Another Chance

The Ishbitzer Rebbe, zt”l, explains the deeper meaning of yovel and why houses within cities walled since the time of Yehoshua bin Nun do not return during yovel. “Yovel teaches that everything has a time. God doesn’t remain angry at anyone forever. Even if someone’s sins force him to sell his portion or to be sold as a slave, this cannot be forever. Eventually he will be redeemed and his inherited field will return to him. But batei arei chomah are an exception. This alludes to the two chomos, the two barriers—teeth of bone and lips of flesh—that God gave us to rein in what we say, as discussed on Arachin 15…Indulging one’s arrogance by failing to hold back one’s anger at his friend is no simple matter. If the victim remained silent in the face of his rage, the sinner’s merits are transferred to the recipient of his anger.

“Unlike sins between man and his Creator, sins between man and his fellow do not have an automatic limit. These misdemeanors remain until his friend forgives him. One has only limited time to beg his friend’s forgiveness. Failure to do so causes his merits to remain with his friend. His inability to accept his wrongdoing and make it up to his friend causes him losses he would never have imagined.”

But the rebbe concluded with words of chizzuk. “Nevertheless, we find that kohanim and leviim can always sell and always redeem. This teaches that even if one has sinned, if he begins to serve God in earnest, he can always redeem what he has lost. Through the dynamic change he gains through his avodah he always has another chance!”

Daf Yomi Digest
Stories Off the Daf
“The Walled Cities”
Arachin 31

What is being said here? We learn from the construction or organization of the Ten Commandments brought down from Sinai that there are two general classifications of sin: sin between man and God and sin between man and man. Of the first, God will forgive by His own grace and mercy and not necessarily because of the merit of the sinner. We rely on God to give us something we could not possibly earn. However of the second, we will not be forgiven until (or unless) we ask for forgiveness from our fellow. In this, we must take a much more active role, otherwise forgiveness will never occur. We also learn that if we stubbornly refuse to admit our wrongdoing against our fellow, this affects our relationship with God as well, so we have in some sense, doubly sinned.

The commentary concludes that, “even if one has sinned, if he begins to serve God in earnest, he can always redeem what he has lost.” But how can this be? If you sin against a person, ignore your responsibility for that sin, and go on to seemingly “serve God in earnest,” are you really serving God while remaining unrepentant? The answer is in the last sentence of the teaching: “the dynamic change he gains through his avodah he always has another chance!”

I suppose this could be read as saying that by serving God, even though you have not sought forgiveness of the person you sinned against, your service to the Almighty somehow compensates. I don’t think that’s what is being said here, though, since the sin against your friend remains. I think it is much more likely that, by honestly and truly serving God, it will become necessary for your soul to turn to Him and in order to do so, you will have to see the stains on your own character. Once you do, and with your desire to serve God earnestly still intact, as part of that service, you must go back to the one you offended and beg forgiveness. Only then, can you return to God and have your response to Him gain real meaning.

So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. –Matthew 5:23-24

We see that the Master is in agreement with the Ishbitzer Rebbe. Living a life in this world does not detract from living a life of holiness, as long as we keep our perspective.

It is not business, not money, nor career, nor human relationships that tears our souls from us and us from our G-d.

There is as much beauty in any of those as there is in any flower from the Garden of Eden. As much G-dliness as in any temple.

It is the way we lock ourselves inside each one, begging it to take us as its slave, refusing to watch from above, to preserve our dignity as human beings.

As you enter each thing, stay above it.

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Unslavery”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson
Chabad.org

As much as we fail and allow ourselves to become slaves of the world around us or even our own emotions and pride, God provides every opportunity for us to make amends and to succeed in serving God and serving our fellow. If we do not surrender to anger, frustration, and despair, and continue to seek Him, we will always have another chance.

