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Shabbat Shuva- Teshuba & Torah Learning

The famous Haftara read on Shabbat Shuba – the Shabbat in between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur – comes from the Book of Hoshea, and begins with the prophet calling to the people, "Return, O Israel, unto Hashem your G-d, for you have stumbled through your sin" (14:2). Hoshea then instructs us how to embark on this road of repentance: "Kehu Imachem Debarim Ve’shubu El Hashem" – "Take with yourselves words, and return to G-d" (14:3).

Rav Aharon Kotler (1892-1962) explains that these "words" are the words of the Torah. In order to properly repent, one must devote time to the study of Torah.

In truth, this is stated explicitly in the Midrash (Yalkut Shimoni, 935), which teaches: "If a person stumbled upon a sin for which he liable to death at the hands of G-d, what shall he do so he may live? He should involve himself in Torah. If he was accustomed to reading one page, he should read two pages; to learn one chapter, he should learn two chapters." The Midrash tells us that one can avoid the repercussions of his wrongdoing by increasing the amount of time he spends learning Torah.

Why is Torah learning a crucial component of Teshuba? The Rambam famously lists the four elements that comprise the process of repentance – discontinuing the sinful behavior, remorse, confession, and committing not to repeat the sin in the future. All these stages are readily understandable, as they relate to the sin itself. But how does this additional component – Torah study – relate to the process of Teshuba?

The answer can be found in a well-known Mishna in Pirkeh Abot (3:6) which teaches that whenever somebody learns Torah, the Shechina (divine presence) is with him. Each and every time we open a Torah book, or listen to a Torah class, G-d is present. We are all very enthusiastic when we have the privilege of meeting with a famous Sadik for five minutes; but in truth, every time we learn Torah, we are together with G-d throughout the entire period we spend learning. He is right there with us each and every time we study Torah.

Sin creates distance between us and G-d. It severs the connection between us. We all become frazzled when we are somewhere without a Wi-Fi connection, or without cellphone reception. But losing our connection with G-d is much more serious. G-d is the source of all blessing and goodness in our lives; when we lose our connection to Him, we lose our connection to everything that we need and want. Teshuba literally means "return." As we cited earlier, Hoshea calls to us and pleads, "Return, O Israel, unto Hashem your G-d." Teshuba is the process of rebuilding our connection with Hashem after having severed that connection through our misconduct.

As we think about the way we need to grow and improve during this period of repentance, let us include as well as resolution to increase the amount of time we devote to Torah learning. Our efforts to "return" to G-d, to rebuild and enhance our connection with Him, must include a commitment to Torah learning, which brings Hashem into our lives and brings us closer to Him. Let us make Torah study an important part of our Teshuba process during this season, and we will, please G-d, be worthy of being inscribed in the Book of Life and of being blessed with a year of joy, success and prosperity, Amen.

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