Repentance, Prayer and Charity


Repentance, Prayer and Charity


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Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur

By Nachum Mohl

In many congregations, the following phrase from the liturgy is one of the repeated themes for both Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur: "Repentance, Prayer and Charity change the evil of the decree" ("T'shuva, Tephilah, and Tzedakah maverin et Roeh HaGezerah"). This means ostensibly that if a difficult decree has been declared upon a person he may change it through one of these three avenues: repentance, prayer, or charity.

It is interesting that we the study of Torah is not mentioned in this statement. Why not? The study of Torah is considered by the sages to be equal to all the other mitzvoth. Indeed if Torah is considered equal or greater than all other mitzvoth, shouldn't it be included in the formula for annulling an evil decree?

A futher question is that the Hebrew words Roeh HaGezerah do not really mean "evil decree" but the "evil of the decree". What we are capable of changing is not the decree, but the evil which is within the decree.

As an example, a decree may be that a person is to be rich or poor. But this is not of itself good or bad. A person may be poor but enjoy good health and have no expenses, so being poor is not necessarily bad for him. Another may become wealthy and have health problems coupled with financial worries and tax problems from the government. Therefore, when we say, "Roeh HaGezerah", we refer not to an evil decree, but the evil that is within the decree. We cannot change the decree, but we can change the manner in which the decree becomes manifest.

Why do these three things, Repentance, Prayer and Charity, effect a change?

If a king were to issue a harsh decree upon a servant who behaved improperly, the servant could do three things to avert this punishment. First, the servant could try to speak to the king directly in order to try to change the king's attitude towards him. This is like prayer. Through our prayer we can reach directly to G-d and request that He change His decree.

The second mode is through repentance. The errant servant can apologize and express his regret to the king and vow never to repeat his folly. Repentance should not be understood as merely feeling regret for a misdeed. Rather it encompasses a change of the person's direction in life. In this manner, the person is saying in effect, "Look at me, I am not the same person. I am different now so the punishment is unnecessary."

The third method is that of giving charity. If the first two methods of changing the bad decree were by changing the principals involved, charity is like the servant taking from his own time and money and doing the kings work. This is in effect similar to saying, "Look at me, I am trying to help you do your job, I am with you, not against you." It is G-d's "job" to help the creature that He brought forth into the world. By giving charity, you are giving a "loan" to G-d. (see Talmud Baba Batra 10a). We are in effect becoming a partner in His work. We are "with Him, not against Him".

The study of Torah, great as it may be, cannot effect these changes. Torah is our guide book that tells us how to properly repent, how to pray, and what the laws of charity are. If we merely learn Torah but do not increase our prayers, change our direction, and involve ourselves in charity, then our learning becomes a prosecuting agent against us. If we learn Torah and do not perform the instructions that are within it, then we are not performing as we are taught. We are worse than someone who does not learn and sins! To learn Torah and not perform its instructions is tantamount to considering the Torah as not relevant to our lives!

Therefore to insure that a new year is a pleasant year, we must arm ourselves with these three weapons which can destroy the evil in G-d's decrees and turn them into pleasant decrees. We must change our direction in life to be one which leads to G-d, we must petition Him in our prayers that He may change any evil in His decrees, and we must involve ourselves in doing G-d's work – the helping of unfortunates.

Shanah Tovah U'Mitukah, may the coming year be a good and sweet one for you!


from the October 2005 Edition of the Jewish Magazine




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