In the days of the Beit HaMikdash, one achieved atonement through two key rituals: vidui (confession) and the offering of korbanot (sacrifices). Although each one could be viewed as a separate act, both pieces were fundamentally brought together by the kohen gadol, or high priest, on Yom Kippur. He offered one goat as a sacrifice and confessed the sins of the Jewish people on the other. It was then sent out into the desert, and with its death, Jewish people gained atonement. Following the Beit HaMikdash’s destruction, atonement can still be achieved through confession even it is not accompanied by sacrifice. As Rambam (Laws of Repentance 1:3) writes, “In this time, when there is no Beit HaMikdash and we do not have the altar for atonement, there is only teshuvah.”
For most of us, this is not a problem. If one confesses their sins and does real teshuvah, ensuring one will not sin again, what need is there for more? But in truth, the concept of atonement is more complicated. This fact is made clear by an examination of the Torah’s language. In the eyes of the Torah, sin is not just a black mark recorded in our ledger to be counted up and measured against our merits on the Day of Judgement. It is something tangible that one feels viscerally, a weight that presses down upon you. Atonement is the removal of this weight (noseh avon), and it is here where sacrifice plays an important role. Ramban (Vayikra 1:9) explains that in seeing the sacrifice:
a person should realize that he has sinned against his God with his body and his soul, and that “his” blood should really be spilled and “his” body burned, were it not for the loving-kindness of the Creator, Who took from him a substitute and a ransom, namely this offering, so that its blood should be in place of his blood, its life in place of his life.
In a sense, our sins are transferred to the animal that is killed, and its death serves as reparation for what we have done wrong. Only then can atonement be achieved, the slate be wiped clean, and we can continue on with our lives.
Without sacrifices, can teshuvah alone lift the weight of our sins? Maybe most of the time, but not always. Over the centuries, a set of practices developed around teshuvah, otherwise known as Teshuvat HaMishkal. Originating in Chassidei Ashkenaz (12-13th century Germany), these practices reflected the belief that teshuvah alone was not sufficient to attain atonement and that it must be accompanied by additional acts such as fasting, tzedakah, and self-mortification that in effect function in the place of sacrifices. Mishkal can mean equivalent, in that one must my find equivalent consequences for one’s sin, but it can also mean weight, attesting to the enduring fact that sin is not something that can be easily removed. Teshuvah alone may gain us forgiveness, but the weight of sin can only be removed by a more tangible act, a sacrifice we make with our money or our bodies.
Rabbi Yechiel Yakov Wienberg seeks to address the appropriateness of Teshuvat HaMishkal in the case of a man who accidentally caused his friend’s death in a car accident. Though one could argue that the driver did nothing wrong and therefore has no need for atonement, this is not the approach of Seridei Eish. Instead of dismissing the man’s feelings of guilt, he treats it seriously, and recognizes that it weighs upon him. He begins by noting that the practices of Teshuvat HaMishkal can be extreme, and that numerous fasts are often mandated depending on the nature of the sin. Even though such prescriptions are not found in the Talmud or other halakhic texts, they are discussed by many important halakhic authorities. In the end, Seridei Eish recommends that the man need not be strict with the fasts but should give tzedakah to the best of his ability. If he can, he should also help out his friend’s children to ensure they are looked after.
Seridei Eish understands that it is only by acknowledging the tragedy of his friend’s death through acts of fasting and tzedakah that the man is able to address his guilt. Doing so allows him to engage in a process of atonement even when not halakhically mandated. It requires sacrifice, but one motivated by a desire to take responsibility for the past and do one’s best to rectify it.
