Tshuvah (Repentance) and the Noahide Ger.
We are rapidly approaching a period of the year that, most notably, stands between Galut and Geulah (Exile and Redemption). It is from the beginning of the month of Elul to Yom Kippur, a period of 40 days. And when I say Exile here, I mean the exile of the soul, spiritual exile.
I have already written on my blog that when the First Temple was destroyed in 586 BCE, the Jewish people and the entire world were plunged into spiritual exile, primarily for the sins of idolatry, sexual perversion and murder. The exile lasted 2600 years.
The Six Day War in 1967, when Israel demolished the armies of Egypt, Syria and Jordan, is considered the Great Shofar, the blast of the ram’s horn that signaled the end of the Exile and the beginning of the Final Redemption.
It was not a sudden happening, but a transition that ended in the year 2007, a 40 year process. This means that we are now 10 years into the Final Redemption. But not everyone gets it. It is dependent on Hashem opening the peoples’ eyes to see it, and giving them the courage to actualize it in their lives.
The difference between spiritual exile and redemption is one factor and one factor alone (although it can take many forms). The one factor is the revelation of G-d.
In exile, G-d is concealed. It is called hester panim. And when G-d conceals Himself, He does it perfectly. It is as if He is not there. But in a time of redemption, G-d is revealed. It is called gilui Shechina, the revelation of G-d’s Presence. It can be a quiet, subtle revelation that many people will not have the sensitivity to perceive. Or, it can be a blast of Divine Light that no one could deny and from which it could take six months to recover.
And it all happens according to the words of Jeremiah 3:14, “one from a city, two from a family.” Not everyone gets it and those who do not get it (the Galutians), fight against it.
Geulah is a challenge for every individual who experiences it. It is a challenge of bitachon, trust in G-d. The Geulian has to trust G-d that this is really happening.
This challenge manifests itself by the same question that the Hebrews asked after they were redeemed from Egypt (Exodus 17:7), “Is the Lord among us or not?”
The people saw the ten plagues and the redemption from Egypt. They saw the Red Sea split for them. They saw that they were protected by a pillar of fire and a pillar of cloud, and even after all that, they had the insensitivity to ask if G-d was among them?
It was a slap in G-d’s face to doubt His Presence when it was so evident.
This is the challenge we face today in Geulah (Redemption). And we have to deal with this challenge quite often during the 40 days from Rosh Chodesh Elul (Aug. 23, 2017) until the night after Yom Kippur (Sept. 30th, 2017).
I will begin by stating that normative Orthodox Judaism faces the challenge by holding tightly onto the status quo. In other words, they do everything as if we were still in Galut and as if G-d were concealed. The establishment of Orthodox Judaism is Galutian and there is not much we can do about it, except make a separate peace with it for ourselves and our families.
In Galut, it is very difficult to secure G-d’s forgiveness for our sins and failings of the previous year. We have to beg Him and beg Him and beg Him by reciting a liturgy of Selichot (apology) prayers over and over, “We are sorry. We are sorry. Please forgive us. Please forgive us…ad nauseum.”
The Sefardim say this liturgy of Selichot prayers all 40 days (except for Shabbat), from the 1st of Elul up to and including Yom Kippur. Each day’s Selichot prayers take around 30 minutes. They are done before the morning prayer service.
Ashkenazim say Selichot prayers a minimum of four days before Rosh Hashanah and continue right through Yom Kippur.
Chabad says Selichot a minimum of four days before Rosh Hashanah and then stops after the Fast of Gedalia, and continues on the day of Yom Kippur itself.
The 40-day period of repentance and judgment is broken into two periods of time. The first period is between the 1st of Elul and Rosh Hashanah. And the second period is the 10 days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, which are known as Aseret yomei tshuvah, the Ten Days of Tshuvah – Return to G-d.
The problem we face today is the question of bitachon, trust in G-d. Is He among us or not? Do we observe these days they way we did in Galut, where we beg and beg and beg for forgiveness?
Or, do we say Selichot as if we are in Geulah, showing our trust in G-d, affirming that He is among us?
In Exile, we conclude the 40 days of repentance on Yom Kippur, when we pound our chests and ask forgiveness for specific sins (al chet,) individually and collectively, about 540 times during the 25-hour Yom Kippur day. All of this is done with the presumption that G-d is concealed.
In Geulah, we trust that G-d is among us. We say the standard liturgy of Selichot if we are so motivated, or we say we are sorry for our misdeeds in our own words. But if we do say the standard Selichot prayers, we avoid shuls where they recite Selichot with their lips alone, flying through the prayers as if shot out of a cannon.
Selichot in Geulah is a matter of laying bare our heart before G-d.
In Geulah, once we have shown genuine remorse for our errors – even one time – and after we promise to try to do better next year – even one time – we are done. In Geulah, begging and begging is an affront to G-d and a denial of His mercy. Begging and begging is saying that G-d is less merciful than man.
The halacha is that that if a person has wronged another person, he must ask for forgiveness. And if the wronged person will not forgive him, he must ask him again. If he asks three times for forgiveness, and the wronged person refuses to forgive him, then he need not ask again. In G-d’s eyes, he is forgiven, and now it becomes the wronged person’s problem.
So, by saying Selichot over and over, day after day, we are saying that G-d is less merciful than a hard-hearted person. There can be no greater insult to G-d than this because the Torah tells us (Psalms 145:6), “Hashem is good to all, and His mercies are above all His works.”
