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5 Divrei Torah: Aseret Yimei Teshuva

By: Other

As we are currently in the Aseret Yimei Teshuva, i felt it only appropriate to put up a few Divrei Torah and Divrei Chizuk about Teshuva. And to change things up just a bit, those who shared their Torah with you this time are not teachers at Midreshet Moriah (except for one, AIlie who actually is, and Pnina, who has been in the past...) but they are Midreshet Moriah alumni who have made their homes in Israel. Midreshet has great nachas in sharing these Divrei Torah with you.


Chavi Samet ('05-'06, '06-'07)


Beginning on the Motzei Shabbat before Rosh HaShana, Ashkenazim begin the recitation of Selichot.  One of the defining features of Selichot is the 13 Middot.

After the sin of the Golden Calf, Moshe begins to pray for forty days and nights to achieve forgiveness for Am Yisrael. After attaining this, Moshe sculpts the second set of luchot and along with this, the 13 Middot , are delivered.

What is significant about the 13 Middot that it occupies a prominent place in our liturgy?                      The Gemara in Rosh Hashana relates that Hashem told Moshe that every time the people sin, Yaasu lifanay seder hazeh, recite this prayer and they are guaranteed a response. This prayer will not be refused.  Why is it so effective? Why is it guaranteed to achieve forgiveness?

The 13 Middot consist of 13 qualities that “describe” or “characterize” Hashem’s “nature.” Hopefully, by reciting the 13 middot we increase our knowledge of Hashem and thus, as the Rambam says, our love for Him. “Knowing” Hashem allows for a deeper, more loving and inspired relationship with Him. This knowledge, this intimacy will ultimately lead to a stronger, more fervent prayer.  However, it must be underscored that Hashem told Moshe “yaasu”- implying that it is not enough just to recite them; rather Am Yisrael must internalize them and integrate them into their religious personalities. In this way we become deserving of his compassion.

 The first middah on the list is Hashem, Hashem. There is a debate whether this is one or two of the middot. The Gemara in Rosh Hashana comments here that the repetition of shem Hashem represents the duality of Hashem’s granting mercy to people both before they sin and after they sin. The question then arises, which of these two forms of mercy is less obvious? Many mefarshim think that it’s obvious that the sinner be granted mercy after his sin and that it’s the mercy before his sin that is less obvious. Why should one require mercy before he sins? Hashem knows beforehand that he will sin and despite that, Hashem judges the person on his current situation.

However, Rabbeinu Chananel takes a different approach. He says it’s the mercy Hashem demonstrates after the sin which is less obvious. If a person sins, Hashem offers him the gift of teshuva and the ability to completely restore the relationship. He can return the relationship to the very same state that he enjoyed before he sinned. This is something that only Hashem can grant us. Human beings are not capable of completely wiping the slate clean. A person may forgive, but he never forgets. Hashem, however, is different. He wipes the slate clean. When Hashem says Hashem twice, He is emphasizing this unique facet of teshuva, the concept of hashivenu Hashem elecha vinashuva chadesh yameinu kikedem. This is the embodiment of His mercy.

May we all strive to incorporate the message of the 13 Middot during the Yamim Noraim and merit the restoration of “Yemei Kedem.”



Tzippy (Blaut ) Rapp ('05-'06, '06-'07)

Harry was a middle aged man who despite having grown up quite close to an orthodox shul, had never really taken an interest in Judaism. Now, in his mid 40’s he lived alone and every Saturday morning he would talk a walk and pass by the shul. It would always be full of people and there seemed to be a lot going on but he would usually just glance in and keep walking. One Shabbat morning for some reason Harry decided to go inside the shul. He slipped in and quietly took a seat in the back, hoping no one would notice that he didn’t quite understand anything that was going on. After shachrit the rabbi, and several other community members who had noticed the new face, went over to wish Harry a Shabbat Shalom, ask him his name, and invite him to stay for the Kiddush. Harry, impressed by the community’s kindness decided not only to stay for the Kiddush but to come back again the following week. Week after week Harry would go to shul Shabbat morning and after a while he started learning during the week with the rabbi. One day the rabbi, along with some of the shul members approached Harry after minyan. “Harry” they said, “we really enjoy having you with us in the community and we want to give you an honor in shul next Shabbat”. “An honor, what sort of honor”? Harry asked surprised.

“Well how about an aliyah, we’ll call you up to say a bracha on the Torah” they suggested.

“An Aliyah, I just started reading Hebrew, it’s too much, I’ll mess up” Harry explained.

