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Parashat Ki Teseh: The Pinhole of Repentance

** This week's Parasha insight is dedicated in memory of Natan Mizrachi by his Children**

The Torah in Parashat Ki-Teseh speaks of the case of a man who finds that his wife behaves inappropriately, and thus divorces her, and she then marries another man. If the second husband also divorces the woman (or dies), the Torah commands, the first husband may not then remarry her. Although a husband and wife may marry each other again after they divorce, this is forbidden if the woman had married somebody else in the interim. The Torah forbids their remarriage in such a case in surprisingly harsh terms, calling it a "To’eba" ("abomination" – 24:4).

Why is this marriage considered "abominable"? After all, this woman received a proper Get (writ of divorce) from her the second husband, and is thus halachically unmarried. What is "abominable" about the first husband remarrying her?

Rav Chaim Zaitchik (1906-1989) explains that the husband divorced the woman because, as the Torah describes, he found her conduct unbecoming ("Ki Masa Bah Ervat Dabar" – 24:1). He felt that she would be a negative influence upon him and upon their children, and so he made the difficult but noble decision to divorce her. And, his misgivings about her were confirmed when the second man also divorced her. Remarrying the woman at this point, Rav Zaitchik notes, would constitute a grave act of regression. After having done such a noble act for the sake of the spiritual quality of his home and his family, he is now bringing her back and returning to his prior compromised state.

This is the "abomination." Once a person has made a courageous decision to grow, to improve, to advance and to raise his level of Torah observance, he is now expected to set his next goal so he can move yet another step forward. If he does the opposite, and regresses instead of seeing how he can advance, then he has committed an "abomination."

The Midrash (Shir Hashirim Rabba) teaches that G-d promises the Jewish People, "Open for Me an opening like a pinhole, and I will open for you like the opening of the Temple." Repentance begins with an opening like a pinhole. When a pin punctures a piece of material, the hole is very small, but it is permanent. This is the proper approach to the process of Teshuba – making small but sincere, resolute and permanent changes in our lives. We are not expected, and it is unwise, to try to drastically transform ourselves, as such transformations are not likely to be maintained forever. What we ought to do instead is to make small, meaningful improvements to our conduct and lifestyle, and ensure that they are permanent, and we never go back to the way we were. And then, one pinhole after another, we will grow and become better people, better servants of G-d, and worthy of being blessed with a wonderful year of happiness and success, Amen.

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