Without a Bais Hamikdash where we can offer korbanos, offerings, we rely on our tefillos, prayers, to take the place of these korbanos. As such, our tefillos must be on the madreigah, spiritual plateau, of korbanos. The Sefer HaChinuch (Parashas Terumah, mitzvah of constructing the Mishkan) explains that korbanos, like the Mishkan, availed the Jew the opportunity to express himself to Hashem in a tangible manner. Thus, when a person sinned and brought a korban as penance, he was not getting by with a perfunctionary, Chatasi, “I sinned. I am sorry.” Rather, he offered a korban, an animal which would take his place, thereby intimating that he understood that, indeed, he should be up there on the Mizbayach, Altar; his body should be suffering the travail that the animal was undergoing. This would bring to his mind the reality of his transgression, its gravity. Today, when we pray, we must keep all of this in mind. “I am sorry” does not suffice.
Horav Yitzchak Zilberstein, Shlita, recalls an incident concerning a well-meaning yeshivah student who acted out of character, and, when he sought penance, Horav Chaim Kanievsky, Shlita, refused to allow him to achieve absolution with a simple apology. He placed a heavy demand on the young man. The story occurred following the nine days of mourning which precede Tishah B’Av. During this period, observant Jews do not eat meat or drink wine, except on Shabbos or for a simchah, joyous celebration, such as a bris or siyum, completion of a Meseches, Tractate, of Talmud. The Galei Sanz Hotel in Netanya is near the Sanz yeshivah. The Klausenberger Rebbe offered to send a student over every night to make a siyum to avail the hotel’s guests the opportunity to eat meat. Afterwards, one of the students came forward and expressed his great remorse over having fooled the guests. Apparently, he had commenced the Meseches – and even concluded it. The problem was that he had not studied the pages between the beginning and the end. His siyum was a sham. The people had eaten meat during the Nine Days. He was terribly sorry, very apologetic. What more could he do to absolve himself?
Rav Chaim asked how many guests had attended the siyum. He was told that fifty people had attended. Rav Chaim paskened, rendered his decision: The young man should make fifty siyumim on that Meseches! When Rav Zilberstein heard this, he wondered if perhaps this might be too much. Then Rav Chaim added, “And one time should be with the commentary of the Maharasha!”
Apologies do not replace a concrete expression of regret. As the korbanos tangibly expressed our feelings, so should our tefillos. I think we may derive from the psak of Rav Chaim that every aveirah, sin, has consequences which reverberate, repercussions whose fallout can, and do, affect others. All of this must be taken into consideration when one attempts to do teshuvah, repent. Perhaps this is why teshuvah for chillul Hashem, profaning Hashem’s Name, is limitless. The repercussions are quite possibly impossible to delineate, since we have no idea how many religious mindsets were altered as a result of any specific profaning of Hashem’s Name, nor do we know for how long. A family’s religious trajectory can be changed because a father or mother had been negatively affected by someone’s actions. Do we truly understand the domino effect for generations to come? This is why teshuvah is a non-issue.
Having touched on the topic of tefillah and its status in post-Bais Hamikdash times, I came across a powerful insight from Horav Yaakov Edelstein, zl. He was asked by Horav Shmuel HaLevi Wosner, zl, how he merited that Hashem would always listen to his tefillos (on behalf of others) and berachos (that he gave others)? Rav Edelstein’s response was, “Who says that Hashem listens to me?” When that response did not succeed in convincing Rav Wosner to withdraw his question, Rav Edelstein said, “Perhaps it is because many people come to me to share their problems, and I have (or make) the patience to listen to each and every one of them.” He listened to each individual person, regardless of the substance of the issue, since what is a problem to one person does not necessarily define the term “problem.” Each person has his own individual sensitivities and barometer for what constitutes a “problem.” This might encourage Heaven to say, “As you are patient to listen to others, Heaven will be patient in listening to you.”
Horav Elimelech Biderman, Shlita, offers the following (perhaps frightening) analogy. Reuven and Shimon were brothers, but this is where their commonality began and ended. Reuven was a wealthy businessman who was well-known and sought after; in contrast, his brother was relegated to living in solitude in abject poverty. One day, the situation in Shimon’s house became acute. He decided he would go to his wealthy brother and ask for his assistance. Little did he imagine his brother’s attitude upon seeing him. “I have no idea who you are,” Reuven said quite callously. “You must have the wrong address. You are definitely not my brother. I will not give you a penny.” Dejected and broken, Shimon returned home penniless and humiliated.
Sometime later, Reuven had occasion to visit their father. “Who are you?” his father asked. Fearing that his father was becoming a victim of premature dementia, he said, “What do you mean, who am I? I am Reuven, your son!”
“I do not have a Reuven who is my son. I do not have a son by the name of Reuven,” the father said. “Surely, you have a son, Reuven. Indeed, you have two sons: Reuven and Shimon. I am Reuven.”
The father replied, “I have no idea who you are. It is true that I have a son by the name of Shimon, but I have no son named Reuven. In fact, you told Shimon that he was not your brother. If Shimon is not your brother, then you obviously cannot be my son.”
Hashem tells us (when we scream Avinu Malkeinu, Our Father, Our King!), “If you are brothers, I am your King. If, however, you are act callously to one another, how can you be My son? In order for you to be united as one, you must act as a brother. They go hand-in-hand.”