September 25th-26th, 1998
6 Tishrei, 5759
During these 10 Days of Teshuva between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, it is a good idea to
try to devote a little more time than usual to spiritual matters. Rabbeinu Yonah, in his
ethical masterwork, Sha'arei Teshuvah (Gates of Repentance), writes that if a person would
be brought to judgment before an earthly king, he would be terror-stricken; he would cease
from all his normal, worldly activities in order to occupy himself with his defense.
Therefore, as we approach the day of Yom Kippur, when the King of Kings will seal our
fate, should we not be as concerned?
"It befits everyone who fears G-d to curtail his activities
[during the 10 Days of Repentance], to be fearful in his mind, to set aside times in the
daytime and in the evening to be alone in his chambers and to search and investigate his
ways...to busy himself in the ways of repentance and in the perfection of his deeds, to
pour forth his plaint, present prayer and song, and make supplication, the time being one
of acceptance, in which prayer is attended to..." (p. 97, Silverstein
That seems like a tall order. Perhaps we'll fall short of the intensity of
penitential service that Rabbeinu Yonah advises.
But whatever we do, we should make some effort to introspect and take stock of our souls,
to increase prayer and charity and the performance of good deeds. The point is not
to try to fool Hashem (!)--or ourselves--into thinking we're (suddenly) saintly
individuals; we're just trying to show, through actions, that we sincerely wish to
improve, that we hope to come closer to Hashem than we have been in the past.
Just showing some concern about Hashem's judgment -- even if one is not feeling tremendous
fear or anxiety--is an important step, a definite merit for our souls. It
demonstrates, at least, the intellectual acceptance of the gravity of these Days of Awe,
and of the necessity to
And, eventually, the feeling will come -- to one extent or other--from the action, for it
is an axiom in Torah thought (and a central point, l'havdil, in much modern psychology)
that the external awakens the internal: behave as if these days are weighty, and you will
come to feel their weight. Behave as if your judgment will be sealed in just a few
days, and you may begin to feel some apprehension -- healthy apprehension -- about your
Introspection. Sounds good and serious, sounds noble...but we'll never do it.
So, let's simplify and concretize (and I'll try to follow my own advice): set aside five
minutes before Shabbos to think about some of the major transgressions we've been guilty
of, either in our relationship to Hashem or in our dealings with our fellow men. Try
to feel--scrounge up, if need be--some degree of remorse, verbally confess before G-d, and
resolve sincerely (without a vow) not to commit them again. Voila--you've just done
the three steps of teshuvah. You'll be ready for Yom Kippur, when (hopefully) all
three steps will be repeated. If the transgression involved another person,
however, we need to appease him or her before our teshuvah is complete; hence the practice
of asking people for mechilah (forgiveness) during these
days...before Yom Kippur.
If five minutes before Shabbos is not convenient, how about five minutes before one of
your meals on Shabbos...or before bed on Saturday night...or while in the car on the way
to work? We all have spent at least five minutes in the past week reading or thinking
about the fate of the President, the baseball home run showdown, and sundry other pressing
topics in the news. Can we not give equal air time to our neshamos?
Every Little Bit Helps. That's a rule that applies to performance of mitzvos in
general, and certainly to our efforts during the 10 Days of Teshuvah. And in truth,
no amount is little in spiritual terms.
"Return (Shuvah), O Israel, to Hashem, your G-d, for you have stumbled through your
This is the first verse of the Haftarah this Shabbos, taken from the prophet, Hosea; the
special designation of this Sabbath as Shabbos Shuvah stems from its first word. The
S'fas Emes explains that the prophet is addressing every member of the Jewish people: even
someone who has sinned greatly before G-d, he continues, has to believe
"...that the essential Jewish spark that is in him remains in its place."
His sin was merely a "stumbling," a spirit of foolishness that does not
extinguish the pure and holy neshamah.
"Assyria shall not save us; we will not ride the [Egyptian] horse; nor will we ever
again call our handiwork 'our gods'...," Hosea writes (Artscroll translation). The
essence of teshuvah, the S'fas Emes writes, is to abandon all external props and "to
bind oneself to the quintessential G-dly lifeforce" that is within oneself. To
connect with one's
truest and deepest self, in other words. To get back in touch with one's soul.
There is no better time to do that, he writes, than on Shabbos, the day on which all
creation is elevated, and on which we are given an extra spiritual capacity (neshamah
May Hashem help us truly take advantage of this most special day of elevation, Shabbos
Shuvah, and of the remaining Days of Repentance besides to find ourselves...and may we all
be sealed in the Book of Life on Yom Kippur.
AND SHANAH TOVAH!!!
Insights Into Genesis
Insights Into Exodus
Edelstein is Director of the Savannah Kollel/ Savannah Torah Education Project. Phone:
fax: 354-9923; e-mail address: Yosef18@aol.com
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