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Michelangelo once said, “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.”
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Home » Elul, Shoftim

With G-d’s Help

Submitted by on August 31, 2022 – 5:01 pmNo Comment | 1,101 views

The Torah tells us to appoint judges and guardians at the gates of our cities. The city’s gathering place was usually at the gates, making it the fitting place for the courthouse and police station. However, Jewish scholarship has long maintained that there is a parallel teaching here. We are each expected to exercise judgement and restraint at our six gate points, the eyes, ears, nose and mouth.

Before you choose to say, eat, drink, smell, or even look at something, stop and consider whether it is kosher and good for you. Be aware of everything that comes through that gate, whether it is coming in or out. Is this something I want to see, something I want to say, or something I want to digest?

Remember what comes in becomes a part of us and is not easily scrubbed away. What you say leaves an indelible mark on the person who hears it. What you do impacts the people around you. First exercise judgement and then restraint. Judges and guardians. Regulate the traffic that passes through your gates.

However, if something gets past our scrutiny and slips in or out, it is our responsibility to correct it. Although what we digest physically or metaphorically becomes part of us, we need to excise it and undergo a transition. Become a new person. Maimonides wrote that there was a custom to change the name of the penitent. It was a way of saying, he has changed. He is someone else now.

The Loving Father
It is up to us to make the transition, but we are not on our own. We have the assistance of our loving father in Heaven. The prophet Isaiah wrote that G-d Himself washes His child’s excrement.[1] Indulging in forbidden behavior is like rolling in filth. When one rolls in it, one becomes filthy. And G-d comes along and washes away the filth.

The big question is why does G-d wash away the filth, doesn’t He have any agents He can send in His stead? He can send an angel, a saraph, a proxy, a prophet, or a mentor. Why does G-d do the cleaning?

One can suggest that He does it because it is His child, and He loves His children. But can’t a loving father hire someone else to clean his child’s dirty diapers? When a child rolls in the mud and gets dirty, must the father get down in the mud with him to bathe him? This is especially true if the child didn’t slip in the pigsty by mistake but jumped in knowingly and gleefully. Even worse if the child doesn’t even realize that being filthy is inappropriate.

In the analogue this means that a Jew might commit a sin deliberately, knowing it is sinful, knowing he betrayed G-d, knowing that he is spiritually soiled and not minding one bit. Why does this Jew deserve for G-d to descend and wash his filth?

In fact, this Jew might not even want G-d to tend to him. This Jew might want to remain filthy because it is more comfortable that way. I don’t want to turn over a new leaf and be righteous. I enjoy being filthy. Yet, G-d comes along and washes off the filth. Why?

We would never send the chief rabbi to talk to a deliberate sinner who mocks Judaism. First, we would send the sexton, if the sinner experienced a change of heart, we might send the assistant rabbi, then the senior rabbi. We wouldn’t send the chief rabbi until he really deserved it.

The Triumph of Perfection
The answer is that only someone who can’t slip and fall in a pigsty, who is incapable of becoming filthy, can pull someone out of a pigsty. If we send someone who is susceptible to falling in the pigsty, he or she might slip up and enjoy it too much. Before long, you would need to send someone to pull them both out. Only someone who is incapable of getting dirty, incapable of falling in the pigsty, can be relied upon to pull someone else out of the pigsty.

In all of existence there is nothing that is perfectly immune except for G-d. Anyone else who might be sent to pull a sinner out of sin, might himself be lured by the sinner into sin. Not only would this not help the sinner, it would create a new sinner.

It matters not how holy, accomplished, and dedicated the messenger might be. If it is not G-d, he or she will be subject to the sinner’s influence. Jewish law stipulates that if little bit of ritually impure food gets mixed into a huge vat of pure food, the entire vat becomes impure. It matters not that the vat is huge and is ten thousandfold the impure food. Once they fall in together, the entire vat is rendered impure.

The same is true of anyone but G-d. If G-d would send a rabbi, a prophet, or even an angel to inspire the sinner to repent, there is no telling whether the angel would help the sinner. It is entirely possible for the sinner to entrap the angel. It matters not that the angel is ten thousandfold the sinner. Even a little bit of impurity can compromise an inordinately large quantity of purity.

The only one that can help us in this situation without fear of compromise is G-d. Only He is absolutely perfect and insusceptible to impurity or sin. G-d, therefore, doesn’t trust anyone. He wants to be sure that His child’s filth will be washed away and the child will return home fresh and clean. He, therefore, comes and does it Himself. He takes no chances with His precious child.

Never Alone
This leaves us with a powerful thought. During the month of Elul, when we take stock of our spiritual disposition, and identify all the areas of life that require improvement, we are accompanied at every turn by G-d Almighty Himself.

At no point are we in over our heads. At no point do we encounter a problem that is too large for us. G-d purifies the impure. At every point we have the assistance of G-d Himself. As the prophet Isaiah wrote, G-d washes away the filth of His child, Zion.

May G-d grant us a happy, healthy, and prosperous new year.[2]


[1] Isaiah 4:4.

[2][2] This essay is based on Toras Menachem 5724:3, p. 301–305.