Yeshivat Ateret Yerushalayim

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Shabbos Shuvah 5783
Rabbi Jablinowitz

The Gemara in Yoma 86B brings a contradiction in two statements of Resh Lakish regarding the power of Teshuvah. One statement of his posits that as a result of Teshuvah, one can turn a sin committed with full knowledge and awareness, Maizid, into a sin which is considered as having been committed mistakenly, Shogeg. He derives this from the first pasuk in the Haftarah this Shabbos (sefer Hoshea, Chapter 12, Pasuk 2), שובה ישראל עד ד' אלוקיך כי כשלת בעוניך. Yisrael, return to Gd, because you have stumbled in your sin. An עון is an intentional sin, yet to stumble implies a sin committed by mistake and without full awareness.

However, the Gemara brings a different statement by the same Amora, Resh Lakish, assigning even greater power to Teshuvah. Teshuvah can turn a sin committed with full awareness into a merit, a זכות. As the pasuk teaches in sefer Yechezkel (Chapter 33, Pasuk 19), ובשוב רשע מרשעתו ועשה משפט וצדקה עליהם הוא יחיה. When a wicked person returns from his evil ways and does justice and charity, he will live based on his actions. The act of Teshuvah gives him life and is a source of merit for him, and doesn’t just change the sin to a lesser infraction.

The Gemara answers that the difference between the two statements is based on the type of Teshuvah. Doing Teshuvah out of fear is not as great as doing Teshuvah out of love for Hashem. When done out of love, Teshuvah transforms the sin into an advantage and a source of blessing. But when done out of fear, there is less of a transformation; it remains a sin, but is considered like a mistake.

The Sfas Emes asks, if this is the basis for the distinction between the two Derashot, it comes out that the pasuk in Hoshea,שובה ישראל , is speaking about Teshuvah from fear, תשובה מיראה. How could it be that the Navi would implore the Jewish people to do Teshuvah, but only a lower level of Teshuvah. Surely the Navi should petition everyone to do the highest level of Teshuvah, תשובה מאהבה!

The Sfas Emes answers that it’s very difficult to go from a situation where one is involved in sin, to doing Teshuvah out of love and closeness to Hashem. The first step in Teshuvah needs to be from fear. Only after one has done the basic work of Teshuvah out of fear, is he able to do Teshuvah as a result of love and closeness to Gd.

This idea of the Sfas Emes is very similar to an idea presented by Rav Chaim M’Volozhin in his commentary on Pirkei Avos. He teaches that the Gemara in Pesachim 50B teaches לעולם יעסוק אדם בתורה ומצוות שלא לשמה שמתוך שלא לשמה בא לשמה. A person should keep Torah and mitzvos, even if his motivation isn’t pure, for ultimately it will lead to doing the mitzvos for the proper reason. He comments on the first word in the phrase, לעולם, which loosely translates as, one should always etc. It seems to suggest that this the proper path; first for the wrong reason, and then for the right reason. Otherwise, he will not be able to achieve his ultimate goal of learning for the sake of fulfilling the mitzvah. And the word לעולם also suggests to continue constantly, and then ultimately, he will achieve learning and mitzvos לשמה.

He compares this to a king telling a slave to climb a ladder. He will not expect his slave to jump to the top at once. He needs to climb up the steps one at a time. And Rav Dessler compares this analogy to the ladder in the dream of Yaakov Avinu. The Torah describes the ladder as (Bereishis, Chapter 28, Pasuk 12),  סולם מוצב ארצה וראשו מגיע השמימה. The ladder is placed on the ground, but the top goes up to the heavens. This describes our life in this world. The bottom of the ladder is firmly on the ground, in the physical reality of this world. We need to start climbing, even if the reason isn’t pure. But ultimately, we can reach beyond this world and up to the heavens. We can reach the level of doing mitzvos with no ulterior motive, just to serve Hashem.

The Sfas Emes teaches the same idea by Teshuvah. First, we need to do Teshuvah out of fear of being punished, like the slave to the master who is climbing the ladder. And he compares this work to the six days of the week, the physical reality of Olam Hazeh, just as the ladder is place firmly on the ground.

And the ability to do Teshuvah out of love, for pure reasons and closeness to Hashem, takes place on Shabbos. And this is because on Shabbos we have a taste of life on a higher plane, like Rav Dessler’s comparison to the top of the ladder reaching the heavens. And the Sfas Emes adds, that this ability to do תשובה מאהבה, is a gift from Hashem. Just as the נשמה יתירה is a gift from Hashem, as the word יתירה indicates that it’s not earned, but something additional given to us, so too is the ability to reach this highest level of Teshuvah. A soul which is totally untouched by sin enables us to reach this level of closeness. But it depends on our work during the week. Just as Rav Chaim M’Volozhin teaches that we need to keep at doing mitzvos for impure reasons in order to reach pure intentions, so too the more we work on the lower level of Teshuvah during the week, we will be able to achieve purity of Teshuvah on Shabbos.

The Litvishe custom is to refer to this Shabbos as Shabbos Shuvah, after the first word of the Haftarah. The Chasidish custom is to refer to this Shabbos as Shabbos Teshuvah. This is because, as the Sfas Emes explains, Teshuvah is fundamental to Shabbos. Shabbos is part of the process; we need the closeness to Hashem achieved on Shabbos in order to reach level of Teshuvah from love, where זדונות become זכויות.

Good Shabbos and Gemar Chasima Tova  



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