"And you shall return to HaShem your G-d, and you shall listen to His
voice, like all that I have commanded you today, you and your children,
with all your hearts and with all your souls." [Deut. 30:2]
This Torah reading, which discusses Return to G-d, is read annually on the
last Shabbos of the year. It reminds us that the Ten Days of Return are
approaching. We will soon celebrate Rosh HaShanah, the beginning of the
year, the Day of Judgement. Then, on the tenth of Tishrei, we will observe
Yom Kippur, which we often translate as the Day of Repentance.
In Jewish thought, we don't like to talk about "repentance." The non-
versions of sin and repentance are so pervasive that we cannot hear these
words without imagining fire and brimstone. The Hebrew term "Teshuva"
*return*, as found in our verse: "and you shall return to HaShem your G-
The idea of return is to go back home, to be the children of G-d we were
created to be, and live up to our spiritual potential. Fire and brimstone
have nothing to do with it!
The best form of return is not motivated by fear of G-d or fear of
punishment. True return is motivated by love.
When we look at our parents and all they have done for us, we feel
grateful. We love them. We want them to be proud of us, and we want to do
the favors they ask of us.
The same should be true in the relationship with our Father in Heaven.
not always easy to do what is morally right, but we know that He sees
everything we do, and we want Him to be proud. This is return motivated by
How powerful is this return? Our Sages say that if a person's return is
motivated by fear, then his or her deliberate transgressions are treated
if they were careless errors. But if one is motivated by love, than those
same deliberate transgressions are converted into merits!
The Chassidic master, the Ba'al Shem Tov, offers a parable: if a person
walks into a dark room and turns on the light, then the darkness
disappears. To anyone who walks into the room afterwards, it is as if it
were never dark at all.
Return, he says, is so powerful that it can transform a person in much the
same way. Even a past filled with misdeeds can be turned to light.
For most of us, unfortunately, it is easy to think of some wrong we
committed that we would rather not have done. The fact is that if we
ourselves to returning to G-d, to trying to do what is right, we can wipe
those transgressions away.
In order for this process to work, of course, it must be sincere. And the
first thing which one must do is to stop misbehaving.
Maimonides, in his codification of Jewish Law, says (Hil. Teshuva
2:3): "One who confesses with words, but has not decided in his heart to
abandon [his transgressions], is like a person who goes to a ritual bath
while holding something unclean in his hand: immersion in the bath will
help him until he throws the item away!"
The Talmud in tractate Rosh HaShanah says that the verse, "Seek out HaShem
when He can be found, call upon Him when He is close" (Isaiah 55:6) refers
to these Ten Days of Return. Maimonides also says (Hil. Teshuva 2:6)
that "even though return... is always beautiful, during the ten days
between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur it is exceptionally so, and is
We now have a special opportunity, in the days that lie ahead, to make
lasting changes in our lives. We can more easily throw off the weight of
our past errors, and decide to do better in the future.
Let us take full advantage of the chance we are given to do it right, this
Good Shabbos and L'Shana Tova,
Rabbi Yaakov Menken