Mamar in Likkutei Torah “Shuvah Yisrael…”

 “Shuvah Yisrael…”

[Likkutei Torah p. 64a]

The Mamarim of Shabbos Shuvah expound on the heading of the Haftorah for this Shabbos, which begins with the words “Shuvah Yisrael.” The main theme of the Ten Days of Repentance is the Avoda of Teshuvah. During these ten days, we are told that Hashem is exceptionally close to each Jew and the opportunity for reconciliation with Hashem and subsequent atonement is offered to all. While the basic definition of Teshuvah is simply to regret sin, and forgo one’s evil ways, the Chassidic teachings reveal a deeper meaning behind this Avoda. In the words of the Chassidic masters, beginning with the Baal Shem Tov: “Teshuvah is not just for sinners, but even for Tzaddikim.” Accordingly, even a Tzaddik is required to perform Teshuvah, as the Avoda of Teshuvah is not just to repent for sins but to return from a distance that has divided man from G-d. Although this division may not necessarily be due to the fault of one’s actions, but simply a byproduct of the natural order of Creation, nonetheless, regardless of the cause, each Jew is asked to return to G-d, to break this division, and once again invite Him to the inner depths of his heart and soul. This is the form of Teshuvah requested from a Jew during the Ten Days of Repentance, in addition to the aforementioned basic level of Teshuvah, which demands the regret of evil deeds and improvement of one’s behavior.  

Explorations of the Mamar

1.      What is the meaning of the verse Shuvah Yisrael?

2.      Why is one required to return to G-d, if G-d is found everywhere and is not distanced from anyone?

3.      Which common aspects do Shabbos and Teshuvah share?

4.      How is Teshuvah relevant even for complete Tzaddikim?

5.      What is the true purpose of Teshuvah?

The Question:

The verse states, “Shuvah Yisrael Ad Havayah Elokecha/Return, Israel, until Hashem your G-d.” Why does the verse state “until Hashem your G-d,” when it should have said “towards Hashem your G-d”? Also, what is the difference between the term Yisrael, which is used in the verse, and the term Yaakov? Furthermore, what is the meaning of the verse Shuvah Yisrael, as the word Shuvah can connote different meanings? Is it a command for the Jewish people to repent, or is it a declarative affirmation stating that Hashem will return us to Him? To understand this matter, we must first introduce the general concept of returning to Hashem.

Hashem is near during the Ten Days of Repentance:

The verse states, “Dirshu Hashem Bihimatzo, Karuhu Bihiyoso Karov/Search for Hashem when He is found, call Him when He is close.” The Sages expound that this verse refers to the Ten Days of Repentance. Seemingly, the entire concept of Hashem being close to us during certain times is puzzling, as Hashem is ubiquitous, fills the entire Heavens and earth, and there is no place that is devoid of Him. From the perspective of man, the concept of telling him to “return to G-d” is fully applicable, for he has sinned and veered from the G-dly path and must now re-align himself in an effort to bridge the gap caused by his iniquities. However, from G-d’s perspective, how can one say that He is distanced most of the time and only during certain days is He close, if in truth He fills the entire earth, always? The explanation is that the closeness referred to in the verse is not of a geographical nature, Heaven forbid. Rather, it is of an emotional closeness and bonding. It is similar to two men who are in very close physical proximity to each other, but nevertheless can still be quite distant. When facing each other, they are truly close, but if one turns his back on the other, they are then worlds apart. When a person commits a sin, it causes a similar effect to two close friends turning away from each other, as will be explained.


Sin causes one to receive from the external aspects of spirituality:

Regarding idolatry, the Torah states, “And you strayed and served other gods.” Chassidus explains that the word “other” is written as “Achuraim/back,” because idol worship, as well as the performance of any sin for that matter, causes one to nurture from the external levels of holiness. In other words, one is no longer able to receive life force from the internal aspects of Holiness. This is the distance that is created through sin, and one is hence required, through repentance, to tap back into the internal flow of G-dliness. In fact, one of the differences between the soul of a Jew and that of an angel is that the angels derive from the external aspect of G-dliness, G-d’s speech, while the Jewish soul enjoys an internal connection with Hashem, deriving from G-d’s thought. This connection can be damaged, Heaven forbid, through sin, which causes distance between the soul and Hashem. What remains now to be understood is the meaning of the internal and external levels of Holiness, their purpose and identity.

