I Did Not Realize Until Now!
“Return O Israel to Hashem your G-D for you have fallen because of your sin”. Haftorah for Shabbos Shuva (from Parshas Vayelech) (Hoshea 14:2)
Rav Saadia Gaon zt”l was the pre-eminent Jewish leader in the 900’s. Once he was a guest at the home of a fellow Jew who did not recognize him. The Jew welcomed his guest warmly and treated him with the utmost respect. He treated him in a fine fashion, the same way he would treat any fellow Jew. The next day, when the host found out that his guest was none other than the great Rav Saadia Gaon, he felt terrible. He quickly ran to find the great sage. When he found Rav Saadia Gaon, the host begged his forgiveness. He apologized saying, had he known who his guest was, he would have treated him with more respect. Rav Saadia Gaon was surprised. He responded that the host welcomed him with open arms and did treat him very respectfully. The host responded that it was true that he treated Rav Saadia Gaon with respect. However, had he known who he was, he would have treated him with even more respect.
Rav Saadia Gaon learned a lifelong lesson from the words of his host. His host had felt the need to apologize for not having given him the proper respect the day before, based on his new knowledge today, of who his guest was. Rav Saadia Gaon felt that he should feel the same way, regarding his relationship with Hashem. He felt that he currently had more of an appreciation of Hashem than he did the day before. Taking the lead from his host, he felt that he had to apologize to Hashem for not have shown Hashem greater respect the day before, based on his his new-found understanding of Hashem. From that day forward, Rav Saadia Gaon repented every single day for not having shown Hashem the proper respect the day before. (based on a dvar Torah quoted by Rabbi Yaakov Yisroel Beyfuss in his sefer Yalkut Lekach Tov)
Based on Rav Saadia Gaon’s actions, we can understand the answer to a glaring question. On Yom Kippur, we spend an entire day, close to Hashem. We abstain from physical pleasures such as eating, drinking, washing ourselves, …. We are almost like angels who have no physical needs. We spend almost the entire time praying to Hashem enumerating our many sins and begging Hashem for forgiveness. If we are sincere in our pleading, at the conclusion of Yom Kippur we feel a sense of accomplishment. We feel that we exerted all our efforts to cleanse ourselves from our sins. Immediately following the Yom Kippur prayers, we pray the weekday evening prayer. In the Shmone Esray we say to Hashem, “Forgive us, our Father, for we have sinned”. If we just spent our entire day cleansing ourselves of our sins, why are we asking for forgiveness for our sins? What sins do we have now? Based on Rav Saadia Gaon’s actions, we can understand the answer to our question. We spent an entire day begging Hashem for forgiveness and enumerating our many sins. We declared Hashem’s greatness and loving kindness. We felt ourselves coming ever closer to Hashem. Now we realize just how terrible our past sins really were. Based on this new understanding, now we plead to Hashem, please forgive us for our prior sins.
The closer we get to Hashem, the more we realize how much we owe Him.