Nitzavim/Rosh Hashana: Teshuva Through Enhanced Shabbos Observance

In this week’s parsha, Parshas Nitzavim, we learn about the mitzvah of teshuva, repentance.  Not for naught is this parsha read before Rosh Hashana, as it reminds us of leaving our sins behind and returning in purity and holiness to G-d.  וְשַׁבְתָּ עַד-ה’, וְשָׁמַעְתָּ בְקֹלוֹ, כְּכֹל אֲשֶׁר-אָנֹכִי מְצַוְּךָ, הַיּוֹם:  אַתָּה וּבָנֶיךָ, בְּכָל-לְבָבְךָ וּבְכָל-נַפְשֶׁךָ – And you will return unto Hashem, your G-d, and listen to HIs voice, according to everything that I command you today, you and your children, with all your heart and all your soul, וְשָׁב ה’ אֶת-שְׁבוּתְךָ, וְרִחֲמֶךָ; וְשָׁב, וְקִבֶּצְךָ מִכָּל-הָעַמִּים, Then Hashem, your G-d, will return your captivity and have mercy upon you, and He will gather you in from all the peoples to where Hashem, your G-d, has scattered you (Devarim 3:2-3). 

Rashi teaches: ושב ה’ אלהיך את שבותך. הָיָה לוֹ לִכְתֹּב “וְהֵשִׁיב” אֶת שְׁבוּתְךָ, רַבּוֹתֵינוּ לָמְדוּ מִכָּאן כִּבְיָכוֹל שֶׁהַשְּׁכִינָה שְׁרוּיָה עִם יִשְׂרָאֵל בְּצָרַת גָּלוּתָם, וּכְשֶׁנִּגְאָלִין הִכְתִּיב גְּאֻלָּה לְעַצְמוֹ — שֶׁהוּא יָשׁוּב עִמָּהֶם – It should have written, ‘Hashem your G-d will return (you from captivity).’  Our rabbis learned from here, as if it were possible, that the Shechina (Divine Presence) rests with Israel in the hardship of their exile. And when Israel are redeemed, G-d had redemption written about Himself, that He would return with them.

When we return to G-d in repentance, and listen to His voice (v.2), He will return us from captivity, and return to us, and return along with us (v.3).

On the words וְשַׁבְתָּ עַד-ה’, וְשָׁמַעְתָּ בְקֹלוֹ,  R’ Yitzchok Zilberstein shlita quotes a beautiful lesson from the Chida (Chaim Yosef David Azulai, 1724-1806), with an illustrative story related by the Ben Ish Chai (Chacham Yosef Chaim, 1832-1909, Baghdad).

The Chida notes that the word וְשַׁבְתָּ, and you will return (v.2), contains the letters שבת, Shabbos, to teach us that a person cannot do complete teshuva unless he becomes more meticulous in his Shabbos observance.

The Ben Ish Chai related the following story: A widower married a widow, and each one brought a child into the marriage: he a son, and she a daughter.  Several weeks after the wedding, the husband began to suspect that his new wife was violating their marriage agreement by taking from the money that belonged to the couple and transferring it to her daughter.  When the husband raised the issue with his wife and aired his suspicions, she responded by saying that she similarly suspected him of transferring their money to his son! 

The two came to the Ben Ish Chai for advice, and the Ben Ish Chai said that the best idea would be to marry off the two children to each other, and give them the money that belonged to their parents jointly.  The couple agreed and after their children were married, they no longer suspected each other and the love and friendship between them grew.

The Ben Ish Chai used this story to explain the concept of “Shabbat shalom.”  What connection is there between Shabbos and shalom, peace?

The answer, the Ben Ish Chai explained, is that during the week, people are unhappy, because their two inclinations are in constant struggle.  The neshama, the soul, and the yetzer hatov (good inclination) pull the person toward the beis medrash (house of Torah study), but the body and the yetzer harah (evil inclination) pull him toward the temptations and desires of the physical world.  Since it is impossible to satisfy both inclinations, the person is in a perpetual state of tension and struggle; the struggle between kodesh and chol (holy and profane), between tahara and tumah (purity and impurity). 

However!  When Shabbos arrives, even the body pulls the person towards mitzvos and avodas Hashem (service of G-d), for the mitzvos of the day are enjoying Shabbos through tasty food, nice clothing, and the like. 

On Shabbos, even our physical actions are rooted in holiness, so both the body and the soul delight simultaneously.  In this way, Shabbos causes peace to reign between a person’s two inclinations.  And this is the meaning of ‘Shabbat shalom,’ Shabbos that brings peace (Aleinu L’Shabei’ach, Devarim, p.394-395). 

While we surely (hopefully!) strive to repent in many areas, both in mitzvos bein adam la’Makom and those bein adam la’chavairo, let us not forget that implied in the Torah dictum of וְשַׁבְתָּ עַד-ה, though shall return unto Hashem, is the lesson that without enhanced shemiras Shabbos, one’s repentance remains incomplete. 

R’ Simshon Pincus zt’l quotes the Shulchan Aruch: “One’s speech on Shabbos should not be like his speech on weekdays.  Therefore, it is forbidden to say, ‘I will perform such and such work tomorrow,’ or ‘I will buy such and such merchandise tomorrow.’  It is even forbidden to engage excessively in idle talk” (Orach Chaim 307:1).

R’ Pincus notes that even our speech on Shabbos must be guarded and different!  “If so, what is left to do the whole Shabbos day?  The answer is that Shabbos is as its name implies.  It is a day of shevisah, cessation.  To cease from everyday life, and live for twenty-four hours with HaKadosh Baruch Hu.  People unfamiliar with Torah life often think that keeping Shabbos is something arduous.  They find it very hard to disconnect for twenty-four hours from the telephone, the radio and the car.  They feel as if they were put in handcuffs.

“Similarly, there are those among us who find it very hard to refrain from weekday talk on Shabbos.  How can a person go through a whole day without chattering about mundane affairs?  How can one just live life with Hashem alone!?  This, too, is mesiras nefesh.  It is a change in the form of one’s life” (Moadei Hashana, The Days of Awe, Elul & R”H, p.136).

Through striving to enhance our observance of Shabbos Kodesh, may we merit to return to Hashem in complete teshuva.  Middah k’neged middah (measure for measure), may He return to us and return our captivity, with the ultimate geula, may it be speedily in our days, בְּשׁוּב ה’ אֶת-שִׁיבַת צִיּוֹן- הָיִינוּ, כְּחֹלְמִים, When Hashem returns the returnees to Zion, we shall be like dreamers… (Tehillim 126:1).

בברכת שבת שלום ושנה טובה ומתוקה,


1 Comment
  • Rivka
    Posted at 21:31h, 26 September

    Absolutely beautiful summary of the Parsha. Brings home the point to enhance our Shabbos observance.