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Home » Bereishit Parshah

Bereshit: Finding Fault

Submitted by on October 10, 2012 – 1:38 pmNo Comment | 3,201 views

Not Again

We have emerged from the High Holidays energized and filled with enthusiasm. Last year’s shortcomings were all catalogued, confessed and forgiven. Atonement has been secured and we celebrated for a full week. We concluded the festive season by chanting the final portion of the Torah, thus completing our annual cycle of Torah reading.

This week, we turn around and begin our reading again from Genesis. And what do we read about? Creation and Adam, the forbidden fruit and Eve, murder and Cain, punishment and confession. We know that the story of humanity is rocky at best, but must we be sin focused on the very first Shabbat after the High Holidays? We’ve had our fill of sin and here we turn again to the subject of sin, remorse and confession.

A Scale of Fault

There are absolute shortcomings that are viewed as faults across all communities and there are relative shortcomings that are viewed as faults only in certain communities.

For example, a boy that grew up in a rough neighborhood would be held to account for crimes such as looting and stealing, but if the same boy studiously avoided crime and attended school every day, he wouldn’t be held to account for rough language. However, take the boy out of that neighborhood, and place him in an upscale school, the teachers would soon demand that he improve his vocabulary.

The boy might now be expected to improve his language, but no one would fault him for not being a grade a student. Everyone would understand that considering his background and handicap, a passing grade is itself an incredible achievement. But if the boy were to be adopted by a stable family, surrounded by good friends and find a healthy environment, his teachers would begin to demand that he apply himself harder and realize his full potential.

The general idea here is that the more he improves the more we’ll expect of him. Behaviors that never registered as sins in his old neighborhood are entirely unacceptable in the new neighborhood. The more he adjusts to his new environment, the more glaring and out of place his old habits become.

The same is true of us with respect to our relationship with G-d. We can never be perfect in G-d’s eyes. G-d is absolutely perfect and we are inherently imperfect. Yet, G-d expects us to be as perfect as we can be. The extent of our particular perfection is highly individualistic; we each have our own threshold. But one thing is certain. The closer we move toward our threshold the higher our threshold grows.

When we began our journey before Rosh Hashanah our threshold was rather low. We identified our glaring and obvious sins and repented for them, but we ignored those habits and traits that while not glaringly sinful are not entirely exalted either. We stopped short of calling them faults, but we certainly knew that they are unbecoming of holy people. We gave ourselves a pass because we didn’t see ourselves as holy. But a problem cropped up. Over the past month we have been slowly drifting toward holiness and as we did, findinf fault - innerstreamthe sins that never even registered on Rosh Hashana became painfully obvious. We are now finding fault in them.

The upshot is that the end of the High Holidays does not spell the end of repentance, on the contrary, it begins anew. One would think that as we emerge from these glorious and joyous holidays we are as close to G-d as we can possibly be and that sin is furthest from our mind. Comes along the first few chapters of Genesis and reminds us of an unshakable truth. The closer we are to G-d, the more glaring our “innocent” sins become. Drawing closer to G-d doesn’t absolve us from facing our sins, on the contrary, it forces us to face them.

Practical Example

For example, on Rosh Hashana we might have confessed an obvious sin such taking revenge, but we wouldn’t have confessed a sin such as harboring a fantasy for revenge. We would have excused ourselves with the simple argument that so long as we didn’t in fact take revenge, we could be excused the indulgence of spinning spiteful fantasies in our fanciful imagination. That’s not a crime.

True, it’s not a crime, but it’s also not befitting for an upstanding person of sterling character. We knew it all along. In our heart of hearts we knew such thoughts are shameful. Shameful, we told ourselves, but not sinful. It might not befit the perfect human being, but I am not perfect.

Well now that the High Holidays have passed we no longer have that excuse. We have spent so many days celebrating our Judaism and so many hours immersed in religious contemplation that we have slowly and without realizing it grown steadily closer to that elusive perfection.  As we stand today with the holidays behind us, we have a threshold for holiness that doesn’t condone refined and subtle sins such as harboring fantasies of revenge.

The real sins were wiped clean on Yom Kippur, but the subtle sins, the ones that speak more clearly to our character than any other, bubble up to the surface and find their way to our table. Today we are holy enough for even such sins to count. It’s not a bad thing. Give yourself a break. If such sins count for you, you have come a long way indeed. Congratulations.[1]

The Relative Blemish

This concept is reflected in Jewish law. In the ancient Temple in Jerusalem it was forbidden to offer an injured animal as a sacrifice. However, very fine injuries such a scratch on the animal’s lip, invalidated the offering for a Jew, but wasn’t even considered a blemish for an offering brought by a non Jew.[2]

On the face of it, it appears unfair. Why should the Jew be subjected to a stricter standard than others? But upon reflection one realizes that this is a compliment. The closer one is to G-d, the higher are the demands for perfection. A slight imperfection might not even register for some, but for others it is an absolute blemish that categorically invalidates an offering.

Returning to the subject of sin, temptation, remorse and confession on the first Shabbat after the High Holidays reminds us to look inward for those subtle sins that have only now become visible.

[1] Torah Ohr, Ki Tisa, addendum 111b. Another example is the daily confession after the Amidah. Standing before G-d raises us to a higher spiritual level wherein even small sins become glaring; necessitating not only a confession, but also a lowering of the face implying a renewed and enhanced sense of shame.

[2] Babylonian Talmud, Gittin 56a.

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