Growth Spurts: Yom Kippur

“One with clean hands and a pure heart, who has not sworn in vain by My soul and has not sworn deceitfully…” (Tehillim 24:4; Maariv for Yom Kippur).

Harav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, zt”l, notes (Divrei Aggadah, Netzavim) that every Jew is obligated to fulfill the vow his neshamah undertook before it was born, i.e., that “he should be a tzaddik and not a rasha” (Niddah 30b).

What does Dovid Hamelech mean that one must not have sworn in vain or sworn deceitfully?

Rav Elyashiv explains with a mashal: A person lent his friend $100 for a week. When the week was over the borrower handed the lender back the exact bill he lent him a week earlier. The lender looked at the borrower in disbelief. “If you were not going to use it, why did you borrow it from me in the first place?”

Hashem imbues every individual with the gift of life so that he can attain eternal reward. If a person sins, he unquestionably abuses that gift. But even when he does not sin but fails to toil to perform mitzvos, he has likewise lived a life of vanity.

Dovid Hamelech asks rhetorically, “Who will ascend the Mountain of Hashem and reach His Holy Place?” He answers that it will be the one who  has neither sworn deceitfully nor sworn in vain; the one who not only has not sinned, but has also not wasted the opportunities this world offers to ascend the ladder of spirituality by performing mitzvos and living a Torah life.

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“Return, Yisrael, to Hashem, your G-d, because you have stumbled in your sins” (Hoshea 14:2; Haftarah for Shabbos Shuvah).

The Gemara in Yoma (86a) states, “Rabi Levi said: ‘Great is teshuvah for it reaches until the Heavenly throne.’”

Harav Shimshon ben Pesach of Ostropol related that the following thought was revealed to him min haShamayim: If one adds the numerical value of the words Kisei Hakavod progressively (i.e., continually adding the value of each new letter to the value of the letters preceding it) the total is 713, which is the exact gematria of the word teshuvah!

This is a hint to the navi’s message. Teshuvah is “great” for it reaches all the way to the Kisei Hakavod, albeit only if one paces himself. If a person seeks to immediately achieve greatness and do complete teshuvah without a plan for growth, he is doomed to failure. One must have patience and an understanding of himself — his strengths and his weaknesses — in order to know how to climb the ladder of greatness.

The power of teshuvah is so great that literally even the sky is not the limit. However, that can only be achieved when one takes one step at a time, building and growing proactively and progressively every single day.

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“Return, wayward sons, I will heal you from your waywardness” (Yirmiyahu 3:22).

Once a button became loose on the rabbinic jacket of the Chasam Sofer and he gave it to his daughter to mend. When she handed it back to him, he told her that she wasn’t the one who had sewn on the button. The daughter’s face turned red and she admitted that she had asked the maid to do it. When she asked him how he knew, the Chasam Sofer showed her that there was also a tear in the corner of the jacket. He knew that if she had affixed the button she would have seen the rip and would lovingly have fixed it as well. When he saw that the rip was not mended he understood that the sewing was done by someone who was instructed to do so, but who felt no love in doing so.

Based on this story, Harav Gamliel Rabinowitz, shlita, explains (Tiv Hakehillah, Netzavim) that on Rosh Hashanah we declare that we stand ready to be judged: “If like sons…, or if like servants…” The truth is that Hashem judges us depending on how we serve Him. If we approach avodas Hashem as a son serving his father with love, going beyond the letter of the law, then Hashem will in turn judge us as sons. But if we serve Him as servants, merely fulfilling the letter of the law, then He will judge us as devoted servants, but not as sons.


Rabbi Staum is the Rabbi of Kehillat New Hempstead and the guidance counselor/ rebbi at Yeshiva Bais Hachinuch & Ashar in Monsey, NY, and can be reached at