The Torah explains how "This mitzvah that I command you today - it is not
hidden from you and it is not distant…Rather, the matter is very close to
you - in your mouth and in your heart - so that you can keep it. (Devarim
30:11-14). The Ramban interprets "this mitzvah" as a reference to
Teshuvah, "Repentance" and the need to return back to G-d. The ability to
do teshuvah lies within man's reach.
Teshuvah, repentance is a marvellous and miraculous phenomenon.
It utterly defies the laws of nature. One would have logically assumed
that bygones are just that – bygones. And it would be psychologically
unhealthy to repeatedly agonize about the question: "what if?" Leave it
alone! It has happened. Live with it. Move on! Time-machines belong to the
genre of science fiction. Why not just focus on the future and forget
about the past.
While the concepts of wisdom, prophecy and Torah expectedly dictate that a
sinner be punished, as per the rules of culpability for human action, G-d
asks that the sinner repent and immediately be atoned and absolved of his
iniquities (Yerushalmi, Makos 2:7).
In-other-words, the past is not the fête a complète. It is not fixed and
unalterable. Remarkably, repentance has that creepy, supernatural thread
to it. Here standing in the present, one is able to change the actions of
the past. That is absolutely incredible!
The Talmud states "Teshuvah is so great that deliberate transgressions are
treated as inadvertent ones where repentance is out of fear… Teshuvah is
so great that deliberate transgressions are treated as meritorious where
repentance is out of love" (Yoma 86b).
Teshuvah is, indeed, an otherworldly concept: its creation predates the
universe (Pesachim 54a) and it operates according to the exceptional
kindness of G-d Who is not bound by the laws of existence and the letter
of the law that demands justice. G-d explicitly explains how he does not
want the death of the wicked, but for them to repent and live (Yechzekel
Moreover, G-d greatly yearns for man to return. Israel is exhorted "Return
O Israel to Hashem your G-d" (Hoshea 14:2). He asks for the sinner to re-
establish a lifeline to G-d the Source of all Life. Amazingly, G-d does
not even hold a grudge against this person for his treacherous and
disloyal behavior. On the contrary, he even considers this as if man is
actually 'doing' Him a favour! (Yoma 86).
Teshuvah, from the word shov, "to return" is what repentance is all about.
It is the "return" to the right path in the service of G-d, "return" to
the inner self and the divine soul within man, and the "return" to being
who you really are.
This, of course, is with the realization that one has earlier lost the
plot and wandered from the right path. Teshuvah is where man reaffirms his
connection to G-d. He is back on route to where he belongs.
No holes are barred for the penitent in his journey homewards. He has a
direct line to the Heavenly Throne (Pesikta Rabbosai 44). His teshuvah is
equated with ascending to Jerusalem, building the Temple and sacrificing
an offering on the altar (Vayikra 7:2). The Gates of Repentance are always
open to him (Devarim Rabbah 2). Indeed, the position he will occupy in the
Heavenly realm is incomparable (Berachos 34b).
Teshuvah is a tantalizing prospect. It is an "offer" that man pathetically
ignores at his peril.
But, like all "offers", this is the small print. Teshuvah is accompanied
with one small caveat.
And that is: Teshuvah is only possible within this world, in the world of
the living, where man is in a state of flux.
Here he can alter the past and charter where he goes from here. But this
is contingent upon a teshuvah that is the genuine article. It has to be
with sincerity. With heartfelt regret and deep remorse. It has to be with
a complete break from any earlier sinful modes of behaviour. And with a
full commitment for the future to live a life in the loyal service of G-d.
May we all merit to have our repentance accepted by G-d.
Wishing all readers and all our Jewish brethren to be sealed in a healthy,
peaceful life in the coming year! Amen!
The course is presented by Osher Chaim Levene, author of SET IN STONE (2004: Targum) about the meaning of mitzvah observance and PEOPLE OF THE BOOK (2007: Targum) about the biblical personalities. A London-based writer and educator whose website www.mitzva.org explores the wisdom of the commandments, he learned at the Gateshead and Mir Yeshivas, holds a Bachelor of Science (Honors) business degree from London's City University, and is a Member of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors.