days of repentance: 13 Elul

 “you shall not see the ox of your brother or his sheep or goat cast off and hide yourself from them;

you shall surely return them to your brother . . . you will be unable to hide yourself”

R’ Avraham Shaag asks the obvious question of this phrase from this week’s parsha (Devarim 21:22-23): why the odd near repetition of the phrase about hiding yourself? he answers his question by explaining that even someone born with negative character traits (ie, laziness, tendency to complain, stubbornness, etc) can acquire good traits in their place. it is done by “answering a call, either from their heart, or from their knowledge” and behaving contrary to one’s natural tendencies. in this case, if your tendency is not to get involved–but you know in your heart you should, or you remember this mitzvah from Torah study, or your mother would be soooo disappointed in you–break it by going out of your way to do this mitzvah……repeatedly if necessary.

that last part, the repeatedly if necessary, is learned from Chazal. they learn from the phrase “you shall surely return them to your brother” that you must return a lost thing EVEN IF THE OWNER HAS LOST IT BEFORE AND YOU HAVE ALREADY RETURNED IT….100 TIMES BEFORE!

the mitzvah is alive in every moment, so too is the obligation to do it alive in every instance. there is no such thing as “habitual mitzvot”…though there certainly can be mechanical repetition in frequently repeated “everyday” mitzvot in those who do not yet live in the moment. but repetition serves to ingrain the doing in you. it will become as natural to you as breathing.

R’ Shaag uses this verse to point out that this is how you change your tendencies. what’s more, we should look for like opportunities to ingrain better behavior in ourselves during Elul. we should stop our indifference to others, remove all hatred from our hearts, put aside preening arrogance, stomp out lashon hara, and stop doing the errors for which we are atoning now. then maybe by the time Yom Kippur has passed, the new good behavior will have become second nature for us (D’rashot haRash, I, #25).

thus, you will be unable to hide yourself.

t’shuvah can also mean “response” or “answer”. there are many people who will turn toward G’d in moments of great crisis or fear, or in the face of enormous personal loss.they seek answers in response to hardship. their questions will often be deep seated and challenging, and they may not always be ready for the answers. no light is as bright as that which comes out of the darkness.

but it is always possible also to find opportunities around you in the most humdrum aspects of life and in the light, not the dark. and they also can exert a powerful call…and answers that will break your ways beyond what you would have thought possible. the opportunities will be deeply concealed in your habits, or in your everyday reactions to the people around you, or the world around you, or in your underlying assumptions.  the problem is that you have to find it out. and it is hidden to you by its everyday nature…and yourself  may now be hidden in it.

the parshah gives you a hint. what are the routine goods you do now? 100s or 1000s of times? and what are the things you know you should do, but shirk? you know your deeds…you know your “routines”. what is their to answer?

ketiva v’chatima tova

so, what do you think?

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