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Repentance from Love

Nitzavim (Deuteronomy 29:9-30:20 )

by Rabbi Yehonasan Gefen

In this week’s Torah portion the Torah tells us: ““For this mitzvah that I command you today is not hidden from you and is not distant. It is not in the heavens for you to say ‘Who can ascend to the heavens for us and take it for us and let us hear it, so that we can perform it?’ Nor is it across the sea for you to say, ‘Who can cross to the other side of the sea for us and take it for us, and let us hear it, so that we can perform it?”1

There is a major dispute as to what the word ‘mitzvah’ refers to: Rashi explains that it alludes to the whole Torah. However, the Ramban and Seforno explain that it is going on the mitzvah of teshuva (repentance). The Netsiv2 agrees that the Torah is referring to teshuva but he understands, based on his reading of the verses, that the Torah is referring to teshuva m’ahavah in particular – repentance from love – this is a far higher form of teshuva than teshuva m’yirah – repentance from fear. Based on this reading, the Torah is teaching that repentance from love is easily attainable.

This begs the obvious question that repentance from love would seem to be very difficult, so how can the Torah suggest that it can be accomplished with ease? An additional question is that the way one comes to love a person is to get to know them. When a person loves another person, it is because the first person knows what the second person is all about. People appreciate and understand each other to the point that they develop a strong attachment. The problem is that truly understanding God is beyond our ability. So how do we come to love Him and how can we come back to him out of “love?” And again, why is this so easy?

The Netziv answers by referring to the Kabbalistic idea that Israel and the Holy One, Blessed Be He, are one. This means that a Jew and God are intrinsically connected even without any actual knowledge of each other. The most relatable example of this is a parent to a child: A parent can love a child even if he does not know him and even if he never sees him. The first time that they meet, they will be immediately drawn to one another, after even the slightest introduction. The natural connection between parent and child bridges any gap that may exist.

Rabbi Yissachar Frand tells over a dramatic story in this vein:

There was a 49-year-old adopted woman in California, whose adoptive parents told her that she originally came from Israel. The woman had always noticed she looked different than her parents. It was obvious that they were not her natural parents. She began to investigate her background. At about the same time, an Israeli journalist was doing an investigative article on a scandal involving Moroccan Jews who first arrived in Israel in the early 1950s.

Many Moroccan mothers, who could not speak the language well and did not have any connections in the country, were told that their children died during childbirth. In actuality, these children were stolen and sold for adoption, both in Israel and overseas. The woman from California traveled to Israel and met with the investigative reporter. They uncovered certain documents, and went back to the hospital where she was born. To make a very long story short, DNA testing enabled the woman to find her Moroccan mother — who had been told that her child had died shortly after delivery, 49 years earlier.

As Rabbi Frand explains, these were two women who came from completely different cultures. They had nothing to do with each other for nearly five decades, for almost the entire lifetime of the daughter. When they met for the first time, they fell into each other’s arms and began kissing each other and crying uncontrollably. The mother did not know the daughter, and the daughter did not know the mother. They did not know each other’s language and could not even communicate except through their tears and their kisses and their hugs. Why did they react this way? They reacted this way because this was a mother and her daughter.

This is what the Netsiv is saying - a father and son -­ even if they never met one another -­ nevertheless, when they do meet, are drawn to one another after the slightest introduction, because it is part of nature that they are connected.

The Netsiv also discusses how each Jew connects to God through the medium of Torah in particular. It seems that just as there is an intrinsic connection between a Jew and God, the same applies between a Jew and the Torah, which is the way to connect to God. This is borne out by the saying of the Sages that teaches that a fetus in the womb is taught the entire Torah, and before it is born, an Angel strikes it above the nose and causes it to forget the Torah. However, the Torah does not leave the person, rather it goes deep inside him. His job in life is to learn Torah through hard work, but he has the natural connection to the Torah he learns, because it deep in his soul. Rabbi Noach Weinberg used to explain, based on this Gemara, that every Jew knows deep down the truth of Torah, so when he hears the truth, he will intrinsically connect to it even if the values that he was brought up with, totally contradict the Torah he is now hearing.

Thus, we see that teshuva and Torah are both ‘easily’ attained because of every Jew’s inherent connection to God and His Torah. Our job in this time of year is to try to tap into this natural connection, which may require removing layers of spiritual dirt that block the connection, but they never totally sever it. May we all merit to return to God and His Torah.

  1. Devarim, 30:11-13.
  2. Emek Dvar, Ibid. Cited by Rav Yissachar Frand, shlit’a.



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