A Parable:

Many relationships are prone to ups and downs, times of closeness, and occasional times of friction. Every relationship carries responsibilities that have to be performed on behalf of the other, regardless of their current state. A husband must monetarily support his wife, and a wife is obligated to perform certain duties for her husband. During times of closeness, the actions performed by each partner are done with love and a full heart; the person uses his entire soul to truly give to the other. During times of friction, however, the actions are performed out of obligation and necessity, with a cold heart and emotional distance from the receiver. This is a parable of the damage to relationships caused by sin: instead of enjoying a loving bond with Hashem, where He gives to us effusively and graciously out of an inner love for us, we cause ourselves to receive from His external aspects, which simply give out of “necessity,” just as He gives all other creations, even including the side of evil. 

Understanding Elokus-The internal and external aspects of G-dliness:

The key to understanding the two forms of vitality found in G-dliness, internal and external, can be found in one’s own soul. The soul of man contains many aspects and qualities that express different capabilities. Every soul has the power of thought, speech, and action. Although all three of these powers derive from the soul, the relationships of these powers to the soul are not equal. The power of thought is an internal soul power that derives from the depths of the soul and remains constantly attached to it. The power of speech is a bit more external. The power of action is even more external. Although it derives from the soul, it is considered as if it is separated from the soul, as the soul’s involvement in this power is minute and subconscious. This same form of relationship also applies above to Hashem and the G-dliness that He extends towards creations. There is Hashem Himself, which is transcendent and above the G-dliness that He reveals, and then there is the revealed G-dliness, which contains an internal and external aspect. The internal aspect is G-d’s thought, while the external aspect is G-d’s speech and action. All three of these aspects are found in creation, although in particular the level of thought is expressed in the world of Beriyah, the level of speech in the world of Yetzira, and the level of action in the world of Assiyah. It is dependent on man’s service to proximate himself to the level of G-d’s thought and consciously receive from it.

The elevation experienced on Shabbos:

As stated above, every creation contains an aspect of Divine thought and speech; the thought being internal while the speech is external. During the week, the creations experience only the external level of speech within their existence. On Shabbos, however, the creations of all the worlds are elevated to the level of Hashem’s thought, and receive their existence solely from this level. Incidentally, this level is also the source of the extra soul that one receives on Shabbos. It is for this reason that the Sages initially proposed that speech [ideally] should be forbidden on Shabbos and only thought should be allowed, as on Shabbos all of Creation is elevated to G-d’s level of thought. It is also for this reason that Shabbos shares the same letters as the word Teshuvah-Tashev [שבת-תשב], for Shabbos shares the same characteristics as Teshuvah, as both involve returning to the source, as will now be explained.

Teshuvah-Returning to Hashem:

The concept of repentance is not only associated with sin. It is also applicable even to one who has never transgressed. The meaning of Teshuvah is to return to one’s source. Every soul, through its descent below into the physical and corporeal world, goes through a grave spiritual downfall from its once sublime state. It now contains coarse connotations and loses the G-dly sensitivity it once had. This then is the goal of Teshuvah: to return one’s soul to its root and source in Hashem, and to once again be nullified to Him and incorporated within His unity. It is for this reason that the Ten Days of Repentance and Yom Kippur were instituted even for the completely righteous, the Tzaddikim Gemurim, as this aspect of Teshuvah is relevant to all people, for every human soul is incomparably lower than the state it enjoyed prior to its descent. Although the disciplinary measures demanded for Teshuvah are for one to regret past deeds and resolve to better one’s character, the inner meaning and motivation behind this regret and resolution must be because one truly desires to reconnect and attach to Hashem and enjoy the closeness previously experienced by the soul in Heaven.

