Teshuvah – When and Where? by Zev Jarashow


In Parashat Nitzavim, Moshe relates to Bnei Yisrael the commandment to do Teshuvah, as he says, “VeAtah Tashuv VeShamata BeKol Hashem VeAsita Et Kol Mitzvotav Asher Anochi Metzavecha HaYom,” “And you will return and listen to the voice of Hashem, and fulfill all of His commandments, which I command you this day” (Devarim 30:8). The question we must ask ourselves is what exactly is Teshuvah and how do we perform it properly? The classic definition of Teshuvah is repentance; however, what exactly does that mean? How does one repent properly? Do Tefillah and Talmud Torah help absolve us of our sins, or perhaps is there a certain action that can be done in order to accomplish true Teshuvah?

In his Lilmod Ulelamed, Rav Mordechai Katz explains that the answer to these questions can be found in a story that appears in Sefer BeReishit. When Yosef’s brothers (including Binyamin) visit Egypt, Yosef sends them back with the command to, “Fill the men's sacks with food, as much as they can carry, and put each man's money into the mouth of his sack” (BeReishit 44:1). Following this, Yosef puts his gold goblet in Binyamin’s sack and tells his servants to chase the brothers and retrieve the goblet. The goblet is found in Binyamin’s sack, and therefore, Yosef’s servants bring all the brothers back to Yosef's house. Yosef proclaims that he will take only Binyamin, the thief, but the other brothers will be allowed to return to their father, because it would be sacrilegious to take any of the brothers who did not steal. Yehudah, however, stands up and tells Yosef that he and his brothers made a promise to their father that the youngest one, Binyamin, would certainly return home, and therefore, they are unable to leave. At this moment, the brothers accomplished full Teshuvah. Many years back, the brothers had the opportunity to get rid of Yosef, Ya’akov’s favorite son of his beloved Rachel, and they did so. At this moment, when the brothers had the same exact opportunity to get rid of their father’s new favorite son, Binyamin, from his favorite wife, Rachel, they did not allow it to happen. They would not make the same mistake that they made in the past. By doing so, the brothers accomplished the best form of Teshuvah: they were placed in a situation similar to a  previous one, and they rectified their previous mistake. Therefore, immediately after Yehudah stood up for Binyamin, Yosef revealed himself to his brothers (45:3). Yosef knew that once the brothers did not leave Binyamin behind, they had performed full Teshuvah for their sin of throwing Yosef into a pit and selling him.

A story is related about Rav Yitzchak of Cracow, who was a poor man struggling to find money. He had a dream that if he would go to Prague and look under the main bridge, he would find a great treasure. He didn’t think so much of this dream at first, but when this dream reoccurred multiple times, he decided to go to Prague and see if he could find the treasure. When he arrived in Prague, he went under the bridge and found a whole coterie of the king's soldiers. After standing there for a few minutes contemplating what to do, he went away and figured that he would try to come back the next day. The same routine happened for a few days. One of the king's soldiers started to realize that this man was coming every day, and he asked the Rabbi why he kept coming to the bridge. The Rabbi responded by telling the guard his dream, and the guard said back, “If I would listen to my dream like that, I would be at a Rabbi’s house in Cracow. I always dream that there is a Rabbi in Cracow with riches in his backyard. If I were you, I would leave and return home.” The Rabbi did exactly that, and found the treasure in his backyard.

This story teaches us that we do not need to travel anywhere or look so hard for Teshuvah; we just need to look in our own backyards and open our eyes to see endless opportunities to do Teshuvah. As we approach the Aseret Yemei Teshuvah, we should all look out for opportunities to do Teshuvah and remember that it “is not in the heaven” (Devarim 30:12) and “is not beyond the sea” (Devarim 30:13).

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