days of repentance: 8 Elul

“all the ways of man are straight in his eyes”

we learn this insight in Proverbs 21:2. but all the ways of humans are not straight in G’d’s eyes. some miss the mark, which is the root of the most common word for sin in Torah, namely, chet….as in the High Holy Day prayer, Al Chet (“for the sin..”). we recite this prayer, with its list of  “sins we have committed before You [G’d]” by doing or being in many different ways out of step in our walk with haShem. we repeat it a minyan of times…10 times during the course of Yom Kippur. each way of sin is a descriptor of a missing the mark, eg, “by foolish talk”, “by improper thoughts”, “by running to do evil”, “by casting off the yoke of heaven, etc. there must be about 50 ways to step away from your G’d. some go beyond “mere” misalignment and describe a deliberate crossing over a boundary, an aveirah, which shares the root not only of avar (the past) but also of “overing” , crossing a boundary with deliberation.

to do a mitzvah is to align and connect with the intention of haShem. when a person in a military force accepts an order, that one aligns herself with a superior officer, but also with the rest of the forces working to achieve a mission. it is all about alignment and connection for more effective results. mitzvot in Torah are not fundamentally different. when we accept them, and understand them, we act in concert with the other doers of tikkun olam (repair of the world).

so in a fundamental sense, every chet, every misstep, is an anti-mitzvah.

chet is being out of step, or out of line…fundamentally to walk Torah crookedly or from a distance. aveirah is to deliberately set out on a wrong route, perhaps not recognizing that the route is wrong, but going off course and out of bounds deliberately.  to disconnect from the corps is to stretch your spiritual supply lines, or to go off the grid entirely, and to get increasingly out of earshot of subsequent mitzvot….eventually, you will simply drop all calls.

the Midrash Rabbah relates that all levels of chet are expressions of a temporary state of heresy. chet is not an absence of G’d , but an internal failing of an assumption about G’d…perhaps that G’d is not intimately concerned with Creation, or that G’d has better, bigger things to do then to pay attention to some small peccadillo, or, more seriously, to believe that G’d does not exist. when these heretical attitudes take root, even temporarily, we are no longer in clear touch with our ultimate soul source….though we think our path is straight and well considered, we are operating with ever diverging gps data. and the way back becomes increasingly difficult to discern, even if we suddenly realize we are off course. eventually we all realize that we are lost. but up until that time, it is easier to ride the horse in the direction it is going. we can all harden our hearts in such a way.

“humans do not commit transgressions unless a ruach shtut (spirit of folly/nonsense) enters”

so teach Chazal in Sotah 3a. think for a second about your last kashrut violation…exactly what made the particular food item so much more important than walking humbly with G’d?  what were you thinking?  probably not about Torah, yes? probably that it wouldn’t matter to G’d, right?  whatever would give a person such an idea?  ruach shtut. the problem is that each bad decision draws others after it. and bad decisions settle into habit, tossing free will into the dustbin, replacing it with a preconditioned way of acting, thinking, and being. once you accept an error as being a precendent, you are trapped in your past and no longer in a free moment.

the aspect of t’shuvah practice that is directed to this is to control what you take in. if you spend hours listening to music about wobbling breasts and booty, well, you are likely to start seeing the world in similar terms. if you restict such shtuyot (foolishness) you are less likely to see the world so. we are touched by what we entertain ourselves with. the very high and difficult ideal is to always have words of Torah in mind, and heart and ear. we learned in the 4th haftarah of comfort just this shabbat past (Isaiah 51:16):

“and I have put My words in your mouth, and I have covered you in the shadow of My Hand”

so, what do you think?

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