For the week ending 28 June 2014 / 30 Sivan 5774

Ta'anit 16 - 22

by Rabbi Mendel Weinbach zt'l
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  • The roles of the aron, ashes, sackcloth and graves in the prayer for rain
  • The preacher and his message of Nineveh's repentance
  • Qualifications for leader of the prayer service
  • The prayer service in Beit Hamikdash and elsewhere
  • Wine drinking and haircutting then and now
  • The special days recorded in Megillat Ta’anit and the days before and after them
  • The stories of the wicked Niknor and Turainis and the heroism of Lulainis and Papus
  • Fasts for problems other than lack of rain
  • The prayer of Choni HaMeagel for rain
  • What determines a drought and a famine
  • How Nakdimon ben Gurion secured water for the pilgrims to Jerusalem
  • Three for whom the sun stopped
  • Comparison of Jerusalem to a nidah and widow and the hidden blessing of disgrace
  • The lesson an ugly man taught a sage
  • Collapsed houses and the saintliness of some sages
  • The saga of Rabbi Yochanan and the Sage Ilfa
  • Nachum Gamzu who saw that all was for the good
  • The magic weapons of the Patriarch Avraham
  • What constitutes a plague for which to fast
  • The saintliness of ordinary Jews and the very special blood-letter
  • Rabbi Brokah of Chozai, the Prophet Eliyahu and the "citizens of the World-to-Come"
  • Crop failure, wild animals, transient armies and too much rain

Throw Away the Dead Rodent!

  • Ta’anit 16a

What is considered a complete teshuva (repentance) for sin?

A profound insight is offered in our gemara by Rabbi Ada bar Ahaba:

"One who has sinned and confessed his sin but has not really retracted is similar to one who has become ritually impure by holding on to a dead rodent and immerses himself in a mikveh to purify himself while still holding on to the dead rodent. He may immerse himself in all of the waters in the world but they will not purify him. Once he throws away the dead rodent, any mikveh will make him pure."

Rambam (Laws of Teshuva 2:3) uses this statement as a basis for his prescription for complete teshuva but uses the term "makes up his mind to abandon the sin" rather than "retracted" which appears in the gemara. This change may be understood in light of what he writes in the preceding paragraph where he mentions the different components of teshuva: Regret for the past, verbal confession of the sin, and a resolution not to repeat it are all mentioned, but he also adds the need to "abandon the sin".

Retraction and regret are certainly vital to the process of teshuva, but if one does not analyze the root of the sin which he has committed – the underlying weakness of character which caused him to go wrong – he is indeed like one who attempts to achieve purity while holding on to the dead rodent which will contaminate him over and over. It is like someone who takes an aspirin to cure an illness that requires surgery.

Throw away the dead rodent, urges the Sage, and get rid of your problem so that you can achieve a complete return.

What the Sages Say

"One should always be as flexible as a reed and not as unyielding as a cedar. This is why a reed has merited to have made from it a quill to write a Sefer Torah, tefillin and mezuzot."

  • Rabbi Elazar ben Shimon -Ta’anit 20b

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