Teshuvah–repentance. It’s one of the most important concepts in all of Judaism, but you won’t find it in the Torah. Well, that’s not entirely true; in this week’s Torah portion, Nitzavim, we read the following:
“When all these things befall you…and you take them to heart amidst the various nations to which the LORD your God has banished you, and you return (veshavta) to the LORD your God, and you and your children heed His command with all your heart and soul…then the LORD your God will restore your fortunes and take you back in love. He will bring you together again from all the peoples where the LORD your God has scattered you” (Deuternomy 30:1-3).
Indeed, the verb root sh-v-b appears five times in these three verses, which are more about exile and return in a geographical sense than a spiritual one. In other words, if you come back to God, God will help you come back [to your land]. It’s a far cry from the way Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach thought of teshuvah when he wrote his song: “Return again, return again/Return to the land of your soul/Return to who you are/Return to what you are/return to where you are born and reborn again.” To Reb Shlomo, teshuvah is entirely a spiritual concept.
At Hartman this summer, I took an elective course on teshuvah as an evolving concept in the history of Jewish thought. On Shabbat morning, we’ll look at how one Hasidic master understood teshuvah, and how he reminded his disciples that it isn’t easy work. His message will be helpful to us as well in these final days of 5778, as we prepare for the season of teshuvah.
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom and Shanah Tovah,