For the past month and a half, lives of observant Jews have revolved around one particular expression – that being tshuva, meaning, in broad terms, repentance. For an entire month prior to the New Year, Rosh HaShana, special prayers are recited, Torah classes are held, and personal acts of introspection permeate our existence. This, of course, culminates on the holiest day of the year, that being tomorrow, Yom Kippur. On this day we beseech G-d to forgive our wrongdoings, be they between man and the Good L-rd, or between man and his fellowman.
It's much easier to face G-d and ask for forgiveness from Him. In our silent prayers, be they formal or informal, we can confess to our human errors and plead for Divine clemency. G-d doesn’t wait for once in four years to sign executive orders granting pardons. It's something that can be done every day, every minute or every second of every day. And especially on Yom Kippur when we forgo just about all elements of our physical lives, abstaining from food and other earthly pleasures, to immerse ourselves in total spirituality, as much as we humanly can.
It's much more difficult to ask forgiveness from our fellow man. Admitting mistakes to a friend, co-worker, boss or employee, or to a close family member isn't always easy. Sometimes, actually, it's very hard. But that's what this day's all about. G-d cannot grant forgiveness for issues between two people until they settle the problem themselves.
However this is just one aspect of tshuva and forgiveness. There's at least one other side (probably more).
The ideal of forgiving is not only a personal commitment. It is also a national obligation. Keep in mind that the word 'tshuva' literally means 'return.' In a religious sense, 'returning' from the wrong paths we've taken, and this time around, turning down the right road of holiness and purity.
Exactly fourteen years ago, following election of Yitzhak Rabin, Israel began formally negotiating with Yassir Arafat and the PLO. Those talks led to Oslo. That curse, still with us today, has led to the murders of almost 2,000 people, in cold blood.
Oslo led to the Hebron Accords, which divided the city, abandoning over 80% of Hebron to the Palestinian authority. Exactly eight years ago, these accords led to shooting attacks on Hebron from the hills Israel 'gave' to our enemy. The shooting continued for two years. Dozens of people in the Hebron region and over a thousand Jews throughout Israel were killed during this war.
Oslo and Hebron led to Gush Katif. Almost 10,000 people expelled from their homes, and countless rockets fired into Israel from the land Israel abandoned to our enemies.
A short time after the 'other side' of Hebron was vacated by Israeli security forces in favor of armed terrorists in uniform by then Defense Minister Fuad ben Eliezer in the fall of 2002, then Hebron Brigade commander, Col. Dror Weinberg held a meeting with a group of local civilian security leaders. During that meeting, on a Friday morning in November, Col. Weinberg warned that terrorists were planning a major attack, but that little more information was available. That night, Col. Dror Weinberg and eleven other men were killed during the attack he had discussed earlier that same day.
Yesterday, speaking to a group of mostly Swedish youth at the 1929 memorial room in Beit Hadassah, I told them that history has to be learned from. In August, 1929 the Jewish leadership in Hebron believed that their Arab neighbors would shield them from any attacks, protecting them from harm's way. That leadership was wrong. That mistake cost 67 lives and the expulsion of Hebron's surviving Jewish population from the city.
Then the Hebron accords were signed, Israeli military officers said straight out that 'our security is dependent on cooperation from the PA.' We know exactly where that cooperation led; to Jewish cemeteries, widows and orphans. And national disgrace.
A week ago outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, once mayor of Jerusalem, in a broad newspaper interview, expressed his opinion that Israel must 'give back' just about all of Judea and Samaria, including East Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights, in exchange for peace.
As we approach Yom Kippur, we have received solid information that Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Central Command General Gadi Shamni want to do it again. Give it another chance. 'Return' the 'other side' of Hebron to PA terrorists in uniform. They believe that Fatah forces are preferable to Hamas. (Achikam Amichai and David Rubin from Kiryat Arba were killed just over a half a year ago by Fatah 'palestinian police.)
According to the information we have, some of which was published yesterday on ynet and more today in the Jerusalem Post, a meeting is to take place on October 15, a week from today, between very high ranking Israeli security officers, including the head of the Civil Administration and also possibly General Noam Tivon (former Hebron military commander, serving in Hebron at the beginning of the 'Olso War' aka the Second Intifada), presently commander of forces in Judea and Samaria. During this meeting it is quite likely that details of transfer of security responsibility from Israel to the PA in over 80% of Hebron will be discussed and finalized.
This is, I guess, in their opinion, Tshuva – returning. Not returning to G-d's ways, not returning to Eretz Yisrael and Israeli national pride. Rather, returning to the same mistakes made time and time again, leading to Israel blood being shed, to cemeteries and mourning.
I also believe in the necessity to 'do Tshuva.' And this is what I try to express to groups I meet here in Hebron, especially when they are youth. I tell them that must do Tshuva – no, not necessarily 'religious' tshuva, keeping Shabbat and Kashrut. Rather I encourage them to fulfill another kind of tshuva – of coming home, of making Aliyah, of returning to their Homeland, coming to live here in Eretz Yisrael, in the State of Israel.
I firmly believe that there is no more significant act that a Jew can do today than such tshuva, returning home to our Land. This is real Tshuva – not the kind espoused by Barak and Olmert, Shamni and Tivon. Keep in mind that had Gush Katif been filled with 50,000 people, that process of expulsion could never have begun. So too in all of Judea and Samaria. The secret to our remaining in these regions is dependent on Tshuva, on Jews coming back, from all over the world, coming home to our ancient homeland. When there are a half a million Jews in Yesha, there won't be anything to talk about. This should be our number one goal: Tshuva – not only for a month and half of the year, but every day of the entire year. This is what Am Yisrael needs today, more than anything else.
On behalf of the entire Hebron extended family, please accept our wishes for a Shana Tova, a good and happy New Year, for a 'Gmar Chatima Tova, for an easy fast, and for a quick and successful fulfillment of the mitzvah of Tshuva, coming home to Eretz Yisrael.