As we near the end of Elul, we should be ramping up our efforts at doing teshuvah, rectifying our errors and setting ourselves on the proper path for the future. This week’s parsha of Nitzovim is enlightening and helpful in our quest.
The posuk states (30:1-10) that when the brachos and the klalos that were described previously will befall Am Yisroel, which will find itself in golus among the nations, the Jewish people shall do teshuvah and return to Hashem. When that happens, Hashem will have mercy on them and gather them in from the places to which He has dispersed them, and He will bring them to Eretz Yisroel. The posuk foretells that we will be blessed when we will return to Hashem wholeheartedly and properly observe all the mitzvos and chukim that are written in the Torah. Teshuvah will bring the geulah.
The pesukim continue: “This mitzvah that I command you to do today is not far removed from you. It is not in the heavens, which would cause you to wonder who could go to the heaven to fetch it and teach it to us so that we can keep it. It is also not far off overseas, which would cause you to wonder who could travel the great distance to procure it and teach it to you. Rather, it is very near to you, in your mouth and heart to observe.”
There is a dispute over which mitzvah the posuk is referring to when it says that it is easy for us to do. Rashi seems to infer that the posuk is referring to the mitzvah of Torah study. The Gemara in Eruvin (55a) clearly states that the pesukim here are referring to Torah.
However, the Ramban and the Seforno clearly state that the pesukim are referring the mitzvah of teshuvah and the pesukim are informing us that it is not that difficult to do teshuvah. Their explanation of the pesukim should be encouraging for us, especially at this time of year.
People may become overwhelmed with the thought of doing teshuvah for all their aveiros and give up before they start. Lest someone think that leaving their bad ways behind is an insurmountable feat for people like them, the Torah informs us that anyone can do teshuvah. We need not cower in fear and give up before we even begin, for the posuk promises us that we can do it.
In fact, Hakadosh Boruch Hu tells us, “Pischu li pesach kepischo shel machat va’ani eftach lochem pesach kepischo shel ulam.” If we make the first effort towards teshuvah, He will help us in our journey to complete teshuvah.
We have one week to go until Rosh Hashanah, and some of us have procrastinated to undertake what we fear is a heavy task to find our way back to where we belong. But we don’t have much more time. There are all types of things going on in our lives, and we are afraid of opening the proverbial can of worms, peering into our souls and hearts to see what is there – what drives us, what motivates us, and where we have gone wrong. We are afraid that the task is too great, so we push it off. But then, just as the deadline rapidly approaches, we encounter this week’s parsha and the Ramban and Seforno, who tell us that teshuvah is not only something that we must do, but something that is also eminently doable.
Let us set aside everything else that can wait and set our hearts and minds to do what we must to gain for ourselves a good year. Everybody wants everything to work out for them, their families, and those they care about. People expend much energy in that regard, but the most important thing that we can do is to concentrate on teshuvah. As the posuk promises, those who do teshuvah will merit the brachos of the Torah. They will also merit to be inscribed for a kesivah vachasimah tovah.
Where do we start? Rav Chaim Volozhiner in Nefesh Hachaim (4:31) and the Chasam Sofer (quoting the Shelah in Drashos Vayeilech and Shabbos Shuvah) state that teshuvah begins with – and is guided by – Torah study. Learning Torah also provides us with the ability to do teshuvah.
Thus, Rav Chaim Volozhiner says, in the tefillah of Shemoneh Esrei, in which we ask Hashem to accept our teshuvah, we begin by asking that he help us in our pursuit of Torah. The brocha begins, “Hashiveinu Avinu leSorasecha – Bring us back, dear Father, to your Torah,” and then we say, “Vehachazireinu beseshuvah sheleimah lefonecha – Bring us back to You with a complete teshuvah.”
When a person sins, he distances himself from Hashem and creates a separation. Teshuvah brings him back to Hashem. The best way to get closer to Hashem is through studying His Torah. The Torah will also empower a person to be able to undertake and succeed in teshuvah.
