As we begin the second phase of communal mourning over the destruction of Jerusalem and of our holy Temple this week — Rosh Chodesh Av — our focus should turn to the remedial action expected of us at this time. We are aware that repentance for all of our peoples’ transgressions is a prerequisite for Redemption; however, we also feel inadequate to meet the task of so many years of spiritual failures building one upon the other. The Chofetz Chaim explains a remedial approach with a parable.
There was once a businessman who fell on hard times. The lack of business caused his debts to pile up and his ability to pay what he owed diminished. His credit standing in the community dropped to where doors were slamming in his face at every turn.
One day he entered the offices of a wholesaler from whom he bought merchandise on a regular basis. He placed a large order, but when he tried to pick up his merchandise and head home, the wholesaler said, “I am sorry. I have checked our records and your credit history is nothing but a series of broken promises to pay on time! I can’t deliver the goods on credit.”
The pleading and the crying of the poor merchant cracked the tough shell of the distributor and he was prepared to release the shipment. However, several of his loyal employees objected, saying, “We can’t allow you to give this man credit — the whole market knows that he is a good man but he still can’t seem to pay his bills.”
The scene heated up between the two — the merchant pleading for credit and the wholesaler refusing to give in — when another customer entered the office. His suggestion saved the day and made both parties happy.
“Listen,” he said to the supplicant, “you really don’t need all this merchandise immediately, so why don’t you cut your order to a much smaller amount that will get you by and which you will certainly be able to pay for in a timely manner?”
Then he turned to the wholesaler and said, “I know that it is not efficient for you to take small orders, but if you accept this plan you will reduce your exposure and get a mitzvah by helping this man survive. As time goes on, he will probably build up his business to where he will not only be able to order according to your minimum requirements, but he will also be able to pay you on time!”
The deal was made and both left the scene happy with the outcome at the end of the day.
The comparisons are clear. G-d in His mercy is willing to forgive our transgressions and bring our Redeemer speedily — especially considering all of our pleadings, confessions, and promises to repent and be good in the future. However, the Middat Hadin — power of strict justice — is blocking our success by pointing out all our broken past promises. The only solution to end the impasse is for us to do what we can do, in small increments, to prove that over time we can succeed in our return to the ways of the Torah and reestablish the credibility of our promises.
The Chofetz Chaim suggests that we start with the laws of speech. We must all work on eliminating the negative speech that flows so easily from our lips. Lashon hara (negative or harmful comments), rechilut (comments that create animosity between people), sheker (lies and dishonest words) and nivul peh (profanity) are the areas we should work on until we reestablish our credit with Hashem. In this way we all can contribute to communal improvement, unity, and love one for another and give Hashem the impetus to send our Redeemer to rebuild Jerusalem and our holy Temple speedily in our days.
Rabbi Raymond Beyda serves in the Sephardic Community in Brooklyn, N.Y. He lectures to audiences all over the world. He has distributed over 500,000 recorded lessons free of charge. He is author of the book 1 Minute With Yourself: A Minute a Day to Self-Improvement, Sephardic Press, 2008.