The Magnitude of Teshuvah by Joseph Jarashow


Parshat Nitzavim, the first of this week’s two Parshiot, presents two paths for Bnei Yisrael to choose. We can be virtuous and be rewarded with life or we can live a life which lacks Torah and Middot and be punished with death. The Torah makes a similar proposition in Parshat Re’eh. The difference, however, is that in Parshat Re’eh, the result of living a moral life is a Berachah, and living an evil life leads simply to a Kelalah. Why is it that this week’s Parshah presents the far more serious ramifications of life and death?

Perhaps the question can be explained through the juxtaposition of these two paths to the Mitzvah of Teshuvah. Although Teshuvah is both a gift and a tremendous opportunity for us, it is also an act which is incumbent upon us to perform.  Before the Torah presented the notion of Teshuvah, good and evil simply resulted in Brachah and Kelalah. However, explains Rabbi Sobolofsky, after the institution of Teshuvah, one who fails to repent receives death for his transgressions.

This explanation of Teshuvah sheds light on a passage in the Rambam’s Hilchot Teshuvah. On Rosh HaShanah, a person is deemed either righteous, wicked, or in the middle. A person whose Mitzvot outnumber his Aveirot is considered righteous, and if one’s Aveirot are more abundant than his Mitzvot, he is considered wicked. If, however, one’s Aveirot and Mitzvot balance each other, that individual is considered to be Beinoni, “in the middle.”  The Rambam writes that a person who is in the middle has the opportunity to tip the scale in his favor by performing Teshuvah during the Aseret Yemei Teshuvah. However, even if the individual performs only Mitzvot from then on, if he did not repent for his earlier sins, he is still rendered a Rasha.  Why is this so? Just because he didn’t do Teshuvah, he should be wicked? He has more Mitzvot than Aveirot! It seems as if the Rambam believes that Teshuvah is such a tremendous gift that even performing extra Mitzvot can not remove the consequences of not repenting.

With Rosh HaShanah rapidly approaching, may we all be Zocheh to perform Teshuvah and to be the recipients of a Shanah Tovah UMetukah.

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