Parshas Vayeilech-Likkutei Torah-Shabbos Shuva

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Shuva Yisrael…”

 [Likkutei Torah p. 64a]


The Mamarim of Shabbos Shuva expound on the heading of the Haftorah of this Shabbos which begins with the words Shuva Yisrael. The main theme of the Ten days of repentance is the Avoda of Teshuva. During these ten days we are told that Hashem is exceptionally close to each Jew and the opportunities of reconcilement with Hashem and subsequent atonement is offered to all. While the basic definition of Teshuva is to simply 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, “Teshuva is not just for sinners but even for Tzaddikim”. Even a Tzaddik is required to perform Teshuva, as the Avoda of Teshuva is not just to repent for sins, but to return from a distance that has divided between man and G-d. Although the cause of this division may in truth not be due to the fault of one’s actions, but simply due to the natural order of creation, nonetheless, irrelevant 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 Teshuva requested from a Jew during the Ten Days of repentance, in addition to the simple and basic level of Teshuva which demands the regret of evil deeds and betterment of one’s behaviors.    


Explorations of the Mamar

  1. What is the meaning of the verse Shuva Yisrael?
  2. Why is one required to return to G-d if G-d is found everywhere and is not distanced from anyone?
  3. What common aspects do Shabbos and Teshuva share?
  4. How is Teshuva relevant even for complete Tzaddikim?
  5. What is the true purpose of Teshuva?


The Question:

The verse states “Shuva 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 terms Yisroel used in the verse, in contrast to the term Yaakov. A further point, what is the meaning of the verse Shuva Yisrael, as the word Shuva can connote different meanings; is it a command for the Jewish people to repent, or is it a statement mentioning 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. Now, seemingly the entire concept of Hashem being close to us during certain times is puzzling, as Hashem is omnipotent, fills the entire Heavens and earth, and has no place void of Him. From the perspective of man, the concept of telling him to “return to G-d” is fully applicable, as he has sinned and swerved from attaching Himself to Him, and is hence told to return and attach himself to G-d. However from G-d’s perspective how can one say that during other times He is distanced and only during certain days He is close, if in truth He fills the entire earth? The explanation is that this closeness referred to in the verse is not a physical closeness and distance, Heaven forbid, but 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 worlds apart in distance. If they face each other then they are truthfully close, while if one turns his back to the other then they are the world apart. When man commits a sin it causes a similar affect to two close friends now turning backs to each other, as will be explained next.


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

Regarding idolatry it states “And you strayed and served other G-ds.” The word “other” is written as “Achuraim/back”, as in truth serving idolatry, as well as the performance of any sin, causes one to nurture from the external levels of holiness. One is no longer able to nurture from the internal aspects of Holiness. This is the distance that is created through sin, and one is hence required through repentance to draw back to himself the internal flow of G-dliness. 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 internal and external levels of Holiness, their purpose and identity.


A Parable:

Many relationships are prone for 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 status. 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 enters 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 towards the damage of relationship caused by sin; instead of enjoying a loving bond with Hashem where He gives us consciously and graciously out of inner love for us, we cause ourselves to receive from His external aspects which simply gives out of “necessity”, just as he gives all other creations, including even 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 which express different capabilities. Every soul has the power of thought, speech, and action. Although all three of these powers derive from the soul, nonetheless the relationships of these powers to the soul are not equal. The power of thought is an internal soul power, and derives from the depths of the soul and remains attached to the soul constantly. The power of speech is more external. The power of action is even more external, and although derives from the soul, is considered as if it is now separated from the soul, being the souls involvement in this power is minute and subconscious. This same form of relationship also applies above with Hashem and the G-dliness that He extends towards creations. There is Hashem Himself, which is above the G-dliness that He reveals, and there is the G-dliness that He reveals 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 Beriya, the level of speech in the world of Yetzira and the level of action in the world of Assiya. 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 thought and speech; the thought being internal while the speech 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 thought of Hashem, and receive their existence solely from this level. It is from this level that the extra soul is received on Shabbos. It is for this reason that the Sages taught that [ideally] it should be forbidden to speak on Shabbos and only thought should be allowed, as on Shabbos the creations are 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] as Shabbos shares the same characteristics as Teshuva, as both involve returning to the source, as will now be explained.


Teshuva-Returning to Hashem:       

The concept of repentance is not only associated with sin, and is relevant even to one who has not committed any transgression. The concept of Teshuva is to return to one’s source. Every soul, through its descent below into the physical and corporal world, goes through a grave spiritual downfall from its once sublime state. It now receives physical connotations and loses the G-dly experience it once had. This then is the concept of Teshuva; 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 righteous, the Tzaddikim Gemurim, as this concept of Teshuva is relevant to all people, as even their soul is incomparably lower than the state it enjoyed prior to its descent. Although the disciplinary actions demanded of Teshuva is for one to regret past deeds and resolve for bettering ones actions, 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 once experienced prior to the soul’s descent.

A calling from the inner heart:  The main aspect of Teshuva, which actually returns man back to his creator, is the cry of the heart. This is expressed 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 much reach the depths of one’s heart, similar to the deepest feelings one shares for survival of his very own life and the life of one’s family. When one digs and reveals this feeling in the depths of his heart it reciprocates the revelation of “Es Panecha Havayah Avakeish”, that Hashem reveals His inner countenance to one’s soul.

A Parable

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

In all relationships, actions of mistrust performed by one of the partners require Teshuva on his part, which includes his sincere regret for the deed and resolution to not repeat the mistake. Nonetheless, one cannot compare the inner motivations of this Teshuva performed in all forms of relationships. In a business relation, such as a an employer and his employee, if the employee breached the trust of his employer the motivation of his Teshuva is simply to remove friction from his work environment and stabilize the position of his job. The Teshuva does not involve any deep feelings of connection that have been aroused for his employer and is subsequently not motivated by him being truly pained by the hurt caused to him. The Teshuva is merely the tool for achieving renewed business relations and nothing more. However when a son or wife breaches the trust of his father or her husband and performs Teshuva, a true Teshuva is not just the mere actions of regret and resolution, but a true recognition of the pain caused to the father/husband and the distance that has now been created to their relationship. The Teshuva must be a tool for achieving a renewed closeness and bond to the person, and that is its goal and purpose. It is for this reason that Teshuva is relevant even towards the completely righteous, as unlike a business relationship, the inner purpose of Teshuva is to bring a renewed closeness with Hashem. This renewed closeness is relevant to all people, even to Tzaddikim, as they too experience a distance through the mere fact of being in the physical world. Nonetheless, one who has sinned has created an even greater distance, and hence his Teshuva must involve regret and resolution.

A long distance phone call:

Teshuva 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 looked forward to with excitement. A good son simply needs to call in order to renew the bond with his parent which has suffered due to the miles of distance between them. This is similar to the Teshuva of a Tzaddik. However a son that has sinned against his parents needs to call in order to renew the bond with his parents that have been damaged due to his transgressions. This is similar to the Teshuva of a sinner. The purpose of Teshuva of both a sinner and Tzaddik is the same, just as is the purpose of the phone call of either son; however the means of achieving this purpose differs between the Tzaddik and sinner, just as does the content of the phone call between the good and wayward son.


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 aspect of G-d’s manifestations, with the level of Havayah being higher than that of Elokim. Neither of these aspects refers to Hashem Himself and rather only refers to Hashem as He manifests Himself in involvement with the worlds. In comparison to Hashem Himself these levels are considered external and peripheral. The Teshuva of a Jew must reach above these levels, above both the level of Havayah and Elokim, until the higher level of Havayah is also viewed as if it is a lower level of Elokim. One must due Teshuva from the inner parts of his heart to the point he desires to connect to Hashem Himself, and will not suffice 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, for receiving from Him out of mere compulsory action which is performed for all creations.
  • The focus of your Teshuva is to renew your relationship and closeness with Hashem. The regret and resolutions are the means of achieving this. Feelings of regret and acceptance of resolutions without this focus is missing the core purpose of Teshuva.




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