Rabbi Zvi Sobolofsky
Torah and Chessed - The Secrets of Kaparah
As Yom Kippur approaches, the concept of kaparah - atonement - is foremost on our minds. There are many ways to achieve different degrees of kaparah. When the Beis Hamikdash stood, korbanos were brought to atone for various aveiros. The elaborate service of korbanos offered in the Beis Hamikdash on Yom Kippur included several mechaprim. Korbanos offered on behalf of the kohein gadol, the regular kohanim, and all the Jewish People culminated with the sa'ir hamishtaleach - the goat sent out for atonement - completing the kaparah process. After we reenact the avodas Yom Hakipurim through our tefilas Mussaf on Yom Kippur, we lament in great detail our inability to achieve the level of kaparah once available to us.
Chazal teach us that there is a method of kaparah even greater than korbanos. The study of Torah and the performance of acts of kindness can achieve kaparah even in a situation that korbanos are not effective. Chazal comment concerning the house of Eli Hakohein, that although their sins cannot be atoned for through the mechanism of korbanos, talmud Torah combined with gemilus chassadim can bring them atonement. We who do not have the opportunity to offer korbanos can still avail ourselves of talmud Torah and gemilus chassadim as our mechaprim. While talmud Torah and gemilus chassadim are two fundamental aspects of avodas Hashem, why should they have the ability to be mechaper for aveiros?
In the tefilah of Hineni recited by the shaliach tzibbur before Mussaf on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur we beseech Hashem, "u'pesha'einu techaseh b'ahava - cover all of our sins with love." This request expresses a basic concept concerning kaparah. Chazal observe that the ultimate mechaper, teshuva, elicits different levels of kaparah depending on the type of teshuva that is performed. Teshuva mei'ahava - a teshuva that results from an expression for one's love for Hashem and from a sincere desire to return to a close relationship based on that love - is the highest form of teshuva. Teshuva that merely emanates from yiras Hashem - fear of Hashem - is more limited in nature and cannot accomplish a complete kaparah. As such, as we strive to obtain kaparah, it behooves us to perfect our ahavas Hashem which is the prerequisite for teshuva mei'ahava. As we reach higher heights in our ahavas Hashem, we can bessech Hashem to express His love for us by covering our sins with that love.
How do we practically demonstrate ahavas Hashem and thereby merit the highest level of kaparah? It is precisely talmud Torah and gemilus chassadim that express and strengthen this love, and as such are our ultimate mechaprim. Regarding the obligation of "v'ahavta es Hashem", the Sifrei comments "eich attah oheiv - how do we attain this love?" The next passuk answers this dilemma: "vehayu hadevarim ha'eileh"; the mitzvah of Talmud Torah is the key to ahavas Hashem. As the Rambam in Hilchos Teshuva develops the principle, "lefi ha'de'ah tihiye ha'ahava - according to one's knowledge of Hashem will be one's love for Hashem." Knowledge of Torah is our way of attaining knowledge of Hashem, enabling us to experience ahavas Hashem.
There is another way we express our ahavas Hashem. Acts of gemilus chassadim are the way we imitate Hashem and fulfill the mitzvah of "v'halachta b'derachav - you should walk in His ways." Modeling our behavior after Hashem's is a testament to the love and admiration we have for Him, since we try to imitate that which we love.
These two manifestations of ahavas Hashem - talmud Torah and gemilus chassadim - are our most sincere expressions of teshuva mei'ahava, and as such are our most effective methods of teshuva. May Hashem grant us the privilege to be chozer b'teshuva shleima and fulfill for us, "u'peshaeinu techaseh b'ahava."