High Holiday Message

The 40 days of selihot, which we began this year on August 8th, officially end at the conclusion of Yom Kippur with the prayer of Neilah, which follows closely on the heels of the famous story of the prophetYonahand Nineveh’s teshuvah (repentance). In certain respects, the teshuvah of Nineveh was the ideal form of repentance. The people did not merely fast and cry out to Hashem, but also, and far more significantly, they took concrete action, returning that which did not belong to them (Yonah 3:8), or, to borrow the term used in the text of Neilah, they “withdrew their hands from oshek.”Oshek (literally, “oppression”) means refusal to pay someone to whom one owes money, whether it is a lender or someone who is owed for merchandise or services.

We spend a great deal of time during the Yamim Noraim (High Holidays) reciting prayers for mercy and forgiveness, including selihot, vidui, and Avinu Malkenu. But in order for our prayers and repentance to be effective, they must be accompanied by concrete action, both in the realm of ben adam lamakom (between man and Gd) as well as the realm of ben adam lahavero (between man and his fellow man).

As a community, we occasionally rally to strengthen our tzeniut (modesty), our shemirat halashon (avoiding negative speech about other people), and our Shabbat observance. But what about oshek?

Oshek comes in many forms, several of which, sadly, is not at all uncommon in our community. It includes refusing to pay even very small sums of money, such as the price of a telephone call. It includes refusing to pay rent, return a deposit, or pay back a loan (“My landlord refused to put in new windows, so I’ll just put them in myself and take the price off the rent”). And it includes refusing to pay a worker’s wages (“My contractor did a lousy job, so I’m not paying him”).

There is also another crime of which many are guilty without realizing it – gezel (theft) .

What?! Theft?!  Us? Never!

Recently, Hagaon Harav Aharon Leib Shteinman, shelita, made the following comment to the leaders of Mesila, an organization which offers guidance and counseling for household budgeting:

The idea of teaching people to live with a budget is very important, because a person who lives without a budget [eventually] comes to gezel… How is it possible for a person to live without a budget? A person has to make a budget, in order to know how much he earns and to make sure that he spends accordingly. If a person borrows without knowing how he will repay, but thinks that when the time to repay arrives, he will borrow from a different source to repay the first loan, that is gezel.

Indeed, many of us are guilty of gezel, recklessly spending money that we don’t have without knowing how we will pay our debts.

Mesila’s mission is to promote financial responsibility, which, for a Jew, begins with adherence to the numerous mitzvot and halachot governing money, and extends to a commitment to refraining from even the subtlest forms of gezel and oshek. Additionally, Mesila seeks to bring us back to the basic spirit of Torah law, whereby spiritual achievements are to be prioritized over material acquisition, a value which must be followed by all of us, and not merely those studying in kollel.

Our sages teach us that on Rosh Hashanah, our income for the entire year is determined. At this time, besides praying for a large income, we must also decide how we plan to use that income, and ensure that our financial habits reflect our priorities and values.

These values are precisely the values which Mesila promotes – controlled consumption, living within a budget, financial independence, and careful management of finances to avoid incurring debts that one cannot repay. Learning and internalizing these values will help us find not only the path to financial stability, but the path to complete and genuine teshuvah, as well.


For further information please contact us at info@mesilainternational.org.