The Power of Teshuvah – Day 33
No Big Deal
Rationale: Zev picked out a unique, expensive tie in the local men’s clothing store. As he approached the check-out counter, he noticed a rack with a nicer tie at a lower price. Instead of returning the first tie to its rack, he placed it on top of some sweaters. “No big deal,” he thought, vaguely aware that a potential buyer might not notice the tie, and the owner thereby lose a sale.
Reality: Many of the misdeeds a person confesses on Yom Kippur would seem to fit into the category of “no big deal.” Nevertheless, their inclusion on the list of sins for which we confess and pound our hearts in contrition means that they are acts for which God requires us to repent.
The Talmud drives home the significance of “insignificant sins” by reminding us that a person who derives just a perutah’s (nominal) worth of benefit from consecrated property must atone by bringing an offering worth two shekels, which is calculated to equal 1,536 perutos. This shows that even a small transgression requires a large atonement.
But why is the accounting so strict? Rabbeinu Yonah provides the reason. He warns that a person should not focus on the “insignificance” of the sin, but rather, the significance of the One Who has commanded the transgressed mitzvah.
In effect, it is as if God has asked, “Do this small thing for Me,” and a person refuses.
If the king commands one of his subjects to fight a lion and the subject refuses … it is not because he is rebelling. Rather, he is afraid of doing battle with the lion. However, if the king orders the subject to close the door and he refuses, then it is clear that he is rebelling against the king and is deserving of severe punishment.
An additional reason to focus on minor sins is because by capitulating to our yetzer hara in these matters, we embolden it. A person essentially appeases the little tyrant within himself, providing him with the arms he needs to become a supreme dictator. As the Talmud warns, “Today the Evil Inclination tells him to commit a ‘minor’ infraction. Tomorrow he will cajole him into transgressing a more significant sin.”
Finally, if we accept minor sins as an inevitable part of our life — something that does not warrant teshuvah — we do ourselves a great disservice. That is because every sin stands in the way of our connection with Hashem, and the more ingrained a sin becomes, the more difficult it becomes to abandon. If we do not deal with a deficiency when it is small and more easily quashed, we enable it to become a deeply rooted bad habit.
A salesman was interviewed for a new job. The company offered him a good salary, but it was $2,000 less than he had requested. The salesman thought, “If they are letting such a small amount become an issue, they don’t really want me.” The company president thought, “If he’s letting such a small amount become an issue, he doesn’t really want the job.”
Likewise, we rationalize that if God is “really” on our side, He won’t let our small sins get in the way of our relationship. From Heaven’s viewpoint, however, the situation is just the opposite. If we really want to be close to God, how can we allow small sins to get in the way?
Points to Ponder:
- One must judge the righteousness of his actions by Torah standards, not those of society.
- It is never futile to undertake teshuvah, no matter what the sin or how long one’s history of sin may be.
- To overcome setbacks, one must keep moving forward.
- Committing small sins emboldens the yetzer hara.
- Allowing small sins to become ingrained in our behavior installs a permanent barrier between us and Hashem.