June 21, 2024
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Shabbat Shuva
Parshat Vayelech

At the end of last week’s parsha Moshe calls upon the heaven and earth to witness how Moshe had placed before the nation a choice of good and life or, c”v, evil and death, and urges the people to choose life. At the close of this week’s parsha, Moshe tells the leviyim to place the newly completed sefer Torah at the side of the Aron, the Holy Ark, so that it will stand as witness that the nation was warned of the consequences that await them if they become corrupt. And at the very beginning of next week’s parsha, Moshe again calls upon the heaven and earth to witness his words of caution.

I begin this article about the haftarah by discussing the last parshiyot because the Pesikta (Pesikta Rabbati is a collection of midrashim on the Torah and the haftarot, composed around 845 CE) makes a puzzling comment about the opening pasuk of the haftarah. The verse, taken from Sefer Hoshea, states: “Shuva Yisra’el ad Hashem E’lokecha,” and the Pesikta says the pasuk should be read as: “Shuva Yisra’el EID Hashem E’lokecha,” that Hashem is your witness, not heaven, not earth and not Torah alone!

HaRav Soloveitchik, in one of his essays (found in “On Repentance”), sees this somewhat curious statement of the Pesikta as a support to the view of the Rambam (Hilchot Teshuva 2:2) that true repentance is achieved when the sinner resolves in his heart never again to repeat the sin, and He who knows all that is hidden can indeed be a witness that this person will never again repeat that sin.

The Rav is quite troubled by this comment. Is this not a condition that the remorseful sinner will find almost impossible to fulfill? How can this be the demand of God of one who sincerely desires to do teshuva? And, if Hashem will testify that the sinner will never again sin—then what happens to the person’s freedom to choose how to act?

Rav Soloveitchik, therefore, turns to the Lechem Mishneh’s explanation, who states that the term “ya’id” does not mean that God will testify that the sinner will never again sin throughout his life. Rather, the Rambam’s term “ya’id” can also be understood as designating one as a witness, something Moshe Rabbeinu does at the end of the last parsha when he calls upon heaven and earth to testify for Israel in the future. The Rambam’s meaning, therefore, is that the sinner himself designates Hashem to witness how sincere and whole-hearted is his intention to repent and avoid sin.

We stand before Hashem during a most difficult time for us and all humankind. When we think back two years when we stood before a wonderfully promising time, we never dreamed that travel would be curtailed, economies destroyed, leaders challenged and, yes, even sports events and concerts canceled. These were not the years we thought they would be. And, again this year, as we stand before God we barely know what tomorrow will bring.

So, perhaps we should heed the opening words of our haftarah and “Shuva Yisra’el….EID,” our tefillot should be based upon the knowledge that Hashem is listening and witnessing how sincere our prayers are. We should realize that what we pray for is less important than how we pray. A sincere tefillah becomes an impactive experience that can affect us throughout the year.

For this reason we shouldn’t worry if we forget to pray for a specific something or someone. We should just pray deeply to Hashem and allow Him to “fill in the blanks” for us.

After all, when He witnesses that kind of tefillah, how can He fail to respond?


Rabbi Neil Winkler is the rabbi emeritus of the Young Israel Fort Lee and now lives in Israel.

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