Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Spirit of the Law: Chanukah #13

(Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 139:13) “We hold that the mitzvah is fulfilled by lighting the menorah (and not by merely putting it in place). The candles must be in their place before we light.”
The Mekor Chaim, zt”l, explains that we learn from the verse, "אֵין צַדִּיק בָּאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר יַעֲשֶׂה טּוֹב וְלֹא יֶחֱטָא", that there is no truly righteous person who does only good and never bad. The inner dimension of the halachah brought above really concerns how one merits the kind of teshuvah that can transform this bad to good. There are two facets to teshuvah. The first is distancing oneself from evil—“sur mei’ra.” The second is the further good that teshuvah inspires—“asei tov.” The Rambam explains that the ultimate proof that a person has completely turned away from his former evil is to undergo the same temptation, in the same place, without falling again. However, even such a sincere teshuvah does not actually transform the sin into a good deed. In order to do that, the sin has to arouse the sinner to do a lot of good. In that case, since the sin is responsible for such a significant change in the sinner, the bad is changed into good.
This is the inner meaning of the statement that “the lighting is the mitzvah.” This means that merely placing the menorah in position (being in the same place but not falling into the same temptation) is not enough. It is the lighting that is the mitzzvah. This refers to one’s Torah study which is compared to fire, and the mitzvos one does which are also compared to fire.
The main element of teshuvah is how much it galvanizes us to do good deeds and learn Torah. Of course, one who does good merely to placate his guilty conscience is not doing this for Hashem and is not rectifying the sin, since he is actually ignoring it. We must know where we are holding and truly repent the bad we have done so that it becomes reprehensible to us—that way, we won’t repeat it. On the other hand, one must not spend time sulking about a former sin. Reb Nosson of Breslov, zt”l, taught that any truth which distances us from Hashem should be cast away since it leads us to the biggest lie of all: despair. Rebbe Nachman taught that “there is no despair at all.” Our teshuvah should just help us approach the real truth—that Hashem waits expectantly for us to return to Him, and appreciates all of the good that we do.

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