6 thoughts on “Another Chance”

  1. “Nevertheless, we find that kohanim and leviim can always sell and always redeem. This teaches that even if one has sinned, if he begins to serve God in earnest, he can always redeem what he has lost. Through the dynamic change he gains through his avodah he always has another chance!”

    The chizzuk attributed to the Ishbitzer Rebbe revolves around the idea that “the sinner’s merits are transferred to the recipient of his anger” and that the sinner can redeem those merits by gaining forgiveness from the offended party. Let me offer “davar acher” (another explanation).

    Jewish piety is structured by halakhah. Kohenim and leviim are required to perform certain halakhically-defined obligations; failing to ask forgiveness of an offended party does not relieve them of these obligations. Likewise, Israel (all Jews) have halakhically -defined responsibilities; failing to ask forgiveness of an offended party does not relieve them of their obligations.

    A sinner’s merits are not transferred to the recipient of a person’s anger; therefore, they do not have to be redeemed. However, one can not gain further merit until the offended party has extended forgiveness. In the meanwhile, the kohen, levi, or Israel are not relieved of obligations; if they fail to meet them, they only pile up their guilt. They have a “second chance” to gain forgiveness up until Yom Kippur.

    (I assume that the “gift” that Yeshua mentioned was a non-required offering; therefore, the person was not failing to meet his obligations by interrupting his offering.)

  2. OK, I get the first paragraph where a Jew’s obligations to God are not cancelled just because he failed to ask for forgiveness from another Jew he has offended or injured.

    The second paragraph is a little more difficult for me to absorb. The sinner’s merits are not transferred to the person he has offended and do not have to be redeemed, but the sinner (because he has not asked for forgiveness) does not gain any further merits from meeting his obligations to God until he has asked for and received forgiveness.

    I think I’ve got that part too. but I’m not sure about the following sentence:

    In the meanwhile, the kohen, levi, or Israel are not relieved of obligations; if they fail to meet them, they only pile up their guilt. They have a “second chance” to gain forgiveness up until Yom Kippur.

    OK, the kohen, levi, and Israel all have obligations to God. If they don’t meet those obligations, they pile up guilt. But they could, in theory, still be meeting their obligations to God but not receiving the merit for them as long as they haven’t asked for their friend’s forgiveness. Does that mean, even though they are providing their continued service to God, they are not meeting their obligations to Him?

    I’m sorry, but the way it’s worded, I’m unclear as to what you are trying to say, Carl. This is one time when my lack of ability to think as a Jew is getting in the way of my “Jewish learning”.

    1. “OK, the kohen, levi, and Israel all have obligations to God. . . . Does that mean, even though they are providing their continued service to God, they are not meeting their obligations to Him?”

      No – they are meeting their obligations; this is plain halakhah. My claim that they do not thereby accrue merit is hashkafa – thoughts about the meaning of things, including a mitzvah. It is open to critique, as is the claim that one’s merit may be transferred to an offended party.

      The underlying points are:

      1. One continues to meet one’s obligations regardless of past offenses, whether or not they are forgiven. This is halakhah.

      2. The opportunity to ask the offended party for forgiveness remains open; it does not have to be made available “through the dynamic change he gains through his avodah” This, too, is halakhah.

      3. The issues of merit discussed in your post and my comments are matters of opinion.

      That said, it should be noted that the Ishbitzer Rebbe’s words were reported by his disciples – he didn’t leave written teaching. Some of the context may be missing.

  3. I keep saying that sometimes questions are more important than answers, but the result is that I often feel like I’m back in kindergarten…and my legs are way to long for those tiny desks.

    Thanks for contributing, Carl. Even when I create what I think of as a small, simple, “peaceful” (tomorrow’s meditation will be much more controversial) blog post, the depths I try to explore turn out to be greater than I imagined.

    1. Someone commented that even the mistakes of great men are often more important than the correct sayings of others. I think this is because they raise questions that would not otherwise arise. if the comments by the Ishbitzer Rebbe are mistaken in any way, I suspect that they fall into that category.

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