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Nitzavim 5768

By: Rav Michael Susman

Parshat Netzavim is always read during the week prior to Rosh HaShana. The reason for this is clearly the ten passukim which constitute the beginning of Perek 30.  In these passukim we find a linked call to both teshuva on the part of Am Yisrael and Geula on the part of Hashem.  This link is so strong, as Rav Elchanan Samet points out, that the key root word in this section, “Shav”, to return, appears seven times.  In four cases it refers to Bnei Yisrael returning to Hashem, teshuva, while in three instances the word refers to Hashem returning to Bnei Yisrael, geula.

Our passage is also the basis for the mitzvah of teshuva, at least according to the Sefer Mitzvot Ketanot.  He suggests that the phrase “v’shavta ad Hashem Elokecha”, “and you will return to the Lord your God” is the source of this mitzvah.  Rambam (Hilchot Teshuva 7:5) rejects this idea, arguing instead that our passukim constitute a promise on the part of God that Bnei Yisrael will ultimately repent.  Instead, Rambam understands that the mitzvah of teshuva is in fact the act of confession (viduy) the source for which can be found in Sefer BaMidbar (5:6-7).  Thus he begins Hilchot Teshuva by declaring (H.T.1:1) that whenever a person repents “he is obligated to confess… this confession is a positive command”.  Ramban (passuk 11) adopts the positions of both the SeMaK and Rambam, stating that “we have been commanded to do so (i.e. repent), but the Torah uses a declarative (as opposed to imperative) in order to communicate that we are promised that it will come to pass in the future.”   This jives with Ramban’s own statement in the beginning of the perek that the events described in the perek have not yet come to pass, but will come to fruition in the future.

When quoting the machloket between SeMaK and Rambam in his work Hagaot B’Parshiot HaTorah, Rav Yehuda Nachshoni suggests that the basis of the disagreement is whether or not one accepts the idea that our passukim constitute a pledge on the part of Hashem as opposed to a command.  SeMak reads the passuk as an imperative while Rambam views it as declarative.  Thus Rambam is forced to find an alternate source for the mitzvah of teshuva, which he does in the form of viduy.  As we have already noted above, Ramban sees no reason to view these two positions as contradictory, and instead adopts them both.

As opposed to Rav Nachshoni’s approach, which appears to treat teshuva and viduy as independent acts, there are those who explain that we are really looking at the same thing. 

In the “Yad Peshuta” Rav Nachum Rabinovitz’s monumental commentary on the Mishneh Torah, the Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivt Birkat Moshe compares the language of the mitzvah of viduy as it appears in the Sefer HaMitzvot with how Rambam codifies it in Hilchot Teshuva.  When listing the mitzvah of Teshuva in Sefer HaMitzvoth (Aseh 73) Rambam writes that a person is obligated to confess his sins when he repents from them.  In HilchotTeshuva, on the other hand, the order is reversed and Rambam tells us that a sinner "should repent from hsi sins before Hashem and confess".  What lies behind this change in emphasis?

Rav Rabinovitz explains that in Sefer HaMitzvoth Rambam's main focus is to enumerate the various commandments.  Thus, the initial stress is on the viduy, which is the action that the Torah mandates.  Only afterwards does Rambam provide background, namely that the viduy needs to be done within the context of teshuva.  Failure to do teshuva renders the viduy meaningless, as Rambam himself points out (H.T. 2:3) by comparing an individual who confesses without repentance to one who immerses himself in a mikve without first discarding the object that defiled him in the first place (tovel v'sheretz b'yado). 

In Hilchot Teshuva, however, Rambam's goal is different.  Here he hopes to provide a comprehensive explanation of the mitzvah of teshuva.  Hence, he begins by stating that an individual should repent, and only then does he proceed to the technical details of how to do so.  As such, the reverse of what we observed in Sefer HaMitzvoth is also correct.  Just as there can be no technical fulfillment of the mitzvah without content, so too the content is incomplete without the required form of viduy.

But how exactly do these two aspects, the content and the form, fit together?

In the work Al HaTeshuva (pages 37-45 in the Hebrew edition), Rav Soloveitchik quotes the opinion of the Minchat Chinuch who says that Rambam views viduy as the mitzvah, while teshuva is itself is not a mitzvah, but rather a self evident act.  What Jew would wish to live with sin?  This parallels Rav Nachshoni’s understanding of Rambam, where teshuva is the promised result while viduy is the mitzvah.  The Rav quotes his father, Rav Moshe and great grandfather, Rav Yosef Ber as rejecting this interpretation out of hand.  The fact that Rambam himself says that teshuva is a promise, as stated in our passukim, and which appears to support the position of the Minchat Chinuch, is dismissed by the Rav for the simple reason that in the very same halacha (7:5) Rambam states that “all the neviim commanded us to repent”.  It is clear, therefore, that Rambam never intended to suggest that there is no mitzvah of teshuva.  But if this is the case, why does Rambam codify the mitzvah as viduy and not as teshuva?  Beyond this, stresses the Rav, what would the logic of viduy without teshuva be?  What possible value could it have?

The Rav suggests that Rambam puts mitzvoth in general into two basic categories, mitzvoth where the act (peula) of the mitzvah is identical with the fulfillment (kiyum) of the mitzvah, and those mitzvoth where the peula is separate from the kiyum.  Most mitzvoth fall in the first category.  Mitzvoth which require an emotional connection, what the Rav terms “avodat halev”, however, fall into the second group.  Three examples of this category would be the laws of mourning (aveilut), the mitzvah of rejoicing on a festival (v’samachta b’chagecha) and the laws of prayer.  In all three of these cases the actual mitzvah is defined by an individual’s emotional state. A person can go through the motions of mourning but if they feel no sense of loss then going through the motions is all they have done.  Similarly, one can celebrate a chag, but if he feels no joy the celebration is devoid of value.  Finally, mumbling words or formulas can not be defined as prayer.  Prayer is a function of expression; joy, sorrow, pain or hope can all be wrapped up in an individual.  Words come to express and convey these emotions, but they can’t create them.

Halacha, however, is a normative code of behavior.  Such a code can regulate actions, it can not demand emotional investment.  Thus, in all these cases when Rambam comes to codify the halacha, he is forced to “settle” for delineating how a person needs to act.  He can’t legislate emotion, only behavior.  As a result the mitzvah is defined by the action, the peulah, not the kiyum.  But this leads to an awkward, even absurd situation, where the mitzvah is defined by the secondary action as opposed to the primary kiyum.

The same is true of teshuva.  Teshuva is ultimately an act of emotion, a declaration of guilt, a plea for atonement.  But as in our first three examples there is no way that such an expression of emotion can be legislated.  Only the secondary acts of demonstrating the emotional connection to the mitzvah can be codified.  Thus, Rambam is forced to “make do” with noting that one is obligated to confess if he wishes to repent for his sins.  Viduy becomes the physical manifestation of the mitzvah of teshuva, a mitzvah whose kiyum is in the heart.   

As we contemplate the advent of Yemai HaDin our thoughts turn to Teshuva and to personal and communal tikkun.  May we be zoche to achieve true repentance and to be granted a year of health and happiness on a personal level, while being zoche to geula shlaima on a national level.

Shanbbat Shalom
















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