Thursday, September 14, 2017

the parsha of teshuvah

"V'shavta ad Hashem Elokecha... b'chol levavcha u'bchol nafshecha." (30:2)  A few pesukim later we have, "V'atah tashuv... v'asisa es kol mitzvosav." (30:8)  Chasam Sofer explains that the first pasuk is addressing us in galus.  We don't have a beis hamikdash; many of us are not even living in Eretz Yisrael.  Return to authentic Jewish life, meaning living as Jewish nation in our own Jewish homeland where Torah and mitzvos are our national culture, is something we dream of, "b'chol levavcha u'bchol nafshecha," in our hearts,but is something far from our reality.  R' Tzadoh haKohen interprets "lo b'shamayim hi," assuming that the pasuk is speaking about teshuva (as Ramban learns, not like Rashi), as meaning that one should not think that the fact that Beis haMikdash is up in heaven now and inaccessible is an obstacle to teshuvah; "lo mei'eiver l'yam hi," the fact that Eretz Yisrael is across the ocean is not an obstacle either.  We can dream, we can hope, we can have the desire to get there.  Continues the parsha, one day, "v'hevi'acha Hashem Elokecha el ha'aretz..." (30:5) we will return to the land.  When that day comes, "V'atah tashuv... v'asisa," (30:8) we will have the opportunity to do, to take action and live as we are supposed to, not just to dream about it.  But it all starts with the "hishtokekus," the desire to get there.  That much we can all do now. 

Ramban asks why it is that when describing the mitzvah of teshuva the Torah uses "lashon beinoni" -- a description, not a command, e.g. "V'hasheivosa... V'shavta..." but it does not say "tashuv."  Minchas Chinuch raises the possibility that according to the Rambam there is a mitzvah of viduy, but no actual mitzvah of teshuvah.  When you want to do teshuvah, you have to do viduy, but there is no command to do teshuvah.  According to this approach, Ramban's question seems to be moot.  Ramban, however, assumes there is a mitzvah of teshuvah and explains that the Torah here is giving us more than a command -- it is a promise.  We all have dreams, some of which might come true, many of which will not.  The hope and dream of the Jewish people returning to Eretz Yisrael and doing teshuvah is something that is built into our destiny.  The Torah is describing what must come to fruition, not just giving a command that we have a choice whether or not to fulfill.

I would like to flip this model of the Chasam Sofer, of moving from "hishtokekus," from desire, from the heart and soul, to the world of action, on its head.  Shem m'Shmuel is bothered by the order of words in the pasuk, "...b'ficha u'b'levavcha l'asoso"  Ramban writes that the Torah here is describing the mitzvah of teshuvah.  Shouldn't the order be reversed?  Doesn't a person first come to teshuvah with his heart, and only afterwards, articulate through viduy what he/she did wrong, and express and formulate and new, positive direction?  The heart precedes the mouth, not the other way around? 

Of course you should see the Shem m'Shmuel for a great answer, but I would like to suggest that the pasuk makes perfect sense and is telling us how to do teshuvah.  There are lots of people who know that it is the teshuvah season and they therefore run to this shiur or that lecture seeking to be inspired.  They wait to do teshuvah -- they are waiting to hear just the right lecture that will lift them up, they waiting to hear just the right shiur from the right Rabbi that will capture their heart.  In the meantime, while they are waiting for that elusive moment of inspiration, the clock is ticking toward Rosh haShana.  The Torah here is telling us, "Don't wait!"  Say the words of viduy, say an extra perek of tehilim, learn an extra blatt of gemara.  You may not feel inspired -- you may feel like you are just going through the motions -- but those words will sink in.  Start with the words (and deeds) and the heart will follow.  Inspiration will stem from action, not the other way around.

We baruch Hashem get a second helping of parshas hashavu'a this week with Vayeilech.  The Midrash Tanchuma writes that "Vayeilech Moshe" is a tochacha.  Here Moshe steps out of his holy space and comes to each sheivet, maybe each member of Klal Yisrael, to speak to them -- where is the rebuke?  What could be more positive than that?

Shem m'Shmuel writes that the Torah is not telling us that Moshe took a physical walk to get from place to place -- who cares about that?  It is telling us that Moshe had to make a spiritual journey.  He had to leave where he was spiritually holding in and travel down a notch to come speak to us. 

I don't remember what the person did to earn it, but the Tchebiner Rav promised a certain person that he would make sure to get him into Gan Eden.  Later in life the Tchebiner asked that person for one favor: "Don't make it so hard for me."

Why should Moshe Rabeinu need to take a walk down the spiritual ladder in order to speak to us?  Why do we have to make it so hard for him?  Can't we make it a little easier and come a little closer to his level?  That's the tochacha.


  1. Re: inspiration stemming from action, isn't that the message of Chazal who tell us לעולם יעסוק אדם בתורה ובמעשים טובים אפי' שלא לשמה, שמתוך שלא לשמה בא לשמה, as well as the famous Medrash הלואי אותי עזבו ותורתי שמרו שהמאור שבה מחזירם למוטב?

  2. 1) when Israel completely returns to talk to the King in the field (Ber. 24:63*)**, he will recognize the alien dream of galus as just that, and laugh his viduy (Tehilla 126:1-2), a laugh to confess the folly of his doubts, and misbeliefs, across millennia; a laugh to catch up to Akiva spotting foxes in the ruins: how could the scattered have ever questioned the gathering that "must come to fruition"?

    *b'nei Yisrael returning to be as Yitzchak, who never left the Land;
    **elul at that time the month [or every month but three, of the shalosh regalim?] He makes it easier for us by visiting the field, as we make it easier for Him by praying in the Land, in the one true field of the Jew (with all its earthy mitzvot and a Palace on the mount)

    2) "Vayeilech Moshe", "He had to leave...and travel down"--
    vayeilech Moshe v'Hoshua (31:14)-- and sometimes travel up; va'yis'yatzvu b'ohel mo'ed (...14)-- standing in their turn before Hashem (as had the klal, 29:9)