"Seek out Hashem when He can be found..." (Yeshaya 55:6)
The ten days between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur are referred
to by our Sages as the "Aseres Y'mei Teshuva" - "ten days of repentance".
This concept is alluded to in the verses. The Rambam records that during
this period Teshuva is more effective.1 The mitzva of Teshuva can
be performed throughout the entire year; what is the significance of this
time period that makes it more auspicious for repentance?
The Rambam, in his magnum opus, "Yad Hachazaka" records the principle of
"bechira chofshis" - "free choice" in the Laws of Repentance.2
Free choice is the very basis of our relationship with Hashem. Without the
ability to choose right over wrong there could not be a system of reward and
punishment. Why then does the Rambam wait until the Laws of Repentance which
are found at the end of the first section of the Yad Hachazaka to discuss
free choice, and not include it in the chapter "Yesodei Hatorah" -
"Fundamentals of the Torah" which is found at the beginning of the section?
Modern psychology eschews the belief that most negative behaviors are
symptomatic of greater problems which lie embedded in a person's psyche.
Therefore, psychologists deal with a patient's past experiences, in the
attempt to expose the cause which precipitated the current behaviors or
attitudes of the individual. For example, a person slandering and
deprecating others could be indicative of his own low self-esteem, while an
abusive personality could be manifest in one who himself was abused. It
would seem that the law of repentance completely ignores this notion. The
Rambam elaborates upon the definition of complete repentance, allotting ten
chapters to the subject; the penitent is required to desist from the action,
show remorse and verbally express that he has sinned before Hashem,
committing never to do so again. His motivations and past experiences that
are the underpinnings of his actions are never mentioned. If the
psychological principle is well-founded, failing to address the underlying
issues ensures that the behavior will be repeated. Why is the root of the
problem not addressed? Do our Sages not agree with the entire concept of
The Talmud states that Shaul, who erred with one transgression, was
sentenced to death by the Heavenly court and had the Monarchy removed from
his family. David, who erred on two occasions, was given a reprieve,
allowing the Monarchy to endure within his family. David was held
accountable for having taken Bas Sheva away from her husband Uriah and for
taking a head-count of Bnei Yisroel, which is prohibited by Law, and
resulted in the death of seventy thousand men.3 Both of these
acts of commission appear to outweigh the sin of Shaul, who was overly
compassionate, sparing the life of Agag the Amalakite king and the Amalakite
livestock, an act of omission.4 The Maharsha questions why David
was dealt with preferentially when his transgressions appear to be of
greater severity than Shaul's.5
After the sin of Bas Sheva, Nosson the prophet approached David, rebuking
him for his transgression. David responded "chatasi laHashem" - "I have
sinned to Hashem".6 Shaul too, when rebuked by the prophet
Shmuel, replied "chatasi ki avarti es pi Hashem" - "I have sinned, violating
Hashem's word".7 Although there appears to be no difference
between the contrition of Shaul and that of David, the answer lies in
Shaul's subsequent words, "ki yareisi es ha'am va'eshma b'kolam" - "for I
was fearful of the nation, bowing to their demands".8 Whereas
David simply stated "I have sinned", Shaul attempted to offer a reason for
why he acted in the way that he did, claiming that it was due to the
pressure of the people. By attempting to offer an excuse, Shaul was
abrogating his responsibility for the transgression. The most important
element of Teshuva is accepting complete responsibility for our actions and
not attempting to shift the blame. David was therefore offered a reprieve,
having repented completely, while Shaul was not, for his penitence was lacking.
Focusing upon past experiences and connecting them to present behaviors
often leads to the abrogation of responsibility. The Torah wants us to focus
only upon our actions when doing Teshuva, since we are expected to take
complete responsibility for the transgressions we have perpetrated. Any
attempt during the Teshuva process to identify the behavior as a
manifestation of a past experience is, in actuality, an attempt to mitigate
blame for our actions. Therefore, the Rambam includes the principle of free
choice in the Laws of Teshuva, for it is the ability to choose right from
wrong that holds us completely accountable for our choices. Having
proclivities or propensities from past experiences does not affect our
ability to choose the right course of action. Past experiences or
personality traits only make it a greater challenge to do the right thing; a
person does not have the right to say that he acts the way he does because
that is who he is. Unless a person meets the Halachic criteria that renders
him legally incompetent to make decisions, he must hold himself completely
accountable for all his decisions.
