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!אנא סלח לי ... אני סולח

09/03/2020 04:46:48 PM


Rabbi Reuben Israel Abraham, CDR, CHC, USN (ret)

     In the prayer liturgy of Selichot, we find the following: “…What can we complain about?  What can we say? What can we speak, and how can we justify ourselves?  Let us search and examine our ways and return to You, for Your right hand is extended to receive those who repent…Merciful and Gracious One, please do not turn us away empty-handed from Your Presence.  Please do not turn us away empty-handed from Your Presence, our King, for You are the One who hears prayer.”  (Selichot With English Translation: Annotated Edition, Kehot Publishers, 2012) It is at this time of the Hebrew year when we are supposed to conduct a “cheshbon hanefesh” --- an accounting of the soul --- in preparation for the Yamim Nora’im (the Days of Awe).  Such an accounting, more likely than not, will show us how we have come up lacking when we compare our actions to what the Torah requires of us.  In the everyday society in which we live, we are taught to hide our shortcomings.  So, I ask you: even if we do admit to them, why should HaShem give us favor?  Perhaps the following story will help us to better understand why He does this:

            The King desired to build a vacation home far away from the Palace on a distant shore.  It was to be a haven of blue sky, golden sands, soft sea breezes, and temperate seasons.  He issued a royal proclamation inviting interested builders to submit their proposals within the next 30 days.  The most well-known and often-used builders shied away from the proposal.  Why?  Because they had no desire to spend many months on a deserted island thousands of miles away from the City of the Palace.  Then, a poor handyman possessing no more than a hammer, a saw, and a small bag of nails landed the job after submitting his modest proposal.

            The King was undismayed after meeting him.  He trusted the poor handyman and gave him a ship loaded with the finest building materials – wood, cement, marble stone, and metal.  The King’s sailors packed the ship from stem to stern and top to bottom with an entire year’s supply of food, clothes, utensils, a temporary shelter, and every other possible necessity and amenity that the poor handyman might need.  The poor handyman agreed to complete the building project within the next 12 months.

            Following the lengthy sea voyage to the King’s vacation island, the poor handyman found that the only things that existed on the island were clumps of palm trees and monkeys as well as a huge expanse of sand and a beautiful beach.  The King’s sailors unloaded the ship’s cargo and put the poor handyman ashore telling him that they would return in exactly 12 months to bring him home.  For the first week, the poor handyman devoted all of his time to setting up his temporary shelter and organizing his household.  The King had provided him with the best flour, dried fruits and nuts, a variety of preserved foods, and plenty of wine.  Subsequently, he would spend an hour or two each day laying the foundations for the King’s vacation home and then spend the rest of the day attending to his own needs and pleasures: baking bread, sunbathing on the beach, and drinking wine.

            At the time that 11 months had transpired, the poor handyman had only completed the laying of the building’s foundations, the building of the frame of the vacation house, and the attaching of a portion of the roof to the frame.  Even if he worked around the clock, he would need several more months to complete the job.  Having no choice, he threw away the wine, stopped baking bread, and ate nothing but the dried fruit and nuts.  Getting very little sleep, he got up before sunrise to begin work not laying down his hammer and saw until after sunset.  At the end of the 12th month, the King’s ship approached the island with the King onboard.

             When he came ashore, the King found a house with no windows or doors as well as debris strewn all over the place.  Monkeys pranced from unfinished room to unfinished room.  Before the King had a chance to react, the poor handyman threw himself at the King’s feet and cried out: “Your Majesty, what can I say; how can I justify myself?  Your Majesty sent me here with all my needs, but I pursued my own gratifications rather than devoting myself to completing your royal vacation home.  Please forgive me!  Please give me another year to complete this task!  I will do my best not to again disappoint Your Majesty.”

            So, what did the King do?  The poor handyman’s candor and honesty saved his life as his total and humble admission converted the King’s potential anger to mercy and compassion.  The King granted the poor handyman another year --- again, with all his needs met --- to complete the task.

     And so it is with us.  Each year, we are provided with everything to complete our duties as Am Yisrael (the People Israel), but we find that when the Month of Elul arrives, we must try to make amends for our shortcomings by reciting Selichot prayers early in the morning to complete whatever t’shuva we can complete.  With Rosh HaShanah (the Day of Judgment) fast approaching, and because we know we are far from accomplishing our task as Jews, we end up begging HaShem for another year of life to do so.  It is because of HaShem’s eternal love for His people that He forgives us and blesses us with another year of heath and prosperity.  So may it be again this coming year for every member of Am Yisrael!     

Thu, April 22 2021 10 Iyyar 5781