This D’var Torah is in Z’chus L’Ilui Nishmas my sister Kayla Rus Bas Bunim Tuvia A”H, my grandfather Dovid Tzvi Ben Yosef Yochanan A”H, & my great aunt Rivkah Sorah Bas Zev Yehuda HaKohein in Z’chus L’Refuah Shileimah for:
-My father Bunim Tuvia Ben Channa Freidel
-My grandfather Moshe Ben Breindel, and my grandmothers Channah Freidel Bas Sarah, and Shulamis Bas Etta
-Mordechai Shlomo Ben Sarah Tili
-Noam Shmuel Ben Simcha
-And all of the Cholei Yisrael
-It should also be a Z’chus for an Aliyah of the holy Neshamos of Dovid Avraham Ben Chiya Kehas—R’ Dovid Winiarz ZT”L, Miriam Liba Bas Aharon—Rebbetzin Weiss A”H, as well as the Neshamos of those whose lives were taken in terror attacks (Hashem Yikom Damam), and a Z’chus for success for Tzaha”l as well as the rest of Am Yisrael, in Eretz Yisrael and in the Galus.
הַפְטָרָה שֶׁל פַּרָֺשַת וַיֵּלֶךְ
“The Teshuvah Triad”
The Haftarah for Parshas Vayeilech (when it is read alone and not with Nitzavim as a double-Parshah) is the famous Haftarah of “Shuvah Yisrael”-“Return (Repent), O Yisrael.” This Haftarah is famous as it is the basis for “Shabbos Shuvah,” the name of the Shabbos which falls out between Rosh HaShannah and Yom Kippur, during the Aseres Yimei Teshuvah, the Ten Days of Repentance.
The theme of the Haftarah is a no-brainer; “Teshuvah,” “Repentance.” As Teshuvah is not only a relevant topic at this time of year, but actually also in Parshas Vayeilech itself, it is only appropriate that we would read from a piece of Navi which talks about it.
However, the Haftarah of Shabbos Shuvah does more than merely present a piece of Navi which talks about Teshuvah. This most unique Haftarah is made up of three different passages from three different Nevi’im, Hoshei’a, Yo’el, and Michah of the Trei Asar (Twelve Prophets). And the question is why this is all necessary. Perhaps any one of these prophets could have sufficed to convey the time-appropriate message of Teshuvah. At Minchah of Yom Kippur itself, we have a full Haftarah devoted to Teshuvah, also taken from the Trei Asar, in the book of Yonah. There, we’re given an entire narrative that demonstrates Teshuvah on many levels—the people of Ninveih, the sailors on the ship, and even Yonah himself. But even then, it’s one piece from one Navi. What more do we need?
So, what is the function of the lyrical pieces from these three other members of Trei Asar? Why do we need to hear from all three of them?
Obviously, Sefer Yonah depicts Teshuvah in action. We are given a picture of many different individuals of different denominations rectifying their ways and coming closer to G-d’s ideal.
However, perhaps there is something beyond this depiction of Teshuvah in our Shabbos Shuvah Haftarah. Now, whatever it is that is being taught about Teshuvah in our Haftarah, why would we require three different prophets to get the message across… unless, of course, each prophet is actually contributing something different to the conversation. Perhaps, between Hoshei’a, Yo’el, and Michah, there are three fundamental points about Teshuvah which we are supposed to internalize. What are they?
If we look closely at the words of these three prophets, they highlight key components of Teshuvah well beyond the outward rectification of one’s actions. And these components, in some ways, were noted by the Rambam in his codifying of the Laws of Teshuvah (Hilchos Teshuvah). What do these Nevi’im teach us?
Hoshei’a: Teshuvah, Part I – “Take Words”
Beginning with the first segment from Hoshei’a [14:2-10], it seems that the underlying point in Teshuvah which the Navi wants to emphasize is that of articulation; we need to verbalize our Teshuvah by confessing our wrongdoings. Says the Navi [Hoshei’a 14:3], “Kichu Imachem Devarim ViShuvu El Hashem Imru Eilav Kal Tisa Avon V’Kach Tov U’Nishalmah Farim Sifaseinu”-“Take with you words and return to Hashem; say to Him, ‘Forgive every sin, and take what is good, and let our lips substitute for bulls.’” The Navi further demonstrates the importance of articulation when it describes the verbal declaration of the B’nei Yisrael when they admit that Assyria and their foreign “gods” can’t save them [14:4]. They thereby acknowledge that their sins were ultimately to no avail to them.