Psychological analysis can be beneficial when used to determine a person's
challenges and the way in which he should address them. But, when used to
deflect responsibility, it is harmful, for the behavior becomes entrenched
within the person and creates excuses for his actions.
The Talmud teaches that there are two forms of "refu'ah" - "healing", the
healing of sickness and the healing that follows Teshuva, as is stated in
the verse "veshav verafa lo" - "and he will repent and he will be
healed".9 It is generally understood that this form of healing
addresses the healing for the damage to our souls which is caused by the
sins that we perform. However, this healing can also be understood as the
healing that Hashem affords us after Teshuva, to remove those underlying
forces which created our propensity to act in a sinful manner.
During the ten days of repentance, Hashem, who is our Healer, is closer to
us and waiting for us to call upon Him. Therefore, during this time it is
easier to remove the underlying causes of our malevolent behavior. Hashem
will remove these causes, as long as we take complete responsibility for our
1.Yad Hilchos Teshuva 2:6 2.Yad ibid Chapter 5 3. Yuma 22a 4.Shmuel I
Chapter 15 5.Yuma ibid 6.Shmuel II 12:13 7.Shmuel I 6:24 8.ibid
The Transcendental Shofar
The Talmud teaches that all shofros are acceptable for
fulfilling the required blasts on Rosh Hashona, except the horn of a cow.
One of the reasons given is that a prosecutor cannot act as a defender. The
shofar, which is the vehicle through which Bnei Yisroel is protected, cannot
be taken from a cow, which symbolizes the sin of the Golden Calf.1
The Talmud explains that the effect of the shofar is analogous
to that of the Kohain Gadol entering the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur.
Therefore, the shofar has the same restrictions. Normally, the Kohain Gadol
wore eight garments, four of which were linen and four which were woven with
gold. Prior to entering the Holy of Holies, he removed the four garments
containing gold, for gold is reminiscent of the Golden Calf.2
What is the notion of the shofar possessing an element of the Holy of
Holies? Additionally, how does the shofar afford Bnei Yisroel protection?
There are two ways in which one can communicate a thought or an emotion. The
first way is through speech, by verbalizing the thought through the use of
words; this is referred to as ruchs - speech. The second way is by emitting
a sound without the use of words, but which nevertheless conveys to the
listener the message that something is being communicated. This is referred
to as kue - sound. A major difference between the two modes of communication
is the following: When a person uses speech to convey his message, it is
possible to hear what he is saying, but not be listening. Unless the
listener is attuned to what is being said, it will not register. kue, sound
however, which is emitted from the deepest recesses of the soul, will
automatically evoke from the listener a need for response. The listener can
choose how to act upon what he heard, but nonetheless, it has registered.
For example, when a person hears a cry for help, he automatically feels the
need to respond. The reason why this is so is that when Hashem created man,
the Torah tells us, "ohhj,nabuhptcjphu" - He blew into man's nostrils the
soul of life.3 The Ramban elaborates further that this "blowing"
planted within man his soul, which is part of Hashem's
"essence".4 It is from this part of man that kue emanates, and
therefore, registers within the same place, the soul of the one who hears it.
On Rosh Hashona Hashem gives us the vehicle through which we can touch,
anthropomorphically, His soul. Through the kue of the shofar we evoke
Hashem's compassion. The rest of the year, we speak to Hashem, but it does
not necessarily register, for we may not have merited that He should listen.
On Rosh Hashona, Hashem in His mercy gives us the kue of the shofar, which
always registers. With the kgnnhektekj - the G-dliness within
us, through the shofar, we connect to Hashem on a level which is impossible
to reach throughout the year. This is the notion that the shofar is
ohbpkuhbpk - the Holy of Holies, the place which the Kohain Gadol entered
only once a year in order to attain a level of connection to Hashem which
was otherwise impossible. Through the shofar we can all attain that closeness.
1.Rosh Hashona 26a 2.Ibid. 3.Braishis 2:7 4.Ramban Ibid jpbvhkhsnjpbsitn
-The One who blew, blew from Himself. It must be noted that any discussion
of Hashem's essence is purely anthropomorphic. It is not within the realm of
man to understand Hashem's essence.