rav Yakovson knows that Rav Yakovson is not the type who goes
around to kevarim. Maybe to tzadikim like Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov, but traveling to
kevarim is not his thing. (By the way, R’ Tarfon’s kever is near Miron.)

Rav Yakovson told the painter that he doesn’t know and he’ll try to clarify where R’ Tarfon’s
kever is. Rav Yakovson asked the painter why he wanted to know this. The painter said, “I
had a dream that I went to the kever of R’ Tarfon. Rav Yakovson thought for a few
moments and asked the painter, “Do you have a mother?” The painter responded “Yes.”
“And how is your relationship with your mother?” asked Rav Yakovson. “Terrible. A number
of years ago my father passed away and I felt that he passed away as a result of my
mother being so difficult with him. I told my mother that it is because of her that my father
passed away. And since then I don’t speak with her!”

Rav Yakovson told the painter, “R’ Tarfon was famous for excelling in honouring his
mother. There are a number of stories about this in Shas. Apparently R’ Tarfon came to
you in a dream to tell you that you should reconcile with your mother and ask her for

The painter smiled and said he’ll think about it.

The next day the painter came to finish the job, turned to Rav Yakovson and asked, “So
did you find out where R’ Tarfon’s kever is?” Rav Yakovson responded, “I told you what
you have to do?” The painter said, “Yes, but I think that I would rather go to the kever of R’

We all understand that even if the kever of R’ Tarfon would be in India it would be easier to
go to the kever of R’ Tarfon then to ask forgiveness from his mother.

While it’s a funny story, this is relevant for all of us.

There’s a story about Rav Shlomo Zalman that a woman once came to him after her son
fell off the balcony of her home and was miraculously saved by ropes of the clothes line
below. The woman asked Rav Shlomo Zalman, “What should I be fixing in my life as a
response to this? Rav Shlomo Zalman responded, “You should be fixing the guardrail by
raising it. That is the first fixing.”

We have to think about what real fixings we should be making in our lives, inside of us,
and we should not be looking for all kinds of extra actions and commitments that are very
far from us. This is where we should be finding Hakadosh Baruch Hu.

I would like to speak about one concrete aspect of a mitzvah that perhaps we don’t speak
about often enough in yeshiva - respecting our parents. Kibbud harim is a very important
mitzvah. While it’s true that now you are outside of your home, so this may be more
difficult, at the same time it is a tremendous zchut for anyone who has parents. Not
everyone is fortunate enough to have parents. If one has parents it’s a tremendous zchut
and the mitzva of honoring them is very great.

And although this may be more challenging if we don’t live at home, but we can fulfil this
great mitzvah by calling our parents more often. Call home. True, maybe you don’t need
the phone call, but your parents do. They want you to call and hear from you how you are
doing. Today people speak less on the phone. I have a grandson in yeshiva. I ask him
how he’s doing in yeshiva and he sends me a one word text message, “Achla”. that’s fine,
he’s young. So I know that Achla isn’t just a brand of chumus, it also means “good”. But
getting back to our point, you should be calling your parents, asking them how they are,
listening and telling them how you are. You should be calling your siblings, express interest
in what they are up to and tell them how you are. They started a new year, new teachers, a
new place - show interest. We don’t pay enough attention to this.
Sometimes we may feel that our parents are annoying us with their questions - but we
should realize that they are asking so many questions because they care about us. We
have to appreciate our parents. And everyone has room to improve in this area.

And another point, and with this we will finish. We are in yeshiva and we should know that
we don’t have to run to other places to look for mitzvot. A person should always look for
opportunities of mitzvot where they are - and they are always there. We can always help
people around us. We can be in a pharmacy on line and notice that someone walked in
and didn’t take a number. Even if you don’t know them - go over to them and help them by
telling them that they should be taking a number. Don’t stay locked and disconnected in
your own world.

In the yeshiva, and this is relevant to all of us - we should have our eyes open for
someone who feels lonely and see how we can be friendly, help take them out of their
loneliness. Studies show loneliness increases the likelihood of mortality by 26%. This is
one of the greatest dangers today!

It is not always easy to befriend someone who is different than us, someone who we don’t
find interesting. But this is a great mitzvah and is incumbent upon all of us. Today this is in
the category of “Met Mitzvah” because there is always a need for this wherever we are.
We have to notice this.

We just read about the Shunamit who said to Elisha Hanavi:

(‫ ד יג‬,‫בְּתוְֹך עַ מִּ י אָנֹכִי י ֹשָׁ בֶת )מלכים ב‬

The Zohar teaches that this refers to someone who is part of the klal, the community, his
Sefer HaChaim stems from his connection to the klal.

I am not saying to do it because of this, that would be cheapening the importance of this.
It’s something which is fundamental. We should pay attention to this.

So to summarize, we spoke about the importance of parents, of family, people around us

and looking out for people around us who may be lonely. May we all be zocheh to be
written in the Sefer Hachaim. Shana Tova!