Saturday, May 25, 2024

The Inspection

“Ouch,” I said. “That hurt.” A family member who shall remain nameless had just notified me that he had dented the back of my leased minivan. Of course it wasn't his fault, he said. It's just that as he was pulling out of someone's driveway, the mailbox got in the way. It's not so much that I mind driving a dented car. It's the dent that it will put in my wallet that I worry about. Nu. It's only money and that should always be the worst of my worries.


Two weeks later, again I say ouch. That same family member pulls out of that very same driveway and does it again, this time on the other side. Now I had matching dents on the back of my van.


“Look at the brighter side of things,” says my wife, ever the optimist. “Now, when you go shopping, you’ll be able to identify our car easily.”


You see, almost everybody in Monsey drives a charcoal grey Sienna minivan. But none of them have matching dents on the back, so we gain on the deal. This is no comfort to me. In order to identify your van, you first have to remember on which side of the lot you parked, and I am not very adept at that.


Leasing a car has its advantages. I just don’t have the koach anymore to deal with used cars. I have done those for about thirty years with many unhappy memories. Like the time we broke down with a car full of kids on the way to camp. Then there was the time the engine was overheating and someone advised us to turn on the heat in the car. This would serve as an exhaust to divert heat from the engine, he said. So we did that and it worked. We drove in a fully heated car for hours, with the temperature outside in the nineties. Finally, when a certain mechanic told my daughter that I was his favorite customer, I decided that it was time to lease.


Driving a new car is soothing for your nerves. However, since it’s not your own vehicle, you now have the concern of returning it in prime condition when the lease expires and not exceeding your mileage allowance. These are two areas that we have not yet mastered. So, when our lease expires, I worry that this will cost us an arm and a leg.


Two weeks ago, the lease to our minivan expired. Reb Yoel Goldberg of Leaseland, who is kind, courteous and a pleasure to deal with, assured me that he will try to get the cost knocked down. But then he informed me that an inspector will be coming down to check out the condition of my minivan, matching dents and all. He will be taking pictures of the vehicle for about 45 minutes. Oh no, I thought.This is the moment I dreaded. In addition to the dents, he will find a big bleach stain in the car’s interior, the cracked front fender, the missing splashguard, and a host of other blemishes. Maybe I should have stuck with the old used jalopies.


The inspector arrived while I was not home and he did his thing. Two days later, I received the official report in the mail and, sure enough, everything was recorded: pictures of the front, pictures of the back, and pictures of the exterior and interior from every possible angle. Then came the bottom line: how much it will cost me. Double ouch! There was an asterisk by the charge with a note: “This does not include the charge for overusing mileage,” which, in my case, is a few thousand miles. More joy!    


Then it dawns upon me. I am so unnerved by this inspection and worried about how much I will pay because of it. It’s only money and it gets to me. But there is another inspection coming up that is much more serious and meaningful, one that affects our lives for the entire coming year, perhaps even further. It isn’t just any old inspector of flesh and blood who will be making the examination. Rather, it is the King of kings, Hakadosh Boruch Hu. He will be examining every nook and cranny not of a trivial vehicle, but of my very essence. He will check out every dent in my neshamah. “On Rosh Hashanah all who walk on earth pass before Him like young sheep” (Rosh Hashanah 16a).


On Rosh Hashanah will be inscribed and on Yom Kippur will be sealed…who will live and who will die…who will rest and who will wander, who will live in harmony and who will be harried, who will enjoy tranquility and who will suffer, who will be impoverished and who will be enriched, who will be degraded and who will be exalted” (Mussaf ofRosh Hashanah).


Oy, that inspection from Heaven. Oy, those pictures and an accounting for precious moments wasted, for tefillos without kavanah, for mitzvos performed mindlessly, for opportunities for chesed squandered, for words that should not have been spoken and for improper thoughts. All of these are recorded and are on file. Nothing is hidden and all evidence will be brought before the Heavenly Court.


What a price there will be to pay and no one will be able to get it reduced. And here the payment of money won’t get me anywhere. “For Hashem, your G-d, He is the G-d of the powers and the Lord of lords, the great might and awesome G-d, Who does not show favor and Who does not take a bribe(Devorim 10:17). Furthermore, how much extra mileage have I used? How much have I taken from Hashem more than my deeds have earned me?


However, after all is said and done, am I as anxious about His inspection of the Yom Hadin as I am of the trivial car inspection? Do I really feel that there will be a price to pay? I’m afraid not. But why? Don’t I know that there is a judgment and don’t I believe? Of course I do, but there are numerous factors that cloud my feeling the reality of it.


First of all, we don’t see or hear the court proceedings, and we don’t get a bill in the mail requesting immediate payment. Secondly, we tend to rely on our abilities to navigate life, our own hishtadlus, which causes a disconnect with reality that all depends on Hashem. Furthermore, the flesh and blood in us, our physicality, blocks the path between what we know intellectually and the feelings in our heart. We’re asleep at the wheel.


The blowing of the shofar has the power of waking us up. “Even though blowing shofar is a decree of the posuk, there is a remez in it. ‘Arouse yourselves sleepy ones from your sleep, wake up from your deep sleep, examine your deeds, return in teshuvah and remember your Creator.’ This refers to those who forget the truth because of the futilities of the time who busy themselves with futility and emptiness that will not help or save them. Look out for your lives and improve your ways” (Rambam, Hilchos Teshuvah 3:4).


Yes, we are caught up with our futilities, with our imaginary dream world that causes us to stray from the world of reality. It’s time to wake up. But this takes a lot of work. It means contemplating the Yom Hadin, picturing standing in front of the Bais Din Shel Maalah, while visualizing the books of life and death, success and failure, health and illness, and nachas and pain literally open in front of them. Our fate for this coming year is being decided at this time.


There is a comforting thought about this judgment, a clear distinction between this and the car inspection. Whereas the car inspector was a total stranger out for the monetary gain of the company that hired him, the Inspector on Rosh Hashanah is Avinu Shebashomayim, Who is judging for our benefit and that of the entire mankind. Whereas the car inspector is looking carefully to find damages to show aptitude at his job which will enhance his position, our Father is hoping not to find our faults. Whereas every dent and scratch in the vehicle means certain payment on my part and begging for mercy will not help, pleading for Hashem’s compassion will. The company will not accept any other payment but dollars. With Hashem, teshuvah, tefillah and tzedakah remove the evil of the decree.


But in order to invoke this mercy of Hashem and in order to galvanize our strength to penitence, prayer and charity, we must first feel the true pachad of those holy days that are approaching. To paraphrase a famous quote, “There is nothing to fear but the absence of fear itself.” The way of attaining this fear is by picturing the court scene just as the gedolim of yesteryear did. This is how they literally lost their appetite for food and sleep and actually trembled during the Days of Awe.


For this fear, we also need special siyata diShmaya. In the tefillah of Uvechein tein pachdecha, we ask Hashem, “Instill Your awe upon all Your works and Your dread upon all that You have created… For as we know, Hashem, our G-d, the dominion is Yours… Place Your fear…as we know. Allow what we know intellectually to pierce our hearts and bring us to fear” (Sefer Avodas Pnim).


May we all be zocheh to a kesivah vachasimah tovah.    



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