This portion of Teshuvah, also known as Viduy (confession), is apparently of utmost importance as the Torah requires a Viduy with every Sin offering, making Viduy, of all things, a Biblically mandated component of Teshuvah. That would explain why the Rambam lists Viduy as the very first and foremost obligation in the Teshuvah process [Hilchos Teshuvah 1:1]. Especially now when there are no more animal offerings and we are in need of a “substitute,” this confession becomes the primary offering.
But, why is Viduy of such importance? Isn’t the main idea really the correction of our ways? If we’ve changed our actions, haven’t we fundamentally accomplished our repentance?
Apparently, as far as Teshuvah is concerned, we have not. The Rambam actually compares the process of Viduy to a Mikvah which one immerses himself in to purify himself [Hilchos Teshuvah 2:3], because indeed, the confession of one’s sins is itself the purification process. Because, if one thinks about it, it is only when verbally confesses that he truly comes to terms with the fact that he has in fact done the wrong thing. It is no longer just an unpleasant memory which he can sweep under the rug and pretend never happened. G-d knows it is more than that, and the sinner himself has to admit it—not for G-d, but for himself. He has to stop living in denial and begin a conversation with G-d, or with anyone he has sinned to, and only then does the purification process begin.
Thus, when we begin to do Teshuvah, says Hoshei’a, “Take words with you…”
Yo’el: Teshuvah, Part II – “Tear Your Heart”
Enter Yo’el [2:11-27]. In this passage, the Navi, at first glance, calls us to outward action, instructing us to fast and cry as part of the Teshuvah process. Now, although the Torah itself requires bodily affliction on Yom Kippur, apparently as part of the Teshuvah process, it seems, from the consensus of a handful prophets that the bodily affliction is hardly fundamental in the Teshuvah process. For example, Yishaiyah and Amos, just to name a couple, have explicitly denounced individuals who attempt to use fasting and personal affliction as their easy-fix for their sins (Yishaiyah’s criticism of such individuals can be found in the morning Haftarah for Yom Kippur). They decry the fact that people rely on these mediums without genuinely doing Teshuvah in their hearts and committing to change their ways.
Indeed, Yo’el would not disagree with any of these prophets. If we look at his exact words, he urges the people in G-d’s Name [Yo’el 2:12], “…Shuvu Adai B’Chal Levavchem U’V’Tzom U’ViV’chi U’V’Mispeid”-“…Return to Me with all your heart, and with fasting and with weeping, and with eulogy [lamenting].” Indeed, although Yo’el, like the Torah itself, instructs the people to fast, he instructs them to do so as an aside to what he might call the heart of Teshuvah. Yes, Yo’el sees the outward expressions of affliction and sorrow as a tool for Teshuvah, but the goal is to actually feel it in one’s heart, hence, “Return to Me with all your heart.”
And in case the above wasn’t abundantly clear, in the very next verse, the Navi emphasizes [2:13], “Kir’u Levavchem V’Al Bigdeichem V’Shuvu El Hashem Elokeichem…”-“Tear your hearts, not your clothes, and return to Hashem your G-d…” That is because, in fact, the outward expressions, as important as they apparently are, are still not enough. The goal of every affliction is for our hearts to be aroused through them.
In this vein, the Rambam specifies that if one engages in the Viduy but does truly have conviction in his heart to abandon his sin, he is like one who immerses himself in a Mikvah with a Sheretz (impure creature) in his hand, making the purification process completely futile [Hilchos Teshuvah 2:3]. The Viduy has to be accompanied by Charatah, genuine remorse for one’s sins, and Kabbalah L’Asid, acceptance moving forward, to never commit the sin again—both expressions of the heart which are necessary stipulations in the Teshuvah process.
Thus, adds Yo’el, once we have begun Teshuvah by admitting our sins, we have to let go of the Sheretz and make sure that our Teshuvah is genuine, that we tear our hearts, and not merely our clothes.
Michah: Teshuvah, Part III – “Cast Away the Sins”
Finally, we have a few verses from Michah [7:18-20]. What does he contribute to the conversation about Teshuvah?
As it happens, these verses in Michah are the basis for the custom famously known as Tashlich, or “casting” away of one’s sins, in which one goes to an actual riverside and figuratively cast away his sins, following the imagery, in Michah, of our sins being thrown away into the Metzulos Yam, the depths of the sea.
