Shabbat Nitzavim 5779

Is teshuvah, repentance, easy or difficult? Your thoughts on this question will surely vary, depending on your experience. They might also vary based on what we think the Torah meant when it introduced us to teshuvah in this week’s Torah portion, Nitzavim.
Chapter 30 of Deuteronomy begins with a ten-verse section in which the word shav–return–appears seven times. Sometimes, Israel is doing the returning; sometimes, God is causing the return. It’s clear from such frequent repetition of the word that this is the core theme of this section of the Torah. What comes next? “Surely, this Instruction which I enjoin upon you today this day is not too baffling for you, nor is it beyond reach. It is not in the heavens…neither is it beyond the sea…No, the thing is very close to you, in your mouth and in your heart, to observe it” (30:11-14).
What is “this Instruction…the thing?” So often, commentators go out of their way to emphasize semihut parshiyot, the juxtaposition of passages, to underscore the connection between these words. If that kind of interpretation is utilized here, Moshe is telling Israel that teshuvah is easily within reach. But if we look at those four verses as a summary of Moshe’s long speech of “Instruction,” then it’s Torah in general–or at least the Torah of Deuteronomy–that’s simple to access, not teshuvah.
It shouldn’t surprise you to know that various thinkers in Jewish history have very different thoughts on the ease or difficulty of teshuvah. On Shabbat morning, we’ll learn about two of these thinkers, and do some thinking of our own.
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom and a Shanah Tovah,
Rabbi David Wise