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The Gemara in Avodah Zarah (17a) says:

“When Elazar ben durdayah was at the moment of the onset of cohabitation, [the harlot] blew with her mouth and said to Elazar, “Just as this current of air cannot return to its place of origin, so to, they will not receive Elazar ben durdayah in repentance. All of a sudden he had an epiphany and decided that he must try to save his soul, by appealing for mercy. He went and sat between two ranges of mountains and foothills, and he said to them, “Mountains and foothills, beseech mercy for me from Above!” (i.e. “Please help me! Save my soul!) They said to him, “Before we beseech mercy for you, we shall beseech it for ourselves, for it is stated, “For the mountains shall depart and the hills falter.” Elazar ben durdayah then proceeded to ask the heavens and earth, sun and moon, stars and constellations, but they all gave him the same response in return, “Before we beseech mercy for you, we shall beseech it for ourselves.” Having failed to find anyone to assist him, Elazar ben durdayah came to the inescapable conclusion, “The matter depends solely on me!” (I.e. it’s up to me and nobody else!)

Based on this Gemara (mentioned above) I heard someone say in the name of Rav Aron Lewin the following explanation:

"The mountains and foothills are vicissitudes of life. The obstacles appear like mountains. Heaven and earth is the tension that exists between the physical and the spiritual. The tension that sometimes overwhelms us. The sun and the moon are a metaphor for a person’s parents. How they treated me. How they were too hard on me. How they favored my siblings, perhaps. The stars and constellations is the rotten mazal that I had. There’s always an excuse, “It was my - environment, upbringing, parents, wife, bad rabbeim, but in the end, he came to the realization that it’s up to me."

Does anyone know the source for this?

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You mention that you heard this in the name of R' Aharon Lewin. He writes something similar to this in his commentary HaDrash V'HaIyun (הדרש והעיון, B'reishis, 95). He remarks that:

  • The mountains (harim) represent one's parents (horim) and upbringing.
  • Heaven and earth represent the potentially negative spiritual influences of one's environment.
  • The sun and the moon represent the potentially corrupting influence of material luxury.
  • The stars and constellations represent one's inborn and naturally imperfect character traits.

This discourse is summarized in English in Rabbi Moshe Bogomilsky's Vedibarta Bam (volume on the High Holidays and Sukkos, pp. 173-176).

  • @Shokhet: How do spell הדרש והעיון in english? – Chiddushei Torah Jan 7 '15 at 4:25
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    @ChiddusheiTorah Hadrash V'ha'iyun is one possible transliteration. – Fred Jan 7 '15 at 4:26

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