“OK, how about Hagba, the part when the Torah is lifted up, do you want to do that”? They asked.

“NO WAY! I’ll drop the Torah, it’s too much of a risk” Harry said nervously.

“Ok, what about Glilah, all you have to do is roll up the Torah scroll and but the cover back on it”.

“Um…ok” Harry agreed, “but I need a few weeks to practice before doing it in front of the whole shul”.

The rabbi and Harry would meet every morning after shachrit to practice rolling and covering the Torah. Finally the big Shabbat arrived. Harry was so nervous the entire shachrit; he could barely daven and had such a hard time listening to torah reading. Finally it was time. He made his way up to the bimah and nervously started to roll the Torah, carefully making sure each side was straight ant would fit together when they met in the middle. He hooked on the belt and slid the cover on, breathing a sigh of relief when it was all over. He turned to walk off the bimah, proud of himself for not messing up when someone handed him a big silver crown. He looked from the crown to the man who handed it to him, not knowing what to do. “Put it on Harry” they whispered. Harry just stood there, frozen. “Harry, put it on” more people started to say. Slowly, Harry lifted the crown, and placed it on his own head! Everyone in the room burst out laughing; it was so funny to see a grown man wearing the crown for the torah on his own head. Harry, realizing his mistake, threw the crown off and ran out of the shul. Immediately the community realized how they had embarrassed Harry and after shul rushed to his house to apologize. Harry forgave them, he understood that it was a funny site, but he absolutely refused their offers to try again. Everyday someone would come to Harry’s house and asked him to try again but he was too nervous that he would mess up again. Finally, after a couple months, and many visits from people in the community Harry decided to try again.


Rebbe Nachman taught the words to the well known song “kol haulam kulo, gesher tzar miod, v’ha’ikar lo lifached klal”. These words are often understood that although life is full of challenges and might be scary to walk through, like a narrow bridge, we shouldn’t be afraid that we will fall off. The Yamim Noraim are a time to view these words a bit differently. In life we face challenges, we go up against our yetzer harah every second of everyday, and often we lose. That’s life, we aren’t perfect, and fact we WILL fall off the bridge. So what is it we shouldn’t fear? We shouldn’t be afraid to get back on again. That is Teshuva. Teshuva is being able to face the past and say yes I messed up, true I wasn’t perfect, but Hashem is giving me a second chance and I shouldn’t be afraid to take it. If He believes in me I should believe in myself.

The Shulchan Aruch suggests that during the Elul and the Asseret Yemi Teshuvah we take on the additional stringency of eating only pas yisrael (bread made by Jews). We can learn from here that during this time we should take on an extra mitzvah, to increase our zchuyot, even if we have no intention of continuing it afterwards. What’s the point of taking on a new mitzvah if while doing it we don’t even have the intention to try and continue after Yom Kippor?! The Siftei Chayim explains that this mitzvah is a catalyst to break our routine. We become complacent with our religious lives allowing the regularity of our ways to serve an excuse to not grow. By taking on a new mitzvah we remind ourselves that growth, and teshuvah, regardless of how many times we placed the crown on our own heads, is possible.


Ailie (Cooper) Schmulowitz ('03-'04, '04-'05)

In one of his shiurim on Teshuva, Rav Paysach Krohn asks a very simple question. Why was it that davka the letter 'HEY' was added to both àáøäí and ùøä? In îðçåú ëè: --- the Gemara brings in a ôñå÷ from Breishit – "ela toldot hashamyaim vha’aratz, áäáøàí –" these are the stories of the heaven and the earth, when he created them. The âîøà says don’t read it áäáøàí – rather áä' áøàí – that he created the world with a HEY. What does that mean? How can ä' create the world with one letter?
îãøù in áøàùéú éá:á tells us that every letter needs a different part of your mouth to say. Some need your teeth, some need your throat, some need your lips – but the letter hey doesn’t need anything. It is so easy to say. "Lo ba’amal, vlo b’yigia" – it was that simple for ä' to create the world.
But there is another pshat in the Gemara.
ä' created the world, not with letter HEY, but LIKE the letter hey, why? It is a bottomless letter – so if someone does something wrong, he falls down. But on the side of the HEY, there is a door that is open for teshuva. A person, no matter what matzav, no matter what situation, can always come back through that door and do teshuva.
We can all look back this year, and see things that we might not have been so proud of – that we wish we wouldn’t have done – that’s not a reason to give up!