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With all this being said, here is my model template how to approach tshuvah during the 40 days. You can do less or more. It is only a string of suggestions:
1. On Wednesday, Elul 1, carve out some time in the afternoon to sit down and contemplate your successes and failures, your mitzvoth and aveirot (transgressions) of the previous eleven months. Mentally searching the year, month by month, will help. Most people know where they have done wrong and where they have not measured up to what Hashem wants from them.
Take on the responsibility of regretting the mistakes and expanding on the good. Ten minutes is all it should take. Chassidim used to spend at least half an hour on this.
2. From the 2nd of Elul until the 18th, search for G-d in your life, in the manner of “Darshuni v’chai – Seek Me and live (Amos 5:4). The Talmud (Makkot 24a) says this is the fundamental principle of the entire Torah. These days are called days when “the King is in field.” Hashem is off His throne and accessible more than any other time of the year. Connect and bond. It is a time when the Yud-Gimmel Middot of Rachamim are revealed – ultimate mercy. It helps to read Tehillim (Psalms) during this period.
3. On Elul 27 and 28 (Sept. 18 and 19, 2017) as early in the morning as you can, preferably before dawn, read through the text of one of the Selichot prayers online. Here is a link: http://www.kblh4all.com/Siddur/Selichot/K4A_Selichot.pdf Omit saying the Kaddish at the beginning and the end. You can say everything else or pick and choose.
4. Wednesday, Sept. 20 is erev Rosh Hashanah. Prepare for the coming day like you would prepare for Shabbat. Repeat the ten minutes of soul searching you did on Elul 1. And, most of all, give tzedaka on this day.
5. Rosh Hashanah, the 1st day of the month of Tishrei. The day is one of joy and blessing. We are being judged for good. Most important is to fulfill the mitzvah of hearing the Shofar (Levit. 23:24 and Num. 29:21). Go to shul and hear it there (Find out when they blow) or ask a Jewish friend to blow for you. I would tell you to go to a Judaica store and buy a shofar and blow it yourself. But it can be very difficult to make a creditable sound on most Shofrot, and there is a system to blowing that should be done correctly and it is worthwhile to find someone who really knows how. Keep one day Rosh Hashanah. The Shacharit and Musaf prayers on Rosh Hashanah are very long and you will need a Rosh Hashanah Machzor, which is a Siddur of prayers specifically for the day. Most Judaica stores online will have one.
If you go to shul, try to find a Sefardic shul. The service is one hour shorter than the Ashkenazim and the Arizal says the Ashkenazim seder of prayer is wrong because they insert special songs in the middle of the Amidah, and that should not be done, for they are not prayer. On this day, Hashem sees all of existence with a single glance and every being that came into the world is raised up and stands before the Throne and is judged for good. It is possible to know exactly when this happens by feeling the moment. If your knowing is a dimyon (vain imagining), so what? Tears on this day are uniquely precious. Most of all, they should be tears of joy.
You can recite the standard liturgy from the Orthodox Jewish prayer books, if that is the way you believe it should be done. Or, by concealing yourself in your most private space and opening your heart to G-d with tears. Either way, you can be certain that you will receive a wonderful, fabulously great judgment on Rosh Hashanah from Avinu Malkeinu, our Father and our King, a merciful G-d.
We approach the day by trusting G-d, for trust in G-d is the portal to freedom, and freedom is what Geulah is all about.
7. And then, between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the Aseret Yomei tshivah – the ten Days of Return to G-d, we try to live up to our promises of doing better that we made on Elul 1. And we try to include ourselves in the Oneness of G-d.
8. On Yom Kippur, we fast and recite the al chet formula at least once and preferably twice, once by night and once by day, but certainly not ten times as the Galutians do. Get a Yom Kippur machzor (obviously Hebrew-English) and read the avodah section in the Musaf prayers where the service of the Cohen Gadol (High Priest) in the Holy Temple on Yom Kippur is indelibly and graphically described. At candlelighting time BEFORE Yom Kippur, it is an auspicious time to bless your family.
It is amazing how wonderful these “Days ofAwe” can be when we eliminate the drudgery by approaching them with the joy and openness of Redemption instead of trying to squeeze ourselves into the unpleasant narrowness of Exile.
Perhaps most important of all, on Yom Kippur, we must remember the reason for the day itself. The shocking news is that the actual reason for the day of Yom Kippur is nowhere to be found in any of the prayers or meditations in an Orthodox Jewish prayer book. The standard prayers miss the entire point of the day. Oy gevalt!!
What is the point of this great day? It was on Yom Kippur that Moses came down from the mountain with the second set of Tablets of the Ten Commandments to show us that G-d had forgiven the unforgiveable sin of worshipping the golden calf.
G-d’s giving of the Ten Commandments and our accepting the Ten Commandments was the eternal covenant between G-d and Israel, and the Nilveh, the Righteous Gentile who accompanies Israel. He is the Noahide Ger who says “Hear O Israel, the L-rd our G-d, the L-rd is One.”
Right after the avodah service in Musaf is the section about the Ten Martyrs. This is the place to open a Chumash and read the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:2-14) and contemplate the significance of receiving them at the base of Mount Sinai. From a Geulah perspective, one should consider not saying the section of the Ten Martyrs, even though they often bring one to tears.
The day of Yom Kippur itself attains forgiveness. All you have to do is live through it and make sure that during the last second of the day, you do not do a sin. The day concludes with a single blast on the Shofar and with the saying of Shema Yisrael (Deut. 6:4).
With Yom Kippur over, you can go build your sukkah, trusting that G-d has forgiven you everything and made you sinless. From this perspective, we look forward to seven days of feasting and celebrating G-d’s kindness on Sukkot, knowing that we have a clean slate for the coming year.