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Shabbos Shuva: Redirecting

By Rabbi Yonah Burr

Says Rav Kruspedai in the name of Rav Yochanan: Three books are open on Rosh Hashana. One for the utterly wicked, one for the utterly righteous, and one for the ‘Bainonim’. The utterly righteous are immediately written and sealed for life. The utterly wicked are immediately written and sealed for death. The Bainonim -- average people -- remain pending until Yom Kippur. If they merit, they are written for life. If not, they are written for death.

(Rosh Hashana 16b)

How familiar we are with this Gemara! Everything hangs in the balance, and even one act can make all the difference.


Rambam's Strange Change

The Rambam (Teshuva, Ch. 3) cites this statement but changes a few words: “The Bainonim remain pending until Yom Kippur. If they do Teshuva, they are written for life. If not, they are sealed for death”.

Why does the Rambam specify that only Teshuva can help the Bainoni? He is "in the middle", 50/50. His sins exactly equal his merits. Would not any mitzvah tip the scales, pushing him to righteousness?


Redefining Bainonim

Rav Chaim Friendlander zt”l gives an enlightening approach. Perhaps, he says, we define Bainoni incorrectly.

Rav Yosi HaG'lili says: The righteous are driven by their Yetzer Hatov; the wicked, by their Yetzer Hara; and the Bainonim, by both.

(Berachos 61b)

We customarily think of the Bainoni as someone whose sins exactly equal his merits. We are just waiting for that one additional act to tip the scale.

However, Rav Yosi portrays it otherwise. The Bainoni is conflicted! He is under the influence of both Yetzer Hara and Yetzer Hatov and does every act with a dual motivation. Each action is really a hybrid, containing both goodness and wickedness. For instance, he may daven a long Shmona Esray -- with truly heartfelt Kavanah -- and, at the same time, to make him look more righteous. He gives Tzedakah! Partly, because he really wants to help, partly, to boost his feeling of self-importance. Everything he does is a blend. Good intent tainted with personal agenda.



Perhaps this is why the Rambam states that only Teshuva can make a real difference. His core issue is his conflict of motivations. Just to do more acts is just more of the same. It will not affect the fundamental change necessary to change his status or who he really is.

Teshuva, on the other hand, is the first step to true change. To take stock, and start in a new direction. This will create internal change and truly classify him as a Tzaddik. Teshuva is the power to change!

Let us internalize the inspiring words of Rabbenu Yonah of Shaarei Teshuva: Thoughts of Teshuva can instantly change a person. At that moment, he has left darkness and now enjoys great light!

May we all merit a Gmar Chasima Tova!

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