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Call Him When He is Close – The Ten Days of Teshuvah

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Parsha Halacha – Parshat Nitzavim

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The Torah portion of Nitzavim contains the section called Parshat HaTeshuvah,the Portion of Repentance. It describes how the Jewish people will return to G-d in the end of days.
Parshat HaTeshuvah
Here is most of that section: “And it will be, when all these things come upon you, the blessing and the curse… you will consider in your heart, among all the nations where the L-rd, your G-d, has banished you. And you will return to the L-rd, your G-d, with all your heart and with all your soul, and you will listen to His voice… Then the L-rd, your G-d, will bring back your exiles, and He will have mercy upon you. He will once again gather you from all the nations… Even if your exiles are at the end of the heavens, the L-rd, your G-d, will gather you from there, and He will take you from there. And the L-rd, your G-d, will bring you to the land which your forefathers possessed… and He will do good to you, and He will make you more numerous than your forefathers. And the L-rd, your G-d, will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, [so that you may] love the L-rd, your G-d, with all your heart and with all your soul, for the sake of your life.”
It is most appropriate that this Torah portion is always read on the Shabbat before Rosh HaShana when we are doing Teshuvah in preparation for the great Judgment Day.

When Recited

·        Every Day
Some have a custom to say the Portion of Repentance every day of the year, which is why it is printed after Shacharit (morning service) in many siddurim. The Seder HaYom (by Rabbi Moshe ben Machir of 16th-century Tzfat) writes (in the Kavanat Veseder Tefillat HaShachar) that, when saying this section, one should pray that all the Jewish people merit to repent. When one prays for someone else, G-d helps him in that matter as well. This will therefore help a person to do Teshuvah.
After reciting this section, a short prayer is recited asking that G-d dig a tunnel under his Throne of Glory in order to accept our Teshuvah. This alludes to how G-d accepted the Teshuvah of King Menashe despite the protestations of the Celestial Angels.
·        In Elul and the Days of Repentance
Some have the custom to say this section during the month of Elul and the Ten Days of Teshuvah (Siddur Olat Re’iyah quoting Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook).
·        On Shabbat Teshuvah
Others have the custom of reciting this section on Shabbat Teshuvah. This is quoted in the Yafeh Lev (vol. 2, 602:3) by Rabbi Rachamim ben Chayim Palagi of 19th- century Turkey. He writes that on Shabbat Teshuvah one should read chapters 9 – 10 of the Book of Daniel (containing Daniel’s prayers), chapters 8 – 10 of Nechemiah (describing the Teshuvah done in his time by the Jewish people around Rosh Hashana), chapter 51 of Tehillim (describing the Teshuvah of King David), the section called Parshat HaYirah (Deut. 10:12-22 and 11:1-9), and Parshat HaTeshuva (quoted above).
The rest of this article will discuss the significance of the Ten Days of Repentance between Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur as well as some of the customs of those days.

Even for the Individual

The Talmud (Rosh HaShana 18a) says that a negative decree on a community can always be reversed through prayer, whereas a negative decree on an individual can be reversed specifically during the Ten Days of Repentance. This is based on the verse that says, “Seek out G-d when He is found, call out to Him when He is near.”
This is also alluded to in the story of Naval HaKarmeli (Shmuel I 25), a very wealthy man who refused to assist King David and his men when they were in need. As a punishment for this, he became ill and lingered for ten days before dying. The Talmud (ibid) says that these were the Ten Days of Repentance. Some (Ritva and Rashash) explain that they were not the days between Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur but that he was granted ten days in which to repent and that these correspond to the Ten Days of Repentance.
The Yechida
The Alter Rebbe (Likutei Torah, Devarim, pg. Mem Gimmel, side 4) explains that during the Ten Days of Repentance the innermost core of the Jewish soul, called Yechidah, yearns to connect to the Almighty. Thus, the words of the Talmud, “hatam beyachid,” normally translated as “At that time [during the Ten Days of Repentance], it is for the individual,” taken on a deeper level, to mean – “Then [in the Ten Days of Repentance] it is the time of the Yechidah.”

Extra Mitzvot

The Rambam writes (Hilchot Teshuvah 3:4), “it is customary for all of Israel to give profusely to charity, perform many good deeds, and be occupied with mitzvot from Rosh HaShanah until Yom Kippur to a greater extent than during the remainder of the year.
“During these ten days, the custom is for everyone to rise while it is still night and pray in the synagogues with heart-rending words of supplication until daybreak.”
Extra Prayers
During the Ten Days of Repentance it is customary to recite Avinu Malkeinu, Shir Hama’alot Mima’amakim (Psalm 131) and, in many communities, Selichot. In addition, it is customary to recite extra Tehillim during these days.

