Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • Nitzavim
To dedicate this lesson

The Torah study is dedicatedin the memory of

R. Avraham Ben David

Parshat Nitzavim - Teshuva and the Essence of the Day of Judgment Rosh Hashanah

Rosh Hashana prayers Crowning of Hashem Parashat Nitzavim Slichot Shofar blowing


Rabbi Moshe Eliya

Elul 5761

Man's prayers bring him closer to Hashem, and Rosh Hashanah is the peak of this special relationship. Therefore we should prepare ourselves before Rosh Hashana in order for these prayers to elevate us to a completely different and higher plane. We need to examine the different verses of the Rosh Hashanah prayers, in order to establish a basis for the entire year.

"Today is the creation of the world, all the creatures are standing and being judged." Since Rosh Hashanah is the day of judgment wouldn't it be natural for man to do tshuva before this day? And yet not one word of tshuva or selichot is mentioned in the Rosh Hashana prayers. Instead, the crowning of Hashem as king and His rule over the world is alluded to continuously. Where is the mitzvah of tshuva?

Before we answer this question we should delve into the disagreement between the Rambam and the Ramban about whether tshuva is a mitzvah or not? Rambam holds there is no mitzvah of tshuva as it is a soul searching process that does not necessitate a command. Once one is in the process of tshuva then, according to Rmabam, it is necessary to command him regarding the particulars of the tshuva, such as the need for confessing his deeds, or describing his transgressions in detail. The Ramban however holds that tshuva is clearly a mitzvah from the Torah and is one of the 613 commandments.

In returning to our question of why there is no mention of tshuva but rather, in its place the motif of crowning Hashem as our King, we need to preface and examine some of the following ideas: 1) What is the reason for Rosh Hashanah and why is man being judged? 2) What are the two methods for overcoming sins? Through them we may begin to understand the connection between the judgment day and the crowning of Hashem as our King and to where the mitzvah of tshuva disappeared.

The Ran and the Tosofot and the Rambam disagree on what exactly is being dealt with on Rosh Hashanah. The Ran holds that Rosh Hashana involves a summation of this world's deeds whereas the Rambam and the Tosofot argue that it corresponds to the world to come and what the future will bring.

According to the Ran, on this day Hashem judges and arranges the world and makes a summation of the year. Perhaps the reason why tshuva is not mentioned in the Rosh Hashana prayers can be found in the two ways in which we correct our errors. 1) To scrutinize our mistake, learn from the mistake, and take responsibility for future actions. 2) To understand the reason why we sin- we forget our place and goals in this world. Once we realize what our true obligations are to Hashem then the ground in which the sin grew will no longer be fertile. Hence in our prayers on the day of judgment we repeatedly crown Hashem as King. It is the essence of this day that causes us to return to our Creator and to realize what is important and what is superfluous in this world. We need to remind ourselves that Hashem is the King over all and renew our understanding of our obligations in this world. We do not approach Hashem with our confessions and our self examinations, rather we acknowledge Hashem as the ruler of the world. We imprint on our soul that He is everything and without him there is only sin.

Returning to the question of where is tshuva on this judgment day, we understand that it has not disappeared. Rather, the crowning of Hashem as King is in essence tshuva-returning to the absolute truth.

Some verses in connection to tshuva need to be clarified.
1st stage: Tshuva in Diaspora-"You shall return until Hashem."
2nd stage: "Your heart should be circumcised and you shall be ingathered."
3rd stage: Return to the Land and return to Hashem.
Questions: 1) What is the connection between tshuva and the Land? 2) What is the difference between tshuva until and tshuva to ?

The Maran HaHida examined three issues dealing with these questions. 1) There are lashings for negative mitzvahs and not for positive mitzvahs 2) Lashings are not given for certain transgressions of negative mitzvahs, such as to covet 3) There are no lashings for a transgression of a negative mitzvah when it is rectified by a positive deed (lav nitek layse). For example the obligation for one to return what he stole. Does it therefore follow that if a person who transgresses a negative mitzvah is obligated to do the positive mitzvah of tshuvah then there is no possibility to carry out the lashings?

