Thursday, August 31, 2006

"For the mountains shall crumble..." (Is. 54:10): פרשת כי תצא

During the month of Elul, my thoughts turn to repentance. The hebrew term (תשובה) means return, which is a different concept entirely from atonement (כפרה).

Pennance is an almost impersonal action that erases the sin. For example, bringing an offering or throwing the blood brings about כפרה, and atonement is effected.

תשובה, on the other hand, is a most intimate interaction with G-d. Man's soul yearns for the closeness to G-d, and mourns the fall from perfection. Samuel (15:22) castigates Saul by saying that offerings are worthless without obeying G-d. Return to G-d cannot occur without תשובה.

This desire to return to a state of Grace is precisely the way R. YB Soloveitchik explains the concept of teshuva 'out of love'. In the Laws of Teshuva, Maimonides first gives a lenghty path towards teshuva which leads to sins being erased, while later on, he speaks of overnight teshuva, where sins actually transform into good deeds! R. Soloveitchik posits that these reflect thetwo ways to approach G-d for forgiveness. When we repent out of fear of punishment, we must go through the long process, and the result is that the sins are erased. However, if we repent out of love for G-d, our atonement is immediate, and it converts the sin.

R. Soloveitchik says that when one feels the loss of his intimacy with G-d, and mourns it, this creates a desire from within to change one's ways. This is more powerful than an external fear of punishment. When a person's desire for forgiveness is a part of him, and not just external to him, it breaks all the barriers set in the first תשובה sequence of the Rambam.

This week's haftarah describes, in the most lyrical way, a time when our intimacy with G-d will never again be broken. 'כִּי הֶהָרִים יָמוּשׁוּ, וְהַגְּבָעוֹת תְּמוּטֶינָה וְחַסְדִּי מֵאִתֵּךְ לֹא יָמוּשׁ, וּבְרִית שְׁלוֹמִי לֹא תָמוּט, אָמַר מְרַחֲמֵךְ, ה.' Though hills and valleys be swept away by the passing time, G-d's love for us will never cease. May His limitless patience and love for us all, as individuals and as a nation, spur us towards personal and collective teshuva out of love.