Friday, October 7, 2016

Teshuva Beyond Teshuva

This week the Haftora begins with the words Shuva Yisrael, therefore, we call this Shabbos, Shabbos Shuva. Some call it Shabbos Teshuva, because it is in The Ten Days of Teshuva.

The Haftora begins, "Return Yisrael until Havaya Elokecha, (Hashem your G-d) for you have stumbled because of your sins. Take with you words and return to Hashem..."

Why are we reading this now after the teshuva of the month of Elul, and after The Day of Judgment, Rosh Hashanah, on which we were certainly forgiven and granted a good year, and especially with the shofar blowing, which symbolizes Hashem's acceptance of us, as He becomes our King for another year? What does it mean, that we should return, "until" Hashem your G-d, shouldn't it say, "to" Hashem your G-d? Why is it that after the first verse says "return until Hashem," the second verse says "Take with you words and return to Hashem," what is the second verse adding to the first?

Another question. The terms used in these verses seem off. Throughout the books of the prophets, there are two names that are used to mean the Jewish people, Yaakov and Yisrael. Yaakov, the lower name, refers to the Jewish people when they are not so perfect. The name Yaakov, is from the word akaiv, which means a heel, suggesting a lower level. Yisrael, the higher name, refers to the Jewish people when they are righteous. The name Yisrael, is made up of the words li rosh, which means I have a head, head suggests a higher level. Here in our verse, Hoshea, refers to us as Yisrael, the higher name and tells us to return to Hashem. If we are Yisrael, we are already close to Hashem, why do we need to return? And if we are Yisrael, how do the words, "for you have stumbled because of your sins," make sense, what kind of sins does righteous Yisrael have? On the other hand, if we do need to return, why does he call us Yisrael?

While there are many answers to these questions, I will try to answer them in the context of the time we are in, The Ten Days of Teshuva.

It is true, when Shabbos Shuva comes around, we are already forgiven for our sins, we are at the level of Yisrael. However, here we are talking about a higher level of teshuva.

The most basic teshuva, is to correct blemishes in our relationship with Hashem that were caused by committing sins, specifically, breaking one of the 365 negative Commandments. This is fixing the physical infractions, as mitzvahs are all done with the physical. This is what the teshuva of the month of Elul, and Rosh Hashanah accomplishes.

A higher level of teshuva, is on a spiritual and intellectual level. Once the faults have been corrected, we are at the level of Yisrael. However, Hashem wants us to come closer, a relationship that is just about not doing anything wrong, is not much of a relationship. He wants us to know Him, through the study of Torah, and spiritually get closer through learning and meditating on the esoteric teachings of the Torah. This is the meaning of, "until Hashem your G-d," until you see Havaya as Elokecha.

Every name of Hashem has different meaning and purpose. The name Havaya is the life force of all existence, spiritual and physical. However, it is so holy, that the physical world would cease to exist if exposed to its revelation. The name Elokim, which Elokecha is the same, allows the physical world to exist, by acting as a shield which filters the energy from the name Havaya making the physical world possible, and it seems, as if, it is the strength and the life force of existence.

This is why the Torah starts with, "In the beginning, Elokim created the heavens and the earth." Because it is the name Elokim that makes creation possible.

To return until Havaya Elokecha, is to get to such a spiritual closeness to Hashem, that the creative energy of Havaya becomes revealed to you, and you begin to see Havaya as your life force. This revelation can only be attained through reaching a point where you cease to exist. In other words, it is all about Hashem.

This is why we proclaim at the closing of Yom Kippur, Havaya hu ho'Elokim. Because at that point we attain the higher level of teshuva.

Now you can understand why it says "for you have stumbled because of your sins." Because for someone who is at that high level of spirituality and doesn't reach for the deeper connection, where Havaya is Elokecha, it is akin to a sin.

During The High Holidays we are inspired and attain this spiritual high. Once you reach this high level, it is easy to fall back once the inspiration is gone. This is what the second verse adds, "Take with you words and return to Hashem." it is not enough to reach the high level, but you have to be able to retain it after the inspiration is gone. What this verse is asking of us, is to internalize the spiritual level attained so you can take it with you once the excitement is gone.

We see this idea later in the Haftora, "for the paths of Hashem are straight, the righteous will walk in them, and the wicked will stumble in them." A path is meant to take you to a place, the goal is the place not the path. The inspiration and excitement are the path to the goal, to be one with Hashem. When we use the inspiration to get close to Hashem we remain close when the inspiration is gone. However, when we make the inspiration and excitement the goal we stumble, because naturally inspiration and excitement dissipate, and when it does, the connection is lost.

May we experience this high level of teshuva, and become one with Hashem. May we come to a time when seeing Havaya in Elokim, seeing Havaya in creation is the norm, which will happen with the coming of Moshiach. As the verse says about the time of Moshiach, "For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of Havaya, like the water covers the sea. May it happen soon.


  1. Thank you again Rabbi Yitzi for your weekly messages. Always beautiful, always inspiring!
    May you and your family have a g'mar chatima tova and a gut gabenched yur! May Hashem answer all your prayers and bring to us all the complete redemption with Mashiach's coming very, very soon!

  2. Rav Yitzi just wanted to tell you that we've thinking and praying for you all Yom Kippur long here on the east coast! May you have a yeshua and geulah very soon with all Am Yisrael!