Additionally, Rav Yitzchok Eizik Chover writes that Torah cleanses a person’s soul from the taint of sin and fortifies him so that he won’t return to do aveiros. The Vilna Gaon’s brother, Rav Avrohom, writes that since all the positive spiritual attributes of a person emanate from Torah, it is incumbent upon a person who seeks improvement to dedicate more time to Torah.
When we learn Torah, our emunah becomes strengthened as we become closer to Hashem. Our minds become attuned to the Torah way of thinking, and we are thus able to be more successful in what we do. Since the world was created with Torah and revolves around it, the more we are connected to Torah, the better we can function in this world of ours.
Yirmiyohu Hanovi (16:11) quotes Hakadosh Boruch Hu, who said, “Osi ozovu v’es Torasi lo shomoru – Klal Yisroel has left me and they have not observed the Torah.” The Medrash adds that Hashem said, “If only they would have left Me but held on to My Torah,” they would have been okay, because “Hamaar shebah machzirom lemutav, the light of Torah would have brought them back.”
Torah is the word of Hashem. When we study it, it connects us to Him, and if we have strayed, it returns us to Him. If you want to understand the success of the Lev L’Achim kiruv organization and you wonder what its secret is, know that there is no secret. The organization’s approach to teshuvah and bringing back tens of thousands of lost Jewish souls is through strictly learning Torah with them.
Totally secular people of all ages are introduced to Torah study, and through studying Torah, they “magically” become religious. There are no philosophical discussions and no history lessons. Nothing of the sort. Just pure, unadulterated Torah, exactly as the Medrash says. And if it works for them, it can work for us. Instead of getting involved in tangled conversations, disputes and arguments with our yeitzer hora, what we need to do in the remaining time between now and the Yemei Hadin is to commit ourselves to Torah.
We need to sit down with a Chumash, Gemara, Rambam Hilchos Teshuvah, Mishnah Berurah, Mesilas Yeshorim, and Chovos Halevavos, and take everything else out of our mind and learn. The rest will follow.
When we learn Toras Hashem, we become connected with our life source and begin once again to appreciate that everything that we have is from Him. We are reminded that every aspect of our existence, including our job, car, home, bank account, environment, social standing and day-to-day accomplishments, comes from Hashem. We are reminded that Hashem created the world for us and provided us with the Torah in order to realize our purpose.
We recognize that there are many ancillary things in life that merely serve to deter us from accomplishing our mission. We begin to recognize the waste of time that so much of modern life consists of. When we learn with seriousness, we are able to separate the important from the trivial and appreciate the necessity to use our time wisely and for things that benefit us. So much of what occupies the contemporary mind and day is not only unnecessary, but is actually detrimental to living the life of a Torah Yid, the way we are meant to. During these remaining days of Elul, we should resolve to do away with things that don’t help raise our level of shemiras hamitzvos and limud haTorah.
Twice a day, during the current period, we proclaim, “Achas sho’alti mei’eis Hashem.” We have one request: “Shivti beveis Hashem,” to merit to dwell in the home of Hashem, studying His Torah, performing His mitzvos, and drawing closer to Him. Teshuvah allows that to happen.
The Rambam writes in Hilchos Teshuvah eternal, oft-quoted words. He describes the greatness of teshuvah: “Teshuvah brings close those who are distant. Yesterday he was hated before Hashem, dirty and disgusting, and today, after doing teshuvah, he is loved and sweet and close and a friend… How great teshuvah is. Yesterday the sinner was separated from Hashem… He shouted out in prayer and wasn’t answered… He performed mitzvos and they were ripped in his face… And today, following his teshuvah, he is connected to the Shechinah… He calls out to Hashem and is answered… He performs mitzvos and they are accepted with joy…”
The Rambam refers to this week’s parsha and the pesukim with which we began our discussion. He tells us, “All the nevi’im commanded the Jewish people to repent and do teshuvah. And Klal Yisroel will only be redeemed at the End of Days in the merit of their teshuvah. And the Torah has foretold that at the end of their exile, the people will do teshuvah and then will be immediately redeemed.”
May we all merit to do teshuvah and return to Hashem’s embrace and be granted a kesivah vachasimah tovah and merit the geulah sheleimah very quickly.