A Taste of Torah – Parshas Vayeilech – Shabbos Shuva

Written by: Rabbi Avrohom S. Moller

This Shabbos we read the haftora of  שובה ישראל where the navi, Hosheah, tells us to return to Hashem as we have stumbled on our sins. The second passuk says, “Take things with you and return to Hashem, say to Him, You have borne all of our sins and even allowed the repentance words to obviate the need for atonement sacrifices.” The cryptic words of this second passuk need clarification. What “things” should we be taking? Why does the navi tell us to return to Hashem a second time? Why do we have confidence that He has forgiven all of our sins? Why don’t we need atonement sacrifices any longer?

The Malbim (Rabbi Meir Leibish Wisser, great Tanach commentator and Rabbinic leader, 1809-1879) interprets this second passuk as a description of the repentance continuum.  A very basic level of teshuva, repentance, happens when a person repents out of fear of Hashem’s might and His anger at our misdeeds. This teshuva is done because the person believes that Hashem can punish him, and he is repenting as an act of self-preservation. This is called yiras ha’onesh, fear of punishment, and it is accepted by Hashem. If a person sincerely regrets his misdeeds because he is afraid of the repercussions, the severity of his misdeeds will be downgraded to minimize his punishment. However, there is a much greater level of repentance. This is done when a person leaves his erroneous ways and comes closer to Hashem. At this point, he contemplates the terrible error of his ways because he has achieved a greater appreciation of Hashem’s greatness and kindness and he feels bad about disappointing Hashem whose closeness he seeks. This is called teshuva me’ahava, repentance out of love. The effect of this form of repentance is that it converts the misdeeds into merits (Yoma 86).

The first verse of the haftora exhorts us to return to Hashem since we have “stumbled on our sins.” This implies that our sins have begun to impact us, and we are repenting out of fear of further pain and suffering. The second verse tells us to improve the quality of our teshuva by doing positive deeds which will help us come closer to Hashem. This will lead to a higher and second type of teshuva, one based on love and awe of Hashem. We can then be confident that our sins will convert to merits and that we will no longer require atonement sacrifices since all that we have done is considered meritorious.

We are in the aseres ymei teshuvah, the ten days of repentance, a time most auspicious for repairing our relationship with Hashem through repentance, reflection, and the betterment of our ways. We add merits to create a closeness that will bring us to the next level. If we succeed, Hashem will consider the entire journey to be one of merit. May we all be inspired to achieve this level of closeness during these days of mercy and forgiveness!

Gmar Chasima Tova!