At first glance, this imagery appears to be a reference to the most obvious component of Teshuvah which is Azivas Cheit, abandoning of one’s sins. In truth, it is through Azivas Cheit that one’s verbal “Viduy” and “Teshuvah B’Leiv” become solidified into concrete action. At the end of the day, we have to change our ways and stop committing the sins for our Teshuvah to be complete.
However, if one looks closely at these verses in Michah, it is hardly our personal abandonment of the sins which is actually being highlighted. Indeed, Azivas Cheit is the most obvious component of Teshuvah and is certainly required for the Teshuvah process, but there is apparently another factor involved here.
Says the Navi:
“Mi Keil Kamocha Nosei Avon V’Oveir Al Pesha L’She’eiris Nachalaso Lo Hechezik La’ad Apo Ki Chafeitz Chessed Hu”-“Who is like You, G-d, Who forgives iniquity and overlooks willful sin for the remnant of His heritage? He has not retained His wrath perpetually for He desires lovingkindness!” [Michah 7:18]
“Yashuv Yirachameinu Yichbosh Avonoseinu V’Sashlich BiM’tzulos Yam Kal Chatosam”-“He will again be merciful to us, suppress our iniquities, and cast all of their sins into the depths of the sea” [7:19].
The subject of these verses is not we, the sinners. The one casting away our sins is none other than Hashem. That is because without Hashem’s gift, His permission for our Teshuvah, we could never begin the process. Of course we have to be proactive and abandon our sins. As we’ve already mentioned, this much is demonstrated in multiple ways in Sefer Yonah. But, who says that even abandoning our sins should cover the tab? Who says that we have a right to Teshuvah once we’ve transgressed the Will of G-d?! Who says we deserve a second or third or one hundredth chance? In a court of law, even all of the previous steps of Teshuvah combined with Azivas Cheit would not be enough!
“Your honor, I want to publically confess that I have stolen from the plaintiff, Bob. Bob, I’m really, genuinely, sincerely sorry for having stolen from you, and I promise you today that I will never ever steal from you again.” It’s not that simple. Even if it were true that you, indeed, would never again have stolen from Bob, the case would be long lost and you would be penalized.
Teshuvah, in fact, is not natural. In this vein, the Gemara in Pesachim [54A] and Nedarim [39B] states that Teshuvah is one of seven things that was created before the world. Apparently, it had to be that way; otherwise, it would not exist period. Teshuvah is a supernatural phenomenon. By the rules of nature, it should not exist. If we wronged G-d, we should suffer for it. G-d, like any judge, should justifiably mete out whatever justice He deems necessary without further discussion. However, G-d has given us this unique gift that He enables our Teshuvah at all. Hence, “Mi Keil Kamocha?”-“Who is like You, G-d?”
Yes, we have to take all of the necessary steps to perform Teshuvah, but like anything else, it is by Hashem’s Chessed that any of it is possible. We might go to the riverside and pour our hearts out in prayer and confession, but it is He who ultimately casts our sins away!
So important is this component—G-d’s merciful granting of our Teshuvah—that these verses from Michah make their way into the end of Maftir Yonah, because at the end of the day, if we don’t have this grant, we cannot begin Teshuvah. It is an opportunity, a gift, like no other, from Hashem.
There is plenty to reflect upon during the Aseres Yimei Teshuvah, and no less on Shabbos Shuvah. We have our work cut out for us. As difficult as Teshuvah is, this Haftarah provides some important key points for us to consider. Aside from abandoning our sins, we need to remember the lessons of these Nevi’im: Hoshei’a teaches us to “take words” and own up to our actions. Yo’el reminds us to be genuine and feel the Teshuvah in our hearts. And finally, Michah reminds us that we are not entitled, that Teshuvah is Hashem’s gift to us. If we do everything properly, we can pray that Hashem will cast away our sins forever and allow us to return to Him.
May we all be Zocheh to follow all the necessary steps to Teshuvah and Hashem should enable to us to attain true, Teshuvah Shileimah, bringing us ever closer to Him and redeeming us with the final Geulah and the coming of Moshiach, Bimheirah Biyomeinu! Have a Great Shabbos Shuvah and a G’mar Chasimah Tovah!
-Yehoshua Shmuel Eisenberg 🙂