Shabbat Shuba: The Easiest Misva
Many of us find Teshuba to be a difficult, grueling process. We often feel too intimidated to even begin thinking about Teshuba and changing who we are.
And yet, ironically enough, the Torah indicates that Teshuba is actually the easiest Misva. Last Shabbat, in Parashat Nisavim, we read, “For this Misva…is not too difficult for you, nor is it distant from you… It is very near to you, in your mouth and in your heart…” (Debarim 30:11-14). The Ramban (Rabbi Moshe Nahmanides, Spain, 1194-1270) explains these Pesukim as referring to the Misva of Teshuba. It is regarding this Misva that we are reassured that it is easy, that it is not difficult or distant, that it can be easily achieved.
The Torah does not make this point about any other Misva. We are never told that it is easy to observe Shabbat or Pesah. Yet, specifically when it comes to Teshuba, to changing our characters, which seems to be the most difficult Misva of all, the Torah tells us that is easy. How could Teshuba be an easy Misva?
To answer this question, we turn our attention to an esoteric comment of the Arizal (Rabbi Yishak Luria of Safed, 1534-1572) concerning the widespread custom to wear a Tallit on the night of Yom Kippur. It is generally customary to ensure to put on the Tallit before sundown, so that we are able to recite the Beracha over the Tallit. Since a Beracha is not recited when putting on Sisit at night, and we want to “cash in” on every possible Misva before Yom Kippur, we try to put on the Tallit before sundown so we can recite a Beracha. The Arizal, however, held differently. He writes – astonishingly enough – that one does not recite a Beracha over the Tallit worn on the night of Yom Kippur, even if he puts on the Tallit before sundown, because the Tallit does not belong to him. Even though he paid for the Tallit and he wears it every day, it is not his. On Yom Kippur, the Tallit belongs to the Almighty.
How are we to understand this concept, that the Tallit on Yom Kippur actually belongs to God, and is not ours?
Rabbi Shimshon Pincus (1944-2001) offers a beautiful explanation. God relates to us in many different ways. On some occasions, He relates to us as a mighty warrior, and at others as a loving father. Sometimes He acts as judge, and other times as a king. Forgive the expression, but we might say that God wears many hats, as it were, playing a wide range of different roles in our lives. On Yom Kippur, Rav Pincus says, God relates to us as a mother. More often than not, when a father is caring for an infant, he returns the infant to the mother as soon as the infant soils himself and his clothing and needs to be cleaned and changed. Fathers certainly enjoy coddling and spending time with their baby, but they rush to pass on the childcare responsibilities once there is filth involved.
Sin soils the soul. We cannot see the filth with our eyes, but the filth of sin exists, and the great Sadikim are able to sense it. On Yom Kippur, God comes to us as a loving, tender, caring mother to clean up our mess, to get rid of our sins and make us clean as new. We enter Yom Kippur like an infant that has just dirtied himself, and we emerge from Yom Kippur like an infant wrapped in his towel after his bath, fresh and clean. The Tallit, Rav Pincus says, symbolizes the “towel” in which God wraps us, like a mother wrapping her clean child. This is not our Tallit. After all, on Yom Kippur we are like infants, who own nothing. This is our “Mother’s” Tallit, the Tallit which God wraps us in as He cleanses our souls.
The Sages describe Yom Kippur as one of the happiest days of the year. It is not a sad day; it is an exciting day, because becoming clean is exciting. We are transformed from a state of filth to a state of perfect cleanliness.
And this is why Teshuba is so easy – because it is the only Misva we do with God nearby as a loving mother helping us. God comes to clean us. As the Mishna says, “Fortunate are you, Israel! Before whom you are purified, and who purifies you? Your Father in heaven!” Hashem cleans us on Yom Kippur, He holds our hand and leads us through the process of repentance, and this is what makes it easy.
There is, however, one condition. A baby must cry out to his mother when he is dirty and needs to be cleaned. The mother won’t come unless she hears the infant’s desperate cries for help. And the same is true of us and our “Mother.” God comes to clean us only after He hears us crying for help. This means that at some point on Yom Kippur – and the earlier the better – we have to cry out desperately for God to come help us. We need to sincerely feel the discomfort of the accumulated filth on our souls, and to genuinely cry out to God to help us. He will then immediately come to clean us off like a mother devotedly tends to her child, and warmly wrap us in His Tallit, eliminating all our sins, leading us back to His service, and granting us complete forgiveness and the precious opportunity to begin the year with a perfectly clean slate.