Voluntarily or not, we stand before the Divine Investigative Committee with full transparency
We’re a people of inquiry commissions, thinking we can solve our problems by finding the culprit on which to pin the blame. But the greatest inquiry commission is that which frees a person from the shackles of self-interest and brings him face to face with the truth — and with himself.
Commissions of inquiry, investigative committees, parliamentary and state panels, international criminal courts and human rights councils and the like are appointed right and left by governments all over, ostensibly “to determine the facts.”
Whatever we may think of these investigations — some handled with integrity, others mere political posturing — one thing is certain: We are all now about to appear before the only committee that is really able to bring the truth to light, to extract it from its hiding place deep in each and every heart. This is the Supreme Tribunal, whose authority is predicated on the rulership of HaKadosh Baruch Hu, Creator of the Universe. And therein lies the difference between what awaits us on Rosh Hashanah and all those earthly investigative committees, which truly wield no clout at all.
Voluntarily or not, we stand before the Divine Investigative Committee with full transparency. We know that Hashem sees the most hidden levels of our hears, even those that we conceal from ourselves: “Before You all hidden things are revealed, for there is no forgetting before Your Throne of Glory, and nothing is concealed from Your eyes.” We know we can’t evade the truth, that we must acknowledge our errors, our lapses, our failures, our misdeeds. No media spin will avail us, and even our enormously creative power of self-justification, the silver-tongued voice of rationalization, will fall silent at the moment of judgment. There will be no twisting our wrongdoings out of shape until they look like the choicest of mitzvos.
None of this works on Rosh Hashanah. All the tricks our yetzer uses to deceive us about ourselves are simply disabled on these days, overwhelmed into submission by our awareness that we’re standing before the One Who knows all secrets. The words of Unesaneh Tokef hit us with full force:
“It is the truth that You are the Judge, the One Who presents the evidence, the Knower and the Witness, the One Who writes and seals, Who counts and makes the accounting, and You remember all that has been forgotten, and You open the book of memories…”
What is this “book” that is opened?
Rav Dessler explains in Michtav MeEliyahu that this book, which “reads itself,” is the human heart. In other words, a person reviews the documentation of his life, examining it with complete objectivity and transparency.
“And the signature of every man is upon it.” That is to say, all of us review this documentation of our lives, and after thorough examination, we put our signature on it, confirming its accuracy with the appropriate mixture of pain and regret over our backsliding misdeeds, and pride and pleasure over our growth and good deeds. No teams of lawyers huddle together, planning how to make our misdeeds look innocent or how to blame them on someone else. We stand alone to face the truth revealed in our own hearts.
This is the greatness inherent in this personalized “investigative committee.” It frees a person from the shackles of self-interest, brings him face-to-face with the truth — and with himself.
Rav Yerucham Levovitz, the legendary mashgiach of Mir, writes: “Teshuvah is the highest and loftiest level, for it is the place where he is himself, that is, where he returns to himself. And the true self is higher and loftier than all the other levels of man” (Daas Chochmah UMussar, vol. 3 p. 171).
This amazing encounter with one’s authentic self, behind all the masks he wears, is a return to the bereishis of his soul. Despite the pain that comes with it when we have to acknowledge the many times we’ve strayed, it’s nevertheless a joyful and elevating encounter. Self-discovery has its own purifying power.
This is the “investigative committee” that actually garners real, true answers for the individual and the klal — for the word teshuvah is dual in meaning: It means both “return” and “answer.” And these two ideas weave into one integrated concept: Return is the answer.
In contrast, politically motivated inquiry commissions are like plaster, covering up the cracks in the walls. No matter the topic under investigation, their goals are essentially the same: to pinpoint who is to blame for whatever has gone wrong. Look at the behavior of the parties under investigation, how they prepare to appear before the committee. They consult with lawyers, searching for every possible way of proving that someone else, anyone but them, is the culprit.
In the State of Israel specifically, these committees — and there are dozens of them, rearing their heads after every crisis or conflagration, from the Gaza war to the IDF shooting incidents to the Meron tragedy — have no real desire to actually get to the bottom of the issues at the root, because it will ultimately indict the ruling echelon and the moral abyss into which society has fallen. (This is not, chas v’shalom, to disclaim in the least the wonderful achievements of this country, which certainly can’t be ignored.)
But I wonder, why isn’t there a demand for a committee to be set up to investigate the illness itself, rather than just the symptoms? With courage, and most of all with objectivity, perhaps it’s time for an investigation to determine how and why Israeli political culture and its offshoot society have sunk to such a state of moral breakdown.
Of course we hear mealy-mouthed mumbling about the need to revive the values of Zionism or socialism, but the excusers themselves know deep down that these are nothing but expressions of nostalgia for the past. These visions, even from the point of view of those who once sincerely embraced them, have run out of steam. The last puff has evaporated. They prattle about the need to incorporate these values in the education of the nation’s youth, knowing even as they speak that they’re just trying to quiet their conscience. For, as Chazal teach us, he who is locked up in prison cannot free himself. Painful as it is to admit, modern secular Israeli society is like a person who is drowning in the sea and trying to save himself by holding on to his own hair — because he has nothing else to grab.
Signs of hope will start to glimmer only with the recognition that since the dawn of secular Zionism, the nation has been caught in an ideological loop — the self-contradicting concept of a secular, Western-style Jewish state — and that breaking out of this loop will require a great internal upheaval. May Hashem grant that this upheaval be entirely spiritual and not brought about through terrible and catastrophic events, chalilah.
To do our part to bring about an elevated, merciful upheaval, let’s remember in our prayers this Rosh Hashanah all our brothers and sisters who are sinking and don’t know what to grab hold of — and maybe it’s us too. Let’s think of every Jew, not just the ones in our minyan, when we say, “Uv’chein tein pachdecha… al kol maaseicha, v’eimas’cha al kol mah shebarasa… v’yeiasu kulam agudah achas l’avdecha b’levav shaleim.”
Let’s find the true answers. After all, we’re all in it together.
Kesivah v’chasimah tovah.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 876)
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