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Musings of Regret

Friday, 25 September, 2020 - 3:01 am

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

As I was putting one leg into my pants, before I had a chance to put the other leg in, it hit me with full force.

‘Oy vey iz mir’. I forgot!

The eightieth birthday party celebration. A dear friend had turned eighty a few days earlier, and I had missed the zoom celebration.

Not just one celebration did I miss. To accommodate all the time zones in which he has friends (he is a wildly popular fellow) there were three separate virtual parties. And I had missed all three.

The feelings of regret and shame were palpable. Yet I quickly pulled myself together and figured that notwithstanding the embarrassment of having overlooked this milestone celebration, I needed to finish getting dressed. 

After thinking for a few minutes, I realized that this was an eminently valuable learning experience. Especially pertinent to the time that it occurred, just before the High Holidays.

It was a poignant and relevant lesson about Teshuva. Return to G-d. The first stage of Teshuva (commonly translated ‘repentance’ but more accurately it means ‘return’ click here for more on this) is to regret your misdeeds. The next stage is to commit to not repeating the mistakes. And attempting to fix what was damaged by the sin.

The feeling I felt so strongly upon realizing that I had ‘dropped the ball’ and missed the party, was one of regret. Deep regret. 

But the matter was done.

What could I do now to fix it?

Well, I could call the birthday boy and tell him the truth that I forgot. And indeed, I immediately sent him a note asking when we could talk via zoom so that I could apologize for missing his ‘big’ day.

My friend was gracious about it.

He accepted my heartfelt apology and truly forgave me. He is that kind of person. An understanding empathetic person. We had a fantastic ‘private zoom celebration’ which was enjoyable and meaningful.

But I knew, that while he was not harboring any lingering ill feelings, I had lost an opportunity to celebrate with him that would never come back. My friend would not turn eighty again.

Hmmm. It drove home the point that there are som opportunities that are simply not ‘make-up-able’. I cannot fix the fact that I did not participate on the day of the birthday. 

This helped bring home an additional point about Teshuva. 

There is a difference between doing teshuva for the sin of commission, for doing something one shouldn’t have done, then for the sin of omission, for neglecting to do something that one was supposed to do. 

On the face of it, it would seem that atoning for doing something wrong would be harder than atoning for not doing something you were meant to do.

In the language of the Talmud:

If one failed to fulfill a positive commandment and repented, he is forgiven immediately.

If one violated a prohibitive commandment and repented, his repentance is tentative, and Yom Kippur atones.

Let’s say for example one ate something that was not kosher. 

If one is regretful and asks Hashem for forgiveness, Hashem acquiesces tentatively, and fully wipes away the ‘stain’ on the following Yom Kippur.

If however one missed an opportunity to do a positive commandment. For example, one neglected to eat matzah on the first evening of Passover.  For this omission, Hashem forgives immediately if one asks G-d for forgiveness.

There is no stain left. No need to wait till Yom Kippur for atonement.

So yes, getting forgiven for neglecting to do a positive commandment is easier than achieving atonement for a violation.

But on the other hand, with omission, the effect is not totally fixable. Even though G-d forgives, the deed was not done. 

If G-d forbid one chose not to eat matzah on the first night of Pesach and on the next day asked G-d for forgiveness, forgiveness is granted immediately, but it doesn’t fill the void that was created. The first night of Pesach has passed and the matzah opportunity is no longer there. That mitzvah/connection opportunity cannot be reclaimed. The G-dly energy that was going to be channeled into the world through this mitzvah is not reclaimable. 

(This is why the law of the Talmud is that a positive commandment overrides a negative one). 

I can’t recreate my friend's eightieth. That day (and he was so proud, and rightfully so, for celebrating on his ‘Jewish’ calendar birthday date) is gone. But I can learn a valuable lesson about recognizing the irreplaceable nature of mitzvah opportunities.

To me this was a timely High Holiday season reminder about getting better at my proactive mitzvah observance. Not just about not ‘messing up’ and making sure I am not doing things I shouldn’t be doing. But also examining the opportunities I may be overlooking. Making sure I am not omitting or forgetting anything. Moreover, even if I am doing them making sure that they are being performed at the best level possible. 

Part of serving Hashem is utilizing all the qualities and character traits He has bestowed upon us. How ‘perfect’ or ‘presentable’ are my good deeds? If I could perform at A levels and I am submitting mitzvahs at F levels, that is a missed opportunity.

Let us embrace mitzvah opportunities with joy, energy and gusto! 

And let us perform then at the highest level possible. Not stymie our observance by insisting on perfection. But not being satisfied with just ‘getting away’ at the lowest level possible, rather investing real effort in our relationship with Him.


That is not the Torah way. 

The Torah way is:

‘A Mitzvah that comes your way don’t let it wait’. 

‘What can be done today, do not push off till tomorrow’.

Do another mitzvah today! 

One mitzvah brings another and then another…. 

Shabbat Shalom,

Chatima & Gmar Chatima Tova,

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

PS another thing I learned. When there are three opportunities to attend a celebration event, it is indeed easier to participate as you can pick a time that suits you best. But… it is also easier to forget. As the mental reminder note is not bolstered by the urgency of a specific narrow time frame. 

This is relevant to our ‘Giving Day’ campaign. We have spread it over three days to allow for more countries and time zones to participate. On the other hand, not having the pressure of only twenty-four hours to contribute (as many ‘giving day’ campaigns do), means that it's also easier to forget 😊. I made a mental note, that I would help my friends and remind them when there was only less than twenty-four hours left for the campaign.

Here I am 😊

More than ONE THOUSAND THREE HUNDRED donors have said YES we want to support Jewish life in Thailand and brought us just over the FIFTY PERCENT mark.

If YOU are able to participate with any amount, I will be gratified. If you have already participated THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU for providing humanitarian support, joy, light, love, inspiration and Jewish continuity all across Thailand!!!!

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