Nitzavim-Vayelech 5783: Teshuva Is Always Possible

This week we read the double parshios of Nitzavim-Vayelech.  With a strong focus on the mitzvah of teshuva (repentance), these parshios close out 5783.   Amongst the very many beautiful stirring and powerful words of Moshe Rabbeinu here, at the very end of his life, the pasuk tells us:

וְהָיָה כִּיתִמְצֶאןָ אֹתוֹ רָעוֹת רַבּוֹת, וְצָרוֹת, וְעָנְתָה הַשִּׁירָה הַזֹּאת לְפָנָיו לְעֵד, כִּי לֹא תִשָּׁכַח מִפִּי זַרְעוֹכִּי יָדַעְתִּי אֶתיִצְרוֹ, אֲשֶׁר הוּא עֹשֶׂה הַיּוֹם, בְּטֶרֶם אֲבִיאֶנּוּ, אֶלהָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר נִשְׁבַּעְתִּיAnd it will be, when they will encounter many evils and troubles, this song will bear witness before them, for it will not be forgotten from the mouth of its offspring. For I know its inclination what it does today, [even] before I bring them in to the land which I have sworn [to give them] (Devarim 31:21).

The Torah will bear witness for us, before HKB”H, it will be our greatest defender and advocate; for history has proven that Torah will never be forgotten from the mouths of our children, and our children’s children.  This is an incredible Divine promise that has sustained and carried us throughout the millennia of exile, despite the many troubles and evils that have befallen us.  Aside from the impact and power of these words, they further carry a message and lesson for these final days of Elul 5783, when we are contemplating, acting upon and involved with teshuva, as we prepare for Yom Ha’Din, Rosh Hashana 5784.

Rabbi Dr. Abraham J. Twerski z’l writes, “The Malbim interprets this verse as a Divine promise to be forgiving when the Children of Israel will do teshuva.  Malbim cites the Gemara which states that the prophet Eliyahu pleaded for the Israelites who had become idolatrous, saying to G-d, ‘It was You Who made it possible for them to go astray!’ and that G-d admitted (keviyachol) and said, ‘Yes, I created the yetzer harah’ (Brachos 32b).

“Forgiveness requires teshuva: regret for having sinned and a sincere resolution not to repeat the sinful act.  But why and how is teshuva effective?  If a person commits a crime and pleads before the judge, ‘I’m sorry I did it and I promise I will never do it again,’ this will hardly stop the judge from imposing a penalty.  Teshuva is effective because G-d understands how vulnerable we are to the cunning and temptations of the yetzer harah, which He created.  Therefore, if we realize that we have been duped by the yetzer harah, G-d takes this into consideration.

“The chassidic master, the Shpoler Zeide (1725-1811) zy’a, used to plead for the nation of Israel.  ‘Master of the universe!  You have placed temptations before people’s eyes, but the punishments of Gehenom are described in the books.  I assure You, had You placed the punishments of Gehenom before their eyes and the temptations in the books, Your children would never sin!’

“There is, of course, no justification for sin, but if a person who has sinned does teshuva, G-d assumes part of the responsibility (keviyachol) and forgives the sin.

“This, the Malbim says, is the promise in the above verse.  It shall be that when many evils and distresses come upon it, then this song shall speak before it as a witness… for I know its inclination.’  When the troubles that befall Israel will motivate and compel us to do teshuva, G-d promises to forgive His nation, because He knows the power of the evil inclination.  This song, the Torah, ‘shall not be forgotten from the mouths of its offspring,’ and it will be a witness to plead on our behalf.”

This has practical and important ramifications and applications.  “A person may be discouraged from doing teshuva, thinking to himself, ‘What’s the use?  I cannot expect G-d to forgive me for having disobeyed Him for so long.’  G-d promises that if a person sincerely repents, He will enter a plea on his behalf, assuming part of the responsibility for the person’s behavior.  For it is never too late for teshuva” (Twerski on Chumash, p.433-434).

While teshuva may be daunting, and repairing and mending our ways is not an easy task, we must believe in ourselves, for change is always possible; and we must believe that our Merciful Father in heaven will always take us back, no matter how sullied from sin we may be.

One of my favorite teachings regarding this process comes from R’ Binaymin Finkel shlita (son of the Mirrer Mashgiach Rav Aryeh Finkel zt’l, and popularly referred to as Reb Binyamin HaTzaddik).  He points out that the yetzer harah is really just a two trick pony.  When he sees that someone has decided to improve himself, he says: “What are you making yourself crazy about? You are still young, and you have your whole life still ahead of you!  No need to get caught up with these things at your age.  Of course, they are important and of course you must learn more and improve your character traits, but when you are older. Now, you still have plenty of time left for these things!”

Then one day, it suddenly changes.  You decide to embark on some course of improvement, and sure enough, right on cue, the yetzer harah shows up.  This time, however, the message is different. “Now you decide to work on improving your character traits!?  Now you decide to complete a tractate of Gemara!?  Now!? At your age!  Don’t be foolish; it is too late!  You are too old to accomplish something like that!”

That is his entire ploy.  At first, he tells you that you are young and you still have plenty of time to accomplish.  No need to rush things, all in due time.  Then, one day, it just changes.  You are too old!  It is too late to change!  Nobody knows exactly when this happens, the switch from ‘You are still young, you have plenty of time,’ to ‘You are too old already, it is too late to begin working on such projects!’ (Portraits of Prayer, p.299).

The time for teshuva is right now (see Medrash Bereishis Rabbah 21:6, וְעַתָּה, אֵין וְעַתָּה אֶלָּא תְּשׁוּבָה) – no matter our age, nor our stage in life.  The Torah is our greatest witness and defender, and HKB”H Himself accepts partial responsibility for our sins, as long as we are willing, ready, and take concrete action to come back and close to Hashem once again.

בברכת בשורות טובות ושבת שלום,


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