The Maran HaHida explains that this is not the case, as tshuva is not connected only to a negative commandment and is not only repentance for sins or corrupt acts. It is a cure for the soul and it is the process of returning to one's nature and to the source of one's very being- Hashem. This also explains the difference between two different types of tshuva- tshuva until the door of repentance and tshuva to the Creator, which signifies a complete and harmonious connection to Hashem. This special relaionship is only possible when the nation is in its own land. Parshat Nitzavim reminds us of the connection between returning to Hashem and the ingathering of the nation to the land. A nation that is not in its own land is not healthy. Tshuva does not act to strangle a nation, rather it returns and reconnects one to his true healthy state. Even though there will be hardships and difficult situations to overcome it is nevertheless worthwhile and important to continue on this journey. For only in the land of Israel can one fully return to Hashem.

The HaHida's idea of tshuva deepens our understanding of the tshuva that is demanded of us on Rosh Hashanah- the return to Hashem. This is not the tshuva until which describes the repentance of sins, rather it is the tshuva to which brings us to a complete harmonious relationship with our Creator. Once it has been established that He is the King of all that exists, then sin may be uprooted retroactively. Thus the prayer we recite "I crown him and determine him as King".

In the Ashkenazi version of selichot there is a verse that states as follows "At the night after our rest we receive you first." The first time the Ashkenazim say selichot is on motzei Shabbat. At first glance this seems to be quite bewildering. If man was born on the 6th day wouldn't it be appropriate to ask for forgiveness on his birthday and not wait until motzei Shabbat? The answer lies within man's position in this world. Man is the king of the lower world, even to the extent that he gives the names of the animals that roam the Earth and the destiny of the world depends on his actions. How does man bring this world to its destination? Once man understands that everything always belonged to Hashem, even before the creation of the world (the motzei Shabbat before the first day), then he will understand that his role is to return and reconnect the world to its source-Hashem. Beginning selichot on motzei Shabbat demonstrates this idea.

The reoccurring prayer we say on Rosh Hashanah- "Joyous is the nation that knows its shofar blowing of Hashem, and in his light we shall go"-at first glance is puzzling. It would make more sense if it was written: Joyous is the nation that has raised and sanctified itself. Why is it written "and in his light we shall go"? Rav Kook zt"l explains the idea of the blowing of the shofar in his book Olat Harai. There are three sounds connected with the shofar blowing: Tikiah, Truah, and Shvarim. Eeach represents a different aspect of our relationship to Hashem. The Tikiah represents the beginning of our connection with Hashem which is continuous, lengthy and without any interruptions or disturbances. The Shvarim signifies man's character traits and how he absorbs Hashem into his life bit by bit as opposed to as a whole unified being. It represents the spiritual side of man and a deeper, closer connection to Hashem. The Truah expresses Hashem's presence in the minutest aspects of the world and man's relationship to Him through his deeds. Are we able to connect "Only you shall reign over us" to this same Truah, to our smallest deeds and actions? Do we relate everything we do in this world to our Creator?

Thus the order of the shofar blowing begins with absolute connection to Hashem (Tikiah), progresses to the spiritual essence and character traits of man (Shvarim) and concludes with the little details of the world and man's actions (Truah). Despite the fact that the nation knows the shofar blowing, it is still a nation of individuals. It therefore has its ups and downs and it falls and rises again. But nevertheless, joyous is the nation that understands every small part of the Truah and returns to its source on Rosh Hashana.

Rosh Hashanah reminds us of who the King is and to whom we should return. Our special connection with Hashem is represented by the shofar blowing which begins and ends with Tikiah. All that exists begins with Him and ends with Him. On the judgment day we do not confess our sins and try to redeem ourselves with the tshuva of transgressions. We concentrate on the tshuva of reconnecting to our King for "He reigns over us".

May it be His will that we accept Hashem's reign and succeed in keeping His mitzvahs and in rejoining Heaven to Earth.

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