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Teshuva Part 5

Based on a shiur by Rebbetzin Leah Kohn

The first Rashi in Bereishit asks the famous question, why did the Torah begin with Bereishit and not with the first mitzva of sanctifying the moon? Rashi explains that Hashem wanted to make clear to the nations that the whole world belongs to Him and that He can give it to whoever He so chooses. This will be our claim when the nations will accuse us of taking away their land, Eretz Yisrael. We can tell them the land belongs to Hashem who can decide to whom to give it.

The Ramban questions this. Why do we need all these arguments? If Hashem is in control why can’t He just give us the land in a way that brooks no complaints from anyone? The Ramban explains that Hashem wanted to teach us something essential. The land is taken away from those who sin. Exile is not a punishment but a consequence.

There are two realities – the physical and spiritual, but in fact they are different expressions of the same thing. Every physical creation has a spiritual root. Although man is made up of a body and soul, his central aspect is his soul. His body is just a physical expression of his spiritual essence. This principle applies for all of creation.

When a person is connected to Hashem, it means he’s spiritually in the right place. He can physically express this by living in the land that Hashem destined for him. When a person disconnects from Hashem, it reflects the physