Friday, September 18, 2015

Shabbos Teshuva 5638 Second Ma'amar

The period between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is especially suited for repentance.[1]  What is repentance?  The mitzvah of repentance entails a verbal recognition that a wrong was done, remorse and a commitment not to repeat the wrong.[2] 

Albeit these are the steps that must be taken in order to fulfill the mitzvah of repentance, the prophet does not mention these.  Rather, he speaks of returning to God.  The special haftarah that we read this Shabbos – the Shabbos before Yom Kippur – begins, “שׁוּבָה יִשְׂרָאֵל עַד ה' אֱ-לֹהֶיךָ .../Return, Israel, until God, your Lord …” (Hoshe’a 14:2

It almost seems as if the prophet continues from where the mitzvah ends.  We may fulfill the mitzvah of repentance by following the steps brought down in the halachah.  However, in order to return to God, something more is needed.  The Sfas Emes explains, in fact, that the prophet is not only addressing penitents.  He is addressing the righteous as well.  The only difference between the two is that the penitent must first fulfill the mitzvah of repentance whereas the righteous can start from the second step of returning to God.

The two step process of repentance and return explains the pasuk in Eichah (5:21), “הֲשִׁיבֵנוּ ה' אֵלֶיךָ וְנָשׁוּבָה .../Return us to You and we will return …”  When we rectify the sin through remorse and by committing not to repeat the sin, God returns us to Him.  Afterwards, we return.  Although rectification of the sin is critical, it is not the main thing.  The main thing is the subsequent return to God that the rectification enables.

The Sfas Emes refers to these two steps as two types of repentance, the second building on the first.  The first is repentance from fear.  When we first realize that we’ve done a wrong, it is natural to fear and be concerned for the damage we’ve caused.  This concern stirs us to remorse and a commitment to not repeat the wrong.  We are also moved to ask God to have mercy on us and rectify the damage caused by the sin.

The second step, once we merit coming close to God, is the repentance of love.  When we contemplate God’s tremendous kindness that He has not rejected us as sinners but rather has brought us close to Him, we are shamed and inspired to come close to God out of love.

Elsewhere[3] the Sfas Emes explains that during the weekdays of the ten days of penitence, concern for the damage caused by our sins compels us to repent and return to God.  To the extent that we work and pray for this during the weekdays, we merit returning to God on Shabbos out of a feeling of love that God Himself imbues in us[4].  May we merit it and a G’mar Chasima Tova.

[1] Rosh HaShanah 18a
[2] Yad Teshuva 1:1
[3] Sfas Emes Shabbos Teshuva 5637 Third Ma’amar
[4] Regarding awe of God as a prerequisite for love of God see this ma’amar.

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