Teshuvah

When examining one’s actions for the purpose of correcting them, one should consider that one may be performing mitzvot in a deficient manner. One should consider, for example, am I praying with concentration? Am I perhaps interrupting my prayers to talk idle chatter? (This is an astounding sin.) Am I concentrating on my Tefillin when wearing them? Am I keeping all of the detailed laws of Shabbat (including not to talk mundane chatter)? Do I have fixed time for Torah study? Am I giving Tzedaka (charity) for the sake of the mitzvah, or is it for honor or the like? The more one studies, the more one will realize how much needs to be corrected. (Birkei Yosef in Machazik Bracha 603:1)

Daily Regimen

Rabbi Tzvi Hirsh Horowitz (a Kabbalist of 17th-century Lithuania) recommends the following daily regimen for the weekday mornings of the Ten Days of Repentance (Aspaklaria Hame’ira, Parshat Teitzei, pg. 117d cited in Kaf HaChaim 603:25):
·        Immediately upon coming to shul, one should to a mitzvah, for example, give Tzedakah. He should have in mind that he is rectifying the final “hei” of G-d’s holy name.
·        Then he should study Torah or recite Tehillim, at least one complete book of Tehillim (Tehillim is divided up into five sections called books). This is to fix the “vav” of G-d’s name.
·        Then one should sit alone and contemplate thoroughly on his sins and worry over them. He should consider the greatness of the Almighty G-d whose fear is cast on all of Creation. Even the Celestial Angels tremble in His presence. He should therefore accept G-d’s yoke upon himself while intending to rectify the first “hei” of G-d’s name.
·        He should then study the ultimate wisdom, the wisdom of Kabbalah. If he can study it himself or with a friend, that is the best. If not, he should at least listen to a teaching of the book Reishit Chochma which contains many Kabbalistic teachings. (The same can be said of many Chassidic texts.) One should take to heart every lesson he learns and be sure it makes an impact on him. One should never forget the lesson in his heart and in his mind. This rectifies the letter “yud” of G-d’s name.
When we do our best to rectify the blemishes we caused in G-d’s holy Name, G-d will “fill in the blanks” and rectify, on our behalf, whatever is still missing.

The Nightly Teshuvah

The Zohar recommends that one do Teshuvah on a nightly basis as explained below. Even one who does not do Teshuva on a nightly basis during the year should make sure to do it during the Ten Days of Repentance (Elyah Rabbah 602:3). Here is how the Zohar describes this Teshuvah (Parshat Korach pg. 178a):
 A master accountant (who is saved from the punishment of Gehinom) is a person who does the following: Every night before going to lie down and sleep in his bed, he makes an accounting of everything that he did in that day. He then repents (on whatever was not done properly) and prays to G-d for mercy. Why is this the time for this matter? Because this is the time that the “Tree of Death” (i.e., the spirit of evil) is found in the world. (This is because sleep is equated with death, see Brachot 57b.) So, just as one must repent before passing from this world, so too one must repent every night before going to sleep.

Reading Material

The Rosh (quoted in Mateh Moshe Siman 832) recommends that one read the Igeret HaTeshuva of Rabeinu Yonah during these days.[1]
Here are some excerpts from Igeret HaTeshuva: (It is divided into seven sections, one for each day of the week.)
·        “When a person reads the Shema and comes to the verse ‘And you shall love the L-rd, your G-d, with all your heart, all your life, and all of your might’ one should take to heart what our sages say, ‘With all your life – even if they take your life’ (Brachot 54a). And he should subordinate his soul to G-d and decide to give his life up for the sake of G-d’s holy Name and be willing to die for this. G-d will consider it as if he actually did it (Yom Rishon).”
·        “One who wants to make a point should not say ‘So help me G-d’ unless it is absolutely true. Otherwise he is making a false oath (Yom Sheini).”
·        “An important path for Teshuva is to make a teacher (Rav) for oneself and acquire a friend. One should speak with his teacher and friend about matters relating to fear of Heaven. One should always seek his advice as to how to better one’s ways and save oneself from sin (Yom Shlishi).”
·        “This is an important rule in the Torah: If there is any matter about which you are not sure whether it is permissible or forbidden, you should consider it forbidden until you ask a scholar and he tells you that it’s permissible (Yom Revi’i).”
·        “A person who says ‘I will keep the entire Torah except for one mitzvah since my parents didn’t teach it to me and I’m not used to it, or the people of my community don’t keep it’ is a Porek Ohl – one who throws off the yoke of Heaven and is considered to be a wicked person. A slave may not say to his master, ‘I will choose to serve you in this way but not in another…’ One who repeats one sin many times is considered to have done a separate sin each time… A tzadik is careful in every mitzvah, and if, G-d forbid, he ever stumbles, he will confess and do Teshuvah and G-d will have mercy on him (Yom Chamishi).”
·        “A woman should be careful to pray in evening, morning and afternoon. (Please note: Although Rabbeinu Yonah says this, most women do not customarily pray Maariv [the evening service].) At the end of her prayer, she should plead that her sons and daughters should be   G-d-fearing and that her sons should be successful in Torah learning. This is the main merit of a woman in the next world – that her children are serving G-d and doing His will (Yom Shishi).”
·        “The members of every Shul should remind each other not to speak until the Chazzan finishes the entire service (Yom Shevi’i).
[1] The Mateh Moshe also quotes Rabbi Avraham in the Sefer Tzeror (I’m not sure which sefer this is) that one should study the Sefer HaYashar that is ascribed to Rabeinu Tam.
May we merit to do a complete Teshuvah and be inscribed and sealed for a good sweet year among all of the Jewish people!

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