As we approach Yom Kippur and the sealing of our destiny for the coming year, there is a sense some people have of impending doom. “I haven’t been that great this year”, “I botched up this year”, and “boy am I cooked” are only a few examples representative of the general sensation fluttering through the hearts of many. So first of all, this should be offset by the knowledge that Yom Kippur is a day of atonement, and one’s sins are forgiven on this day. As a matter of fact, one must believe that the day itself serves as atonement – or else it doesn’t. Hashem is not looking to “cook” us, “fry” us, or use any other form of kitchen heat on us. To the contrary, Hashem is looking for us to commit to improve and then bless us with a wonderful year in all ways.
On the other hand, knowing that we are far from perfect causes us to search for something that can serve as a special merit going into this day in particular, and the Yomim Noraim in general. Does such a thing exist, and if it does are we able to access it? The answer to both questions is an unequivocal “yes”.
In the Slabodka yeshiva before WWI, there was a bochur named Yisrael who got engaged, and it was considered a fantastic shiddoch, because his future father in law was a financially well off Rav who could support the couple comfortably , and when he would retire there would be a position waiting for this bochur to fill. Another bochur in the yeshiva named Dovid was insanely jealous, and in a fit of madness went to the future father in law and told him a lie about the chosson involving shocking behavior. The man immediately dissolved the shiddoch. WWI broke out a short time after, and the yeshiva was disbanded. About five years later, the yeshiva regrouped. When Yisrael came back, the Alter of Slabodka, HaRav Nosson Tzvi Finkel zt”l, invited him into his office. After speaking for a while, the Alter reached into his desk and pulled out a letter. “Yisrael, you remember you were engaged and Dovid broke up your shiddoch. Well, Dovid sent me a letter recently expressing how he regrets that terrible thing he did, and he asked me to intervene on his behalf and ask you for forgiveness.” “Rebbe” began Yisrael, “a lot of time has passed. I forgive him. Life goes on.” The Alter fixed Yisrael with one of his penetrating looks. “Yisrael, what he did to you is horrific beyond words, and I’m sure it hurt you then and still hurts you now. I’m asking you to think about it and tell me if you can truly forgive him.” Yisrael closed his eyes for ten minutes. Finally, he opened them and said through his tears “Rebbe, I’ve searched every chamber of my heart, and I can honestly say I forgive him.” “Yisrael, I can see in your eyes that you really do. The gemara says that “Kol hama’avir al midosav ma’avirin lo al kol pesha’av”, which means that one who overlooks the wrongs done to him by others has all his avairos forgiven. Since you are being ma’avir right now, it means your avairos are totally wiped out and that you are therefore a tzaddik gamur – a perfect tzaddik. I want you to give me a bracha.” Yisrael was taken aback – to say the least. “Rebbe, it’s not for me to give you a bracha.” “Yisrael, I want you to give me a bracha and I want it now.” Knowing he couldn’t refuse the Alter, Yisrael very quietly started saying “may Hashem fulfill all of your…” but the Alter cut him off.”No no no. I want you to put both of your hands on my head and give me a proper bracha.” And so the young man ended up giving a bracha to one of the Gedolei Hador. This is roughly the equivalent of a young yeshiva bochur today giving Harav Chaim Kanievsky shlit”a a bracha with both hands on his head.
The Alter was a very serious man and he wasn’t joking around. One who overlooks the wrongs done to him by others, real or imagined, has all his avairos forgiven. This is the special merit one can have going into Kippur, a merit so powerful that Rabbeinu Yona in Sha’arei Teshuva calls it a “pesach tikva nechbad me’od” – what we would call a glorious ray of hope. It’s not easy. If it was, the effect on our avairos wouldn’t be as potent. No, it’s not easy – but it is doable. It takes work and a little honest self assessment about how rigid we are, but it can be done and it should be done. Someone said something inconsiderate to you, someone didn’t invite you to a simcha, someone interfered with something you wanted to accomplish – let it go. Let it go. Just get over it. It’s not easy – but it is worth it. It’s really worth it.
I wish everytone a kesiva v’chasima tova.