June 23, 2024
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Teshuva: The Ultimate Return Transcends Words

There’s a heartwarming story told about two of the greatest chasidic rebbes of the 18th century, who grew up as best friends. Rav Avraham Twersky, known as the Trisker Maggid, (son of Rav Mottel of Chernobyl) and Rav Menachum Mendel Kalish, (son of Rav Yitzchak Vorka). As these best of friends grew older and eventually inherited their respective fathers’ chasidic dynasties, they made a pact that wherever they went in life, they would maintain their close contact by sending each other a weekly letter. With the passage of time, the two rebbes stayed true to their word, though the geographic distance between Vorka, Poland and Trisk, Ukraine meant the letters often took weeks to arrive.

Sensing his rebbe’s frustration, Moishele, the trusted shames (assistant) of Rav Mendel Vorka, offered a solution. Moishele would set out early each Friday morning on the half day wagon journey to Trisk to personally deliver his rebbe’s letter to his lifelong friend, the Trisker Maggid. Moishele would then wait an hour or two as the Trisker Maggid would carefully read his dear friend’s letter and would pen his reply for Moishele to hand deliver to his rebbe in Vorka just before the onset of Shabbos.

This weekly routine continued for several years, before early one Friday morning Moishele’s curiosity got the best of him. Shortly after departing and crossing into the outskirts of Vorka, Moishele proceeded to open the letter from his rebbe and was shocked to find a blank piece of paper!

Upon arriving in Trisk several hours later, Moishele was greeted warmly by the Trisker Maggid, who thanked Moishele profusely for making the trip and asked him to please wait while he retreated to his study to read the letter from his friend Rav Mendel. After some time, the Trisker Maggid emerged with emotion in his voice and asked Moishele to please deliver his reply to his friend, the rebbe in Vorka.

Sure enough, shortly after departing from Trisk, Moishele hurriedly opened the Trisker Maggid’s reply and was heartbroken to find another blank sheet of paper! Upon arriving back in Vorka shortly before Shabbos, Moishe handed Rav Mendel the Trisker Maggid’s reply before returning home.

Normally one to constantly be at his rebbe’s side, Moishele was uncharacteristically absent throughout Shabbos. Immediately after Shabbos the rebbe sent for Moishele and asked him if something was bothering him. Moishele replied by asking his rebbe for mechila (forgiveness) before sharing with the rebbe that his yetzer hara (evil inclination) got the best of him, and that he had opened up the rebbe’s letter to the Trisker Maggid.

Moishele proceeded to share with the rebbe how he waited over an hour before the Trisker Maggid emotionally sent him on his way with his reply. Moishele then shared how he opened the Trisker Maggid’s reply and was further perplexed to find yet another blank piece of paper! Had the two holy rebbes been playing him for a fool for all these years?

The rebbe calmly explained that most weeks the two rebbes indeed shared real letters with actual words. However, the neshamot (souls) of the two rebbes were so intertwined that sometimes their messages were so deep that they transcended words and could best be conveyed through the empty spaces of the white parchment.

The shofar’s wordless cry from the depths of our souls conveys our holiest and deepest feelings for Hashem and declares our emotional return home from our lifelong wanderings. If Rosh Hashanah represents our return home, Yom Kippur represents our return to ourselves.

While Yom Kippur undeniably contains a measure of heaviness, the reality is that the deepest essence of teshuva is simply to return to our natural and true selves.

In the translation to Rav Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook’s Orot HaTeshuva that appears in the sefer Song of Teshuva by Rav Moshe Weinberger, it says:

“It is the nature of the human spirit to go on a straight path and when a person has turned aside from the path, when he has fallen into sin, if his spirit has not yet become completely corrupted, this natural sense of straightness saddens his heart and he wastes away from pain. And he moves with alacrity to return and repair that which is crooked, until he feels that his sin has been erased.”

In Rav Weinberger’s commentary that follows he writes:

“Teshuva does not mean that a person has to make something of himself out of nothing. Rather, teshuva means that a person must return to where he started. A person may experience bitterness when he does teshuva. But teshuva is more than that. It is the power that impels a person and the entire world to return to a natural state of health, an infinite energy that drives us to transcend the circumstances of our lives and return to God.”

Most Rishonim say the source of the mitzvah of teshuva is the pasuk in Devarim (Perek 30, Pesukim 11-14) “It is not in heaven … nor is it beyond the sea … The matter is very close to you, in your mouth and in your heart to do it.” Not only is teshuva not something that is so far away from us that it would be seemingly impossible to achieve, but we are taught that man was created to be naturally good, and hence the return to the essence of who we really are is very natural and close to us.

May the final shofar blast at Neilah’s conclusion mark the intersection of our wordless and triumphant return to Hashem, with our joyous return to who we ourselves were naturally created to become. Gmar Chasima Tova!


Daniel Gibber is a longtime resident of Teaneck and is a VP of Sales at Deb El Food Products. In addition to learning as much Torah as he can, he is also privileged to speak periodically on the topic of Emunah and be involved in Jewish outreach through Olami Manhattan. He can be reached at: [email protected]

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