|שו”ת שרידי אש חלק א סימן לו עמוד עח |
ועל שאלתו על איש אחד ירא וחרד אשר הוליך חברו במכוניתו, וקרה לו אסון וחבירו נהרג בתאונת דרכים. האיש הזה נמצא בעינויי נפש גדולים וכת”ר שואל אם נוהגים להלכה ולמעשה עפ”י תשובת המשקל כפי המבואר בפוסקים – הנה בנוגע לתעניתים בכלל מפורש בשו”ע או”ח סי’ של”ד סעיף כ”ו ברמ”א, שאם חילל שבת בשוגג צריך להתענות ארבעים יום שני וחמישי ולא ישתה יין ולא יאכל בשר ויתן, במקום חטאת, י”ח פשיטים לצדקה. ואם ירצה לפדות התענית, יתן בעד כל יום שנים עשר פשיטים לצדקה…
והנה הנו”ב במהדו”ק או”ח סי’ ל”ה האריך מאד באחד שנכשל בעוון איסור אשת איש… הרי שהחמיר מאד, ואף שבראש תשובתו כתב שאינו רגיל להשיב בדבר שאין לו שורש בש”ס ורק ספרי המוסר והתשובה האריכו בזה, ורוב דבריהם בנויים על סברות כרסיות בלי שורש וספר אחד נשען על חברו בלא יסוד כלל – אבל למעשה החמיר מאוד והרי הדברים מיוסדים בדברי הרוקח וספר חסידים ומהרי”ו ותרו”ה וחלילה לזלזל בדבריהם… והנה הנו”ב באו”ח סי’ ל”ד כתב בזקן אחד שלקח סחורה להוליכו למקום אחר ונהרג בדרך, שאינו צריך כפרה, כיון שהזקן הפציר במשלח והוא עשה זאת לטובת עצמו כדי להרויח, אין אחריות הריגתו על המשלח…
ועי’ בבאר שבע, שהוציא מזה שנענש דוד, על מי ששכר שליח לצרכו ונהרג השליח, שהמשלח יקבל ע”ע תשובה… וכן בתשו’ חת”ס חו”מ סי’ קפ”ד באשה שלקחה את ילדה בזרועותיה כדי להניקו ונאנסה באונס שינה ובהקיצה משנתה מצאה את הילד מת, שזה הוא אונס ולא שוגג ואינה צריכה כפרה, אלא שמ”מ תעשה קצת תיקונים, אבל לא להחמיר בתעניתים, אלא בכל יא”צ של התינוק תעשה שום דבר לתיקון נשמתו. ועי”ש בחת”ס או”ח קע”ז, באשה שרצתה להציל את המשרתת ובטעות המיתה אותה, שאעפ”י שפטורה מחמת אונס, מ”מ תעשה קצת תיקון משום מגלגלין זכות ע”י זכאי וחובה ע”י חייב, אך אין להעמיס עליה הרבה, כיון שעסקה בהצלה.
ולכן דעתי בנידון דידן, שכפה”נ הזמין את חבירו לטובתו, או חבירו ביקש אותו שיוליכנו עמו במכונית שלו, וקרה לו אסון בדרך והאיש נהרג, בודאי שאין להחמיר עליו בתעניתים, ועצתי, שיתן צדקה כפי כוחו פדיון לנפש. ואם יש לנהרג בנים נצרכים יתן להם. ואם לאו, יתן לבית החולים שערי צדק אשר בירושלים עיה”ק, אשר מתנהג בתכלית הכשרות בהנהלת הרופא המובהק ויר”ש מצוין ד”ר פ’ שלזינגער נ”י, ובכל יא”צ של הנהרג יתענה או יפדה את תעניתו בצדקה, כנ“ל.
|R’ Yechiel Yakov Weinberg- Seridei Eish 1:35 |
Regarding the question of the fearful and pious individual who was driving his friend in his car and there was a tragedy and his friend was killed in a car accident. This man now is experiencing great torment and you ask if we should follow in actuality the guidelines of Teshuvat HaMishkal, as is explained in the poskim. Regarding fasting, it is already explained in Shulkhan Arukh (Orch Chaim 336:24) and Rema that if one violates Shabbat unintentionally one must fast for forty days, on Mondays and Thursdays, and not drink wine or eat meat, and one must give eighteen peshitim to tzedekah in the place of a sin offering. And if one wants to redeem any of the days of the fasts, they can give twelve peshitim to tzedekah…
Nodeh B’yehudah (Mehedura Kamma, Orech Chaim 35) wrote extensively about one who fell into the sin of having sex with a married woman…Behold he was very strict and even at the beginning of the teshuvah he wrote that he is not in the habit of answering such questions because they have no basis in the Talmud and only in sifrei mussar, as the teshuvah goes on at length to point out. The majority of their words [on this matter] are built on arguments without basis, and one book relies on the other without any foundation, but in practice he was very strict and the matter is based on the words of Rokeach and Sefer Chasidim, and Mahariv, and Terumat Hadeshen and God forbid one should treat their words lightly… Nodeh B’Yehudah (Orech Chaim 34) wrote regarding an old man that had a merchant bring him to a different place and he died on the way, that the merchant does not need atonement since the old man begged the merchant and he did this for his own benefit to make money, there is no responsibility for the old man’s death on the one who brought him…
[However] see in Beer Sheva where it is learned out from the example of King David that one who hires an emissary for his own needs and then the emissary dies, that the one who hired him should accept upon themselves teshuvah…So too in Hatam Sofer (Choshen Mishpat 182) regarding a mother who took her child in her arms to nurse her and she fell asleep and when she awoke the discovered the child had died. This is to be considered ones and not unintentional sin and doesn’t require atonement but it is still good to take some reparative actions, but not to be strict about the fasts. Each yahrtzeit of the child, she should do something to elevate the child’s soul…
Therefore my opinion in this case is that because he invited his friend for his own good or his friend requested he be brought in his care and a tragedy occurred on the way, and the man was killed, he need not be strict with the fasts. My advice is that he should give tzedakah according to his ability as a redemption of his soul. If the one who died has children and are in need, he should give to them. If not he should give to Shaarei Tzedek hospital in Jerusalem, which functions properly under the guidance of excellent religious doctors…And on every yahrtzeit of the one who was killed, he should fast or redeem his fast with tzedakah.
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