While reading this week’s Parsha, Parshat Nitzavim, I was struck by the repetition of the words using the root שוב. After doing a bit of research, I found that the root is used 7 times in the portion, and considering how short this week’s Torah reading it seems like quite a few time. The root שוב, is the root of the word תשובה, or repentance.
What does תשובה (repentance) actually mean? Most of the time that we talk about repentance, especially in the time leading up to Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur we are looking at our own personal behaviors. We are looking at where we might not have done the right thing or maybe even that we are seen as sinners, and how we can change our ways to be better. But how does that actually happen?
Parshat Nitzavim is the Parsha that is always read the week before Rosh Hashana. Why is it that in the portion read right before Rosh Hashana, ever few lines or so we are hit with the sound שוב, return? I think that the answer can be found in the beginning of Chapter 30.
If we look at the first four verses of Chapter 30, we can see a process of תשובה.
In verse 1, it says , וַהֲשֵׁבֹתָ אֶל לְבָבֶךָ ,“taking it to heart”.
In verse 2,וְשַׁבְתָּ עַד יְהֹוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ, “and you will return to the Lord, your God”.
In verses 3-4וְשָׁב יְהֹוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ אֶת שְׁבוּתְךָ וְרִחֲמֶךָ וְשָׁב וְקִבֶּצְךָ מִכָּל הָעַמִּים אֲשֶׁר הֱפִיצְךָ יְהֹוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ שָׁמָּה:, “then, the Lord, your God, will bring back your exiles, and He will have mercy upon you. He will once again gather you from all the nations, where the Lord, your God has dispersed you.
First we need to look into ourselves and see what we have done. After we have seen what we have done, we have the opportunity to see how we can improve, and potentially make resolutions to make that change. And finally once we have looked inwards and outwards, we have a belief and trust in God that we will be able to accomplish this lofty goal of becoming a better person in the world.
These verses remind me of the idea of תשובה of Rav Kook, the first chief rabbi of British Mandate Palestine. He writes, “A Person does not conjure up the memory of a past sin or sins, but in a general way he or she feels terribly depressed. He feels him/herself pervaded by sin; that the Divine light does not shine on him or her; that their heart is unfeeling…The primary role of penitence, what at once sheds light on the darkened zone is for the person to return to himself, to the root of his soul, and from there immediately return to God.
I wish for you all, in this upcoming new year, a happy and healthy one. One that is full of light and fulfilling one’s true potential.