19:4 … and hated him not in time past;

As Rosh Chodesh Elul is behind us and we look for inspiration for the upcoming yomim nora’im, we might be surprised to find “major” inspiration by focusing on the small things. We find such an example with the drastic consequences in this week’s parsha: The Torah tells us about the woodcutter chopping wood in the forest, and as he was taking a blow with his axe, the metal head flew off and killed a man. In such a case of clearly unintentional manslaughter he must go into exile to atone for the sin which he did unintentionally. Yet the Torah stipulates that exile is only applicable in a case in which there is not even an inkling of suspicion of intentional manslaughter. What would be an “inkling of suspicion”? The Torah tells us if the woodcutter and the victim were not on talking terms for just a few days, this is enough to create a suspicion of intent, and in such a case exile would not be sufficient to atone for the sin. In reading this idea, many people are perplexed because an accident is an accident! The blade flew off the handle on its own. How could the act of woodcutter be thought of as partially intentional?

Before insuring a driver, automobile insurance companies ask a variety of questions, including “Are you married?” “Do you have children?” etc. These questions are not for social data, but rather they are used by the insurance actuary to determine whether the driver has a statistically higher or lower chance of being in a collision. Drivers with responsibilities and a clear purpose in life take fewer careless chances, and therefore are statistically safer drivers, even in cases that appear to be unavoidable. It would stand to reason that a driver who was transporting his own loved ones in a vehicle would certainly be more careful in how he conducts himself.

The Torah translates this into the difference between “unintentional” and “partially intentional”. We have many excuses for those small sins that we commit each day, which we seem to legitimize by saying “they were out of my control or it was just an accident.” The truth being, that many times they would have been within our control, but because we do not consider these sins to be important, we allow ourselves to fall into situations in which we commit these sins unintentionally, by not taking the proper precautions. I think that this is an understanding in why small sins lead to big sins. That is, that a lack reverence to G-d’s words leads naturally to us slipping or being sloppy in our shmiras hamitzvos.

Just this week, someone approached me to explain why he was late for davening. “There was a traffic jam”. I was surprised because he only lived around the corner from the shul. Then he explained he entered the stairwell, and had to wait 30 seconds while his neighbor and all her children descended the staircase to the lobby. “By the time I got to shul, I was 30 seconds late and had missed ‘barchu’”. Is this an “accident” or not?

We have before us almost a whole month to be medakdik on the things that seem to us to be unimportant and/or not necessary. By doing so when we come to the Day of Judgement and we cry out to Hashem to forgive us for the mistakes which seem to be beyond our control, we will hopefully receive an atonement because it really was without any laxity that those situations arose.