A calling from the inner heart: The primary expression of Teshuvah, which actually returns man to his creator, is the cry of the heart. This is indicated in the verse, “Lecha Amar Libi Bakshu Panaiy/To you my heart says, ask for my inner self”, and the verse, “Mimamakim Kerasicha Hashem/From the depths I call onto G-d.” This verse means that to truly return to Hashem, one’s desire to bond with Him must reach the depths of one’s heart, on a par with the depth of existential value placed on one’s very survival and that of one’s family. When one digs deeper and reveals this feeling in the innermost core of his being, it enables a reciprocated revelation of Es Panecha Havayah Avakeish, that Hashem reveals His inner countenance to that person’s soul.

A Parable

The difference between the Teshuvah of an employee and that of a son or wife:

In all relationships, actions of mistrust performed by one of the partners require Teshuvah to effectively repair the damage done. This includes sincere regret for the deed and a sincere resolution to not repeat the mistake. Nonetheless, the nature of the relationship will define the nature of the inner motivations of the Teshuvah performed. In a business relationship, such as that of an employer and his employee, if the employee breached the trust of his employer, the motivation for his Teshuvah is simply to remove friction from his work environment and stabilize his job security. The Teshuvah does not involve any deep feelings of connection that have been aroused for his employer, nor is it motivated by him being truly pained by the hurt caused. The Teshuvah is merely the means to achieving renewed business relations and nothing more. However, when a son or wife breaches the trust of the father/husband and performs Teshuvah, a true Teshuvah would not just be going through the motions of mere regret and resolution, but would involve a genuine recognition of the pain caused to the father/husband and the distance that is now marring their relationship. The family member’s desired Teshuvah stems from a will to achieve a renewed closeness and bond to the actual person, and that is its goal and purpose. It is for this reason that Teshuvah is relevant even for the completely righteous, as unlike in a business relationship, the inner purpose of Teshuvah is to create a renewed closeness with Hashem. The reason this renewed closeness is relevant even to Tzaddikim is because their souls too have undergone a distance from their original state merely by being in the physical world. How much more so then is the distance generated by one whom has sinned, and hence his Teshuvah must involve even greater regret and resolution.


A long-distance phone call:

Teshuvah is similar to a long-distance phone call from a son or daughter that is away from home. Every child is expected to call their parents on occasion, and the calls are eagerly awaited. A good child needs merely to call in order to maintain the bond with his parent, which has suffered simply due to the miles of distance between them. This is similar to the Teshuvah of a Tzaddik. However, a child that has sinned against his parents needs to call in order to renew the bond that has been damaged due to his transgressions. This is similar to the Teshuvah of a sinner. The purpose of Teshuvah of both a sinner and Tzaddik is the same, just as is the purpose of the phone call of either child. The means of achieving this purpose, however, differs between the Tzaddik and sinner, just as does the content of the phone call between the good child and that of the wayward one.

Returning until Hashem becomes Elokecha:

Based on the above, one can understand the reason why the verse stated, “Return until Hashem your G-d” rather than, “Return to Hashem your G-d.” The term Hashem, which is the name Havayah and the name Elokim, are both aspects of G-d’s manifestations, with the level of Havayah being higher than that of Elokim. Neither of these aspects refers to Hashem Himself, however; rather they only refer to Hashem as He manifests Himself in involvement with the worlds. In comparison to Hashem Himself, these levels are considered external and peripheral. The Teshuvah of a Jew must therefore reach above both the levels of Havayah and Elokim, until the higher level of Havayah is also viewed as if it is a lower level of Elokim. One must do Teshuvah from the innermost part of his heart to the point that he desires to connect to Hashem Himself, and will not suffice merely with the experience of the manifestation of Hashem in His names of Havayah and Elokim.

Lessons of the Mamar

·        Understand the severity of sin and how it has the power to exchange one’s receiving from Hashem out of His inner love with receiving from Him out of mere compulsory action (as is done on a more natural level for the rest of creation.)

·        The focus of your Teshuvah should be to renew your relationship and closeness with Hashem. Regret and resolutions are the means of achieving this. Feelings of regret and acceptance of resolutions without this focus, however, miss the core purpose of Teshuvah.

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