Ailie Cooper Schmulowitz ('03-'04, '04-'05)

Every Elul we begin saying L’DAVID after Shachris and Maariv, some say it after Shachris and Mincha.  One very famous pasuk that we say is “achas shaalti me’et ä', osah avakesh… ”
Which literally means, “One thing I asked of Hashem, that thing I request … that I should reside in the house of Hashem, every day of my life.” What was Davids purpose in saying sha’alti and avakesh? What is the difference between the two words?
Sha’alti – ask
Avakesh – request
Why is he repeating himself?
The answer is that he is not repeating himself as all. Levakesh can mean something entirely different – it can also mean to look for, or to seek.
Very often, if we want something, we will sit back and wait for it. We wait for it to come to us.
We want an i-phone, we want a trip to Israel, we want a new car, etc - we ask our parents, spouses, friends once, and wait for Chanukah present, afikoman, birthday etc.
David is saying, “Yes, there is something that I ask for, but this thing, OTAH AVAKESH!” – that thing I am going to seek out, that thing I am going to get myself. I am not going to wait for someone to get it for me.
This is the exact reason why we say this pasuk everyday, two times a day, in elul. We are about to come before HKBH, on RH and Yom Kippur, and we will have a lot to ask from him. If we don’t work on it now, and it we don’t show Hashem that it is important to us, to start improving and becoming a better Jew, then Why would it be important to Hashem. Why would Hashem take us seriously?


Pnina (Edelstein) Gabler ('03-'04, '04-'05)

What is Teshuva?
Returning to Hashem.
Returning to the close relationship.
Not the, once in a while, wave "Hi" and "Bye," but the constant, loving relationship of someone always on your mind and really feeling them in your heart.
Returning to that unity under the chuppa by Har Sinai, yearning only to bask in His glory.

What is Teshuva for a Mommy of two little boys living in Israel
Thinking of Hashem when I feed my kids in the morning.
Trying not to get upset when more and more food gets thrown on the floor.
Thanking Hashem when I watch them fall down repeatedly and get right back up again.
When I put them to sleep at night, whispering to Hashem to keep them safe and healthy because only He has that power.
Praying for Shalom Bayis as I light my Shabbos candles.

It's a big difference from teshuva during my years in Midreshet.
But from what I have learnt so far, it's still all about the relationship.
From parenting advice to marriage advice, the most important thing is to keep the relationship strong and positive.
And every relationship in our lives helps us learn how to relate with Hashem.

Rav Brauer points our that the first Rashi in every Sefer of the Torah focuses on Hashem's love for Am Yisrael.
In Breishit, Rashi asks, why does the Torah start with creation and not with the first mitzvah?
To point out very clearly that Hashem created everything and He chose to give Eretz Yisrael to us.
In Shmot, why does Hashem want to count the nation again?
Because when something is precious to you, you always keep counting it.
In Vayikra, the Torah uses that word specifically because it is an endearing terminology (lashon chiba).
Rashi points out the relationship that Hashem wants with us.
Then, it becomes our job to return that love.

But it's not that easy.
We all make mistakes. But the biggest mistake is doing the wrong thing and then thinking it can't be forgiven or undone.
A sin is like a stain on a white shirt.
It stares us in the face, but with the right formula it can always be removed.

Already in the first parsha of the Torah, Hashem shows us that making mistakes is part of being human.
And already in that first story Hashem shows us that even after we do something wrong, He still values our relationship.

After Adam sins, Hashem calls out, "Ayeka". (Breishit 3:9)
Does it really mean, "Where are you?"
Does Hashem really not know where Adam is?
Of course He does.
Then "Ayeka" must allude to a cry of despair.
"What happened?!"
Hashem opens dialogue and gives Adam a chance to say sorry, to do Teshuva, because that was the point of creating Adam.
Hashem just wanted to build a relationship with man and Adam broke it and then didn't even believe that he stood a chance at getting it back.

Soon after, Kayin kills Hevel. But what happens immediately afterwards?
Again, Hashem doesn't kill him or leave him. Hashem opens conversation, giving him the opportunity for teshuva.
"Ay Hevel Achicha?" (Breishit 4:9)
Of course Hashem knows where he is, but Hashem again uses a rhetorical question just to open communication.
Hashem asks, "Lama naflu panecha?"
Why are you upset? I just want you to do better, to talk to Me.

Right from the beginning Hashem tries to teach mankind about mankind.
We all make mistakes. But there's always a way back.

Hashem created us in order to have a relationship with us.
So to me, that idea is what helps me do teshuva.
Remembering that He wants that closeness, helps me remember that our lives must then be a running dialogue with Hashem.

What is Teshuva?
It is regaining that constant relationship of forgiveness, trust and unconditional love.




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