With Rosh Hashanah right around the corner, we are all busy making our preparations for the new year. Chief amongst these preparations is Teshuvah, our main goal for the Aseres Yimei Teshuvah, where we look back at our actions of the past year and commit to changing our ways and so earn Hashem’s forgiveness for our sins. This seems straightforward, but if you think about it, it is difficult to process. It is unbelievable that with all of our past sins, whether ours from this past year or all the sins which have caused the Jewish People no amount of pain and anguish throughout history, they can be erased just like that! However, that is exactly what Teshuvah is.
Not by coincidence, the parshiyos of Nitzavim and Vayeilech, which discuss the concept of Teshuvah more than any other parshah, always come out in the weeks surrounding Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. One of the concepts discussed is this inconceivability of how Teshuvah is possible. The pesukim in Parshas Nitzavim say, “וְהָיָה כִי יָבֹאוּ עָלֶיךָ כָּל הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה הַבְּרָכָה וְהַקְּלָלָה אֲשֶׁר נָתַתִּי לְפָנֶיךָ וַהֲשֵׁבֹתָ אֶל לְבָבֶךָ בְּכָל הַגּוֹיִם אֲשֶׁר הִדִּיחֲךָ יְ־הֹוָ־ה אֱלֹהֶיךָ שָׁמָּה. וְשַׁבְתָּ עַד יְ־הֹוָ־ה אֱלֹהֶיךָ וְשָׁמַעְתָּ בְקֹלוֹ כְּכֹל אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי מְצַוְּךָ הַיּוֹם אַתָּה וּבָנֶיךָ בְּכָל לְבָבְךָ וּבְכָל נַפְשֶׁךָ. וְשָׁב יְ־הֹוָ־ה אֱלֹהֶיךָ אֶת שְׁבוּתְךָ וְרִחֲמֶךָ וְשָׁב וְקִבֶּצְךָ מִכָּל הָעַמִּים אֲשֶׁר הֱפִיצְךָ יְ־הֹוָ־ה אֱלֹהֶיךָ שָׁמָּה." “It will be that when all these things come upon you- the blessing and the curse…then you will take it to your heart among all the nations where Hashem, your God, has dispersed you; and you will return to Hashem…Then Hashem, your God, will return your captivity and have mercy upon you and He will gather you in from all the peoples to where Hashem, your God, has scattered you.”(30:1-3). The Kli Yakar points out that in Pasuk 1 it says, “אֲשֶׁר הִדִּיחֲךָ” “(among all the nations where Hashem) has dispersed you”. While in Pasuk 3, it says, “אֲשֶׁר הֱפִיצְךָ” “(He will gather you from all the peoples to where Hashem) has scattered you”. What is the difference in the language of these two words?
He explains that the word “הִדִּיחֲך” refers to being driven away from doing mitzvos, while the word “הֱפִיצְך” refers to being driven away from Eretz Yisrael. He then explains how to read these three pesukim. When the klalos (curses) start to take effect because of your sins, you will begin to think in your heart, “אֲשֶׁר הִדִּיחֲךָ יְ־הֹוָ־ה”, that Hashem has pushed you away not only from Eretz Yisrael, but from all the mitzvos. Why would you think this? Because of all the mitzvos associated with Eretz Yisrael. If Hashem has pushed us out of Eretz Yisrael, he must not want us to do mitzvos! Without mitzvos, we are completely lost with no way to come back! If only we could continue doing mitzvos and return to Eretz Yisrael! That’s when the pasuk tells us “וְשַׁבְתָּ עַד יְ־הֹוָ־ה אֱלֹהֶיךָ”, you will return to Hashem merely by having that thought in your heart that you want to come back. Even without doing any action, you are on the way back. This is the first step to Teshuvah, actually wanting to repent. Then Hashem tells us that what he really did was “הֱפִיצְך” he drove us away from Eretz Yisrael, which is the best place to do mitzvos. That was our punishment for sinning, not losing the opportunity to do mitzvos, but rather the ability to perform every single mitzvah, and while there are mitzvos that we can do, we still can’t do them in the place most suited for them. So even though Hashem wants us to do mitzvos outside of Eretz Yisrael, we must work to get back there in order to do them properly.
We see from here that Teshuvah is indeed a very real and simple concept. We must only make it our intention to repent and the whole thing takes off from there. The pasuk says clearly that all we need is to think in our hearts how great it would be to do mitzvos again and Hashem already puts us on the fast track to repentance. To further illustrate this point, the pasuk later says, “כִּי קָרוֹב אֵלֶיךָ הַדָּבָר מְאֹד בְּפִיךָ וּבִלְבָבְךָ לַעֲשֹׂתוֹ” “Rather, it is very close to you, in your mouth and in your heart, to perform it.”(30:14). Some Commentaries say that this pasuk is talking about the Torah but the Ramban and others it is talking about Teshuvah. We see from this pasuk something amazing, not only is Teshuvah very close and easy to reach, the very words we need are already placed inside our mouths! And if you need even more proof to how possible it is, we have the Ramban in Pasuk 6 who explains, “וּמָל יְ־הֹוָ־ה אֱלֹהֶיךָ אֶת לְבָבְךָ” “Hashem will circumcise your heart”, the desire to do bad is like a foreskin on your heart. When a person shows his complete desire to do good, Hashem removes this foreskin like in circumcision, letting a person do mitzvos without being enticed to do Aveiros. This idea will only be complete in the times of Mashiach but we see from this pasuk that it also applies to a certain degree by Teshuvah.
One of my biggest regrets from these parshiyos as well as Parshas Haazinu is that since they come out during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the ideas found in them end up getting lost in the shuffle, especially what I consider a big part of these parshiyos, they are the last parshiyos where Moshe Rabbeinu is giving over Torah and Mussar to Bnei Yisrael. I would like to include a vort which we said last year from Parshas Vayeilech which is both about Teshuvah and also shows us how much we would miss Moshe after we went into Eretz Yisrael.
In the first pasuk in Parshas Vayeilech (31:1) it says, “וַיֵּלֶךְ מֹשֶׁה וַיְדַבֵּר אֶת הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה אֶל כָּל יִשְׂרָאֵל” “Moshe went and spoke these words to all of Yisrael”. Rashi’s comments on this pasuk consist of a repeat of the first two words of the pasuk “וַיֵּלֶךְ מֹשֶׁה”, and that’s all. The first question is, where exactly did Moshe go? He was talking to the whole nation at the end of Nitzavim, so where did he go in-between Nitzavim and Vayeilech that the pasuk says he went? Secondly, what is Rashi trying to teach us by repeating the first two words of the pasuk with no extra comment? Lastly, the next pasuk says, “וַיֹּאמֶר אֲלֵהֶם בֶּן מֵאָה וְעֶשְׂרִים שָׁנָה אָנֹכִי הַיּוֹם לֹא אוּכַל עוֹד לָצֵאת וְלָבוֹא” “He said to them, I am 120 years old today; I can no longer go out and come in”(31:2). Rashi comments, what does it mean that he could no longer go out and in? It can’t mean that he was old, for the pasuk later in Vesos Habrachah says that until the day he died, Moshe did not lose any of his strength? It must mean that Hashem had taken away his authority as leader, passed it over to Yehoshua (Joshua), his successor, and Moshe no longer had the authority to come and go from Hashem as he pleased. The question is that these Rashis are written out of order. There are three comments on this pasuk from Rashi. This Rashi, which should be the second one out of the three on this pasuk, is the first one written! Why?
The answer is like this: at this point in his life, Moshe had nothing to worry about. He was one of the greatest people to ever live! He didn’t have to waste time running around rounding up Bnei Yisrael, he could very easily have blown the trumpets that signaled a meeting and everyone would have come! How come he went to gather everyone? Moshe was teaching us that we should constantly be moving. Always moving up, always moving forward. We have to be proactive in our quest to do teshuvah and become better people. Rashi teaches us this by focusing on the first two words in the pasuk which make all the difference to us, “וַיֵּלֶךְ מֹשֶׁה”. These words show us that Moshe was going around giving over his last lessons to everyone, since he knew he didn’t have too much time left. Rashi therefore puts the comment of why he couldn’t go in and out first to show us that Moshe knew he was about to die. Hashem had even stripped him of his leadership authority! So as quick as he could, he went around to teach as much as possible in his last few days. He still had the chance to make sure the Jewish people would keep the Torah and he took it.
May we use these next two weeks wisely, for Teshuvah, for Tefillah, for Tzedakah. Rosh Hashanah is almost here, let this be the year that the decree for Geulah is sealed.