Home>Jewish Living

Torah Sparks

September 20, 2003 - 5763

Annual Cycle: Deuteronomy 29:9-31:30 (Hertz, p. 878; Etz Hayim, p. 1165)
Triennial Cycle 2: Deuteronomy 30:1-31:6 (Hertz, p. 880; Etz Hayim, p. 1169)
Haftarah: Isaiah 60:10-63:9 (Hertz, p. 891; Etz Hayim, p. 1180)

Prepared by Rabbi Lee Buckman
Head of School, Jewish Academy of Metropolitan Detroit

Department of Services to Affiliated Congregations
Rabbi Martin J. Pasternak, Director

Discussion Theme: Repentance

When all these things befall you-the blessing and the curse that I have set before you-and you take them to heart amidst the various nations to which the Lord your God has banished you, and you return to the Lord your God, and you and your children heed His command with all your heart and all your soul... then the Lord your God will restore your fortunes and take you back in love. (Deut. 30:1-3)


  1. Shuv, "return," is the verb from which teshuvah, the Hebrew term for repentance, is derived. The Hebrew term does not refer only to contrition but to a change of behavior, literally a "return" to God and to the behavior that He requires. The concept of returning to God in the Torah is not identical to its better known from in the Prophets and in classical Judaism. In the Torah it is mentioned only as something that occurs after punishment has taken place: if the people take their punishment to heart and return to God, He will terminate their punishment. The prophets developed the concept further. They called upon people to repent before it was too late, and to thereby avert punishment altogether. The concept of teshuvah in classical Judaism combines both ideas, with emphasis on the latter. (Jeffrey Tigay, JPS Commentary, Deut. 4:30)
  2. How is one proved to be a true penitent? Said Rabbi Judah: If the opportunity to commit the same sin presents itself on two occasions and he does not yield to it. (Yoma 86b)
  3. The repentant sinner should strive to do good with the same faculties with which he sinned. With whatever part of the body he sinned, he should now engage in good deeds. If his feet had run to sin, let them now run to the performance of the good. If his mouth had spoken falsehood, let it now be opened in wisdom. Violent hands should now open in charity... The trouble-maker should now become a peace-maker. (Rabbi Jonah Gerondi, The Gates of Repentance)
  4. Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself. (Tolstoy)
  5. Be the change you want the world to become. (Ghandi)
  6. The human flaw is that we can deteriorate. And our virtue is that we can improve. The virtue of angels is that they cannot deteriorate. Their flaw is that they cannot improve. (Author unknown)
  7. Teshuvah... assumes the possibility of reversing the past. Despite reality's flow, within this unity the future may transform the meaning of the past. The sages, long ago stated that teshuvah existed before the creation of the world, that is, that it is not subject to the usual order of time; or, as Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav had it, since time does not exist for God, "teshuvah is essentially above time." By returning to God, man rises above time and so becomes able to correct the wrongs of the past and see himself as though he were newly born. When this happens, even his former days are transformed for the positive. To use Soloveitchik's expression, the most essential aspect of teshuvah is that "the future has overcome the past." (Ehud Luz, "Repent")
  8. We seek teshuvah because in the Jewish tradition the aim of life is to grow in soul. That is why an old rabbinic saying asserts that a repentant sinner stands upon a height that not event the greatest tzaddik (righteous person) can reach. The growth that is required to acknowledge one's sin, to seek to repair it, and to change one's ways is enormous and impressive. With each of those steps, the individual climbs higher and reaches towards holiness. We sin for many reasons---fear, insensitivity, cruelty, a hunger for pleasure. But true teshuvah comes not from fear or from the desire for pleasure but from something deeper. True teshuvah comes from a wellspring of joy. That may sound strange considering the terror and worry and anguish that consciousness of our sins sometimes causes us. But the end of a soul aligned with itself, with others, and with God is a feeling of great joy... Teshuvah is the soul's homecoming in this world. The pain of sin has been transfigured to joy, and the past has become a path back to God. (David Wolpe in Why be Jewish?)
  9. The Baal Shem Tov once met a cantor in a small community who used to recite the Al Chet with a lively tune rather than with the traditional somber melody that befits such a solemn prayer. He asked the cantor to explain this unusual behavior, and the cantor replied, "If a devoted servant of a king is assigned the task of cleaning the palace and removing all the trash, would he not be jubilant in the knowledge that he is beautifying the king's abode? Man is the palace of God, because He resides within each of us. When I confess my sins and dispose of objectionable matter that has accumulated within me, and thereby make myself into a more acceptable and suitable place for God to dwell, should I not rejoice?" (Abraham Twersky in Let us Make Man)

Sparks for Reflection/Discussion

What factors stand in the way of doing teshuvah? What can we do as a community to create a teshuvah community, one where people take seriously the desire and need to correct shortcomings? Which of the above commentators inspires you most?

Find a Kehilla USY Conservative Yeshiva Donate Careers Contact us
Copyright © 2017
United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism
All rights reserved.
120 Broadway, Suite 1540
New York, NY 10271-0016