Parshat Vayeilech is frequently combined with Parshat Nitzavim. And the Days of Awe occur between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur; for Noahides, this might be extended until the last day of Sukkot. Still, I’d like to combine it into this blog.
וְאָנֹכִ֗י הַסְתֵּ֨ר אַסְתִּ֤יר פָּנַי֙ בַּיּ֣וֹם הַה֔וּא עַ֥ל כׇּל־הָרָעָ֖ה אֲשֶׁ֣ר עָשָׂ֑ה כִּ֣י פָנָ֔ה אֶל־אֱלֹהִ֖ים אֲחֵרִֽים׃
But I will surely have concealed My face on that day because of all the evil that it did, for it had turned to gods of others. (ArstScroll-Deuteronomy 31:18)
In Hebrew, the word “conceal” is used twice. G-d conceals not only His face, but also the fact that it is concealed. These concealments should make us afraid. When does this occur?
Looking at this portion, we can see that the people are experiencing difficulties because of their sin of seeking foreign gods. They are willing to say “sorry” to G-d, but not from the heart, because they want G-d to return so that the difficulties will cease. There is repentance, but it is incomplete. Repentance for the past, but no realization that one’s own behavior in the future needs to change, needs to improve.
The difficulties continue because the repentance is incomplete. After all, the sufferings G-ds give serve to convert a person entirely to G-d, not just a bit. If the person does not recognize that his repentance is incomplete and that his difficulties persist, he may believe that repentance is pointless. A person may also believe that he committed such an awful deed that G-d will not forgive him, what will make him believe that repentance is pointless.
According to the sages, the concept that remorse is pointless is a tool for the evil inclination to prevent man from expressing regret and making atonement. The paralyzing shame is more harmful for the person then the sin itself. The fear that G-d does not forgive can be crippling, however, fear should be used as a starting point.
תְּחִלַּ֣ת חׇ֭כְמָה יִרְאַ֣ת יְהֹוָ֑ה
The beginning of wisdom is fear of the L-rd,
Yes, G-d hears and sees everything, and He punishes where required to bring man back. The fear that this might instill in us is beneficial since it motivates us to act faster than love, because fear is a negative emotion. We know what G-d wants us to do, but because love does not give us an unpleasant emotion, it makes us more submissive. We will be more tempted to do obligations that must be completed “tomorrow.”
Because fear is the beginning of knowledge, the beginning of active change, the Jewish New Year begins with the days of Awe, in which the emphasis is on asking for forgiveness, as it does in the month of Elul.
I grew up in a religious system that taught that there was no need to fear G-d because G-d was only love. “Fear is the beginning of wisdom” was tough for me to grasp. Fear – I desired to have no fear of G-d, only awe. Why, to obtain wisdom? I perceived love as a greater step than fear, therefore I skipped it.
Until last week, that is.
Of course, I am aware that I should not worship idols. Of course, I know not to assist idolaters in their worship. Without a doubt…
But knowledge and making the right decisions at the right moment are not the same thing.
I’ve been leading singing services in a messianic congregation for many years. For those services, I bought the best, largest, and hence most expensive iPad available at the time. An iPad that ended up in a drawer when I left the messianic church and was never used again.
Last week, I ran into an old acquaintance of the messianic congregation, we had a good chat, and because we were in the music group together – and had liked making music together – the conversation led to the I-pad. It was a shame it had been put in a drawer for a few years, unused. As a result, the question of whether the I-pad could be purchased emerged.
I discovered that the I-pad was still worth a lot of money and that I could buy good books from that money. So, I didn’t have to consider long before selling the iPad. If only I had given it a bit more thought!
That thought occurred to me the next day, when I realized, with shock, that the iPad would be used for the singing service in the messianic congregation…not as a possibility, but as a certainty.
I now understood what “fear” meant. My heart sank; how could I have been so stupid I certainly should have known better; had the money blinded me? Had the conversation, and thus the pleasant memories, blinded me? Why hadn’t G-d forewarned me? Why did He hide Himself? There would have been no test if He had warned me instead of hiding Himself. Then I would have taken the correct decision, but it would have been meaningless. But now: … I was given a test and … I failed it.
Complete and utter panic. Not because I feared punishment, and not because it harmed my connection with G-d. Only panic to make it right….and how do you do that? I couldn’t go back and undo the deal.
Fortunately, my Rabbi was able to provide me with some guidance. Donate twice as much to an anti-missionary organization. That hurt since it would cost me a lot of money and would also spark a lot of debate at home if I gave so much money away. But I quickly realized that was the only way to set things right. Then there was the question of whether the iPad still worked, and thus whether the songs were still on it, and so on. Fortunately, that was not the case; I had returned it to its factory settings. So, I hadn’t sold “idolatry,” but rather “only” an old Ipad. Then it was acceptable to simply transfer that sum to an anti-missionary organization.
That’s exactly what I did. I fixed my previous error. In addition, I must confess to G-d that I made a mistake, which I did with the “Prayer for Repentance.”
A Prayer of the Repentant
A daily confessional prayer for Noahides suggested by Rabbi J. Immanuel Schochet:
O G-d, I have erred, sinned and willfully transgressed before You, and I have done that which is evil in Your eyes, especially with the sin(s) of … (state the specific sins or errors).
I am sincerely ashamed of my sins, and I repent and firmly undertake not to do so again.
Please G-d, in Your infinite grace and compassion, forgive my sins and transgressions and grant me atonement, as it is written: “Let the wicked abandon his way, and the man of iniquity his thoughts; let him return to G-d, and He will have compassion upon him, and [let him return] to our G-d, for He will pardon abundantly.” [Isaiah. 55:7] And it is written: “Do I desire at all that the wicked should die, says the L-rd, G-d; it is rather that he return from his ways and live!” [Ezekiel 18:23]
This prayer is always appropriate while begging G-d’s forgiveness. This prayer can also be used on Awe days to express your remorse to G-d.
I don’t like putting too much private information on my site. In this case, I thought it was a beautiful example of G-d hiding His face since a test would be impossible otherwise, but also of how you might behave to make up for a mistake.
I’m hoping that others will benefit from this as well. In any event, I learned a valuable lesson and hope that I will not repeat the same stupid mistake in the future.
By Angelique Sijbolts
 What prayers are appropriate for repentance by individuals? : you can find the prayer in: “Prayers, Blessings, Principles of Faith, and Divine Service for Noahides,” by Rabbi J. Immanuel Schochet o.b.m. and Rabbi Moshe Weiner of Jerusalem.
With thanks to B. Yaniger for the inspiration
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