Rabbi Israel Meir Hacohen – The Chofetz Chaim

Rabbi Israel Meir Hacohen – The Chofetz Chaim

Considering Teshuvah as the Koshering of Body and Soul

Let us begin with the following excerpt from sichot (accounts of) Teshuvah:

Teshuvah resembles the preparations of Shabbat. First, we must purify ourselves from our impurities, and only then can we draw upon ourselves kedusha (holiness). Just as on Fridays, when we begin by washing ourselves before putting on our clothes for Shabbat, in the same way we cannot be imbued with holiness before ridding ourselves of tumah (impurity).

It is written, “This is the law of the Torah that the L-RD has commanded: …but the gold and the silver, as well as the leather and the metal….” Interpreting the word “but”, our Sages say that to render a vessel kosher, one must first wash it thoroughly and remove all rust if any exists. After this, one must kosher each vessel according to its function. Those that are placed over fire must be heated white-hot, and those in which boiling water is used must be scalded.

It is in the same spirit that one must explain the verse concerning the person who comes to purify himself and perform Teshuvah. First of all, he must get himself out of the mud and kosher himself by repenting. The first component of this last item, repentance, consists of the following: Regrets for past misdeeds and resolutions for good in the future. What follows next is the second component of repentance: To take action upon himself in the same manner as he sinned. If he sinned through fire (in other words, if he sinned with the flaming desire for the pleasures of this world), his repentance should as well resemble a sacred fire. As the Sages have said, he should repent in the area in which he sinned: “If you have committed piles of averot (sins), replace them with piles of mitzvot, actions in accordance with the commandments of the Torah.”

The “koshering” of a Jew is essentially done through the medium of Torah study, for this has a purifying effect on all. Rabbeinu Yona said, “If he was accustomed to studying one page a day, let him study two.”

How do we do Teshuvah? To this question the Chofetz Chaim answers as follows: “First of all, one should resolve to do good in the future, and this only after having voiced one’s regrets for past misdeeds by elaborating through words one’s sins and regrets, and by imposing on oneself some strictures. A doctor, noting that one of his patients has weakened his body by poorly and sparingly feeding himself, begins by warning him against pursuing such harmful practices. He then persuades him to replace those foods that do harm to his body by those which are healthy, and later he prescribes some medication that will heal his damaged organs. It is the same for the soul.

The Chofetz Chaim was thus referring to the verse where G-d, addressing Himself to Cain, said, “Why are you angry, and why has your countenance fallen? Is it not so? If you do well, you will elevate yourself.” This verse, he explains, means the following: “Stop doing bad from now on. Only afterwards, grieve over the sins you have committed.”

The Hilloula of the Chofetz Chaim is Elul 24.




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