Teshuva
Teshuva Nati Shochat Flash 90

Adapted by Channie Koplowitz Stein

The language in two of the verses most often quoted as sources for doing teshuvah mirror each other. The first is in the Torah, in Parshat Nitzavim. Hashem is concluding His covenant with Bnei Yisroel, and Moshe has just related the blessings Bnei Yisroel will receive for following Hashem's Torah and mitzvoth, and the curses should Bnei Yisroel neglect them. But even when Am Yisroel has sinned and strayed from the righteous path, Hashem wants them to return and rebuild the relationship. "Veshavta ad Hashem Elokhecha.../ And you will return [up]to Hashem your God..."

The second verse is from the Prophet Hoshea, from the reading each year on Shabbat Shuvah, "Shuvah Yisroel ad Hashem Elokhecha.../Return Yisroel [up]to Hashem your God..." Both of these verses point to the great heights we can achieve. We can come so close to Hakodosh Boruch Hu that we are in the presence of His Throne of Glory. Teshuvah is not achieved in a tremendous jump, but by a step by step process that brings us closer to Hashem. This goal of coming closer to Hashem, rather than fear of punishment should be the actual goal of teshuvah, teaches the Sifsei Chaim.

There are two interconnected negative results of sinning. First, the sinner has hurt himself and deserves punishment, and he has also angered the Ribbono shel olam and distanced himself from Him by acting against His wishes. The teshuvah process requires working on both these aspects. Indeed, we refer to these two aspects in our daily Shemoneh Esrei: "Hashevenu Avinu leToratecha, vekorveinu Malkeinu la'avodotecha/Bring us back, our Father, to Your Torah, and bring us near, our King, to your service." This twofold process results in, "Vehachazireinu betshuvah sheleimah lefonecha/ And influence us to return in perfect/complete repentance before You."

Our neshamot/souls come directly from God, a manifestation of the Godliness within us. To concretize that idea for human understanding, our Sages create an image of God's Throne of Glory, underneath which is a treasure chest filled with human souls. Each time a baby is born, Hashem takes one of His precious souls and implants it in the human body.

Continuing the symbolism, the Sifsei Chaim teaches that when we act in ways consistent with Hashem's commands, we are building a "throne" for Hashem's presence on earth. When we sin, we have distanced ourselves from Hashem, in essence, walking away from the throne-building project. When we do teshuvah, we are reorienting ourselves to work on our mission to bring Hashem's presence down to the world.

Every person needs to know what his particular mission in life is, the work he is most drawn to. Often this is a major, lifelong goal. But in the process, writes Rabbi Eisenberg in Messilot Bilvovom, one must also look for daily opportunities to work on oneself and to bring Hashem closer to this world. Multiple times in striking the covenant with Bnei Yisroel, Hashem emphasizes the word hayom/this day. While you continue work toward your major life's calling, don't ignore the daily opportunities Hashem presents you with each day, steps toward the overarching goal of bringing Hashem closer.

Hashem has wired each of us with multiple connections and outlets to take our appropriate place in the world. Man's purpose is in both asei tov and sur meira, do good and distance yourself from evil. Each day Hashem gives us many opportunities to work on these, but we must open our eyes to see. Do we notice the person struggling with packages so that we can offer to help? Do we notice the confusion or sadness of a friend, neighbor, or even a passing individual and offer an encouraging word?

These are examples of doing good.

Conversely, when we find ourselves in situations that can become confrontational, do we see a challenge to improve, to refrain from anger, whether someone is cutting you off in traffic or on a checkout line?

This is work to distance ourselves from evil.

In the second paragraph of Shema, Hashem again promises us blessings for listening and following His laws, and warns us of the consequences of distancing ourselves from Him, concluding with, "In order to prolong your days... upon the Land... kiyemei hashomayim al ha'aretz/like the days of heaven over the earth." In Sichot Hitchazkut, Rabbi Zvi Meir Zilberberg gives a beautiful interpretation of this verse. He posits that "the days of heaven upon the earth," is not a reference only to eternity. Rather, he suggests that there is a vision of our day in heaven that mirrors our day on earth. Our challenge is to align how we act on earth so that it aligns with the image in heaven and does not distort it.

The neshamah down here retains a vision of the Throne of Glory and can recreate a similar place for Hashem's glory on earth. When I access that vision, I've done teshuvah, returning the Godly part of me closer to its Source and reconnecting with the Creator.

Rabbi Kluger clarifies this point. In My Sole Desire, Rabbi Kluger points out that chet/sin is rooted in chet/missing the mark on a target. The target is returning to Hashem. When we sin, we are missing that target. To meet the mark, Hashem customizes my daily experiences and difficulties to be in perfect balance to be both challenging and doable so that I can grow and come closer to Him, adds Rabbi Elias in Ani Maamin.

Every person has a yearning and desire to serve Hashem. The yetzer horo takes that longing and diverts it from the spiritual aspect to the mundane, writes Rabbi Friedlander. We have to bring our soul back to its Source. Do I dream about doing chesed and find that it has been diverted from helping the poor into working for organizations devoted to purely mundane interests, perhaps?

If we recognize our status as sons and daughters of the King, we will not be satisfied with the food of peasants. We will look to feed our souls a gourmet menu of delicacies. When I become focused on the spiritual delicacies of life, and the physical and mundane remain peripheral necessities, I become closer to Hakodosh Boruch Hu.

This is what it means, continues the Sifsei Chaim, when we confess, "Al chet shechatanu lefonecha..../ for the sins that I have sinned before You..." I have sinned because I ignored You and was insensitive to Your presence. We are before Hashem wherever we are. When we are aware of that reality, we will become more sensitive to others as well. We will refrain from disturbing someone's sleep, or refrain from "seeing" them in embarrassing situations, in their physical, emotional or psychological weakness {unless we are in a position to help].

Our work is to be mindful of Hashem's presence wherever we are.

In Mesillot Bilvovom, Rabbi Eisenberg provides us with some insight into the root of our sins. Rabbi Eisenberg points to the continuation of the verse in our Haftorah, "Return... for you have stumbled in your iniquity/sin." Rabbi Eisenberg notes that iniquity/sin is in the singular. He suggests that although the "sin" manifests itself in several different actions, there is often one root cause to them all. For example, low self esteem might lead to bullying others and destroying property, while also acting in self destructive, impermissible ways. If one finds he has trouble praying effectively, does he feel unworthy of being in God's presence? Find the root cause, take on one small resolution to begin repairing the fractured relationship with Hashem. That small resolution will be your entry ticket to a Yom Kippur that can reconnect you with Hashem and be the key to the teshuvah process.

Rabbi Dessler offers us some guidelines in making these resolutions. He cautions against setting ourselves up for failure by making the resolution too broad. He suggests establishing a minimum and a manageable maximum toward the resolution. For example, if one resolves to daven with greater kavanah/focus, one is doomed to failure. Resolve at a minimum, perhaps, to recite the first of the morning blessings with focus, and at a maximum, to recite the first four blessings with focus. Then, having achieved this goal, the following year [earlier only if successful earlier] you can build on that success and add the rest of the morning blessings, moving on each year to other areas of prayer and to greater success. After several years, you would have achieved tremendous success, taking it one small step at a time.

As Rabbi Wolbe suggests, if we take on something small, the yetzer horo is less likely to notice and to try to divert us from our plan, but each positive step builds on the previous step, just as medicine is given in small, manageable doses to achieve the total cure.

May Hashem give us the wisdom, the heart and the strength to approach His heavenly Throne of Glory by taking small steps to create an earthly Throne for His presence. May this year be a year of physical and spiritual health for each of us individually, for Klal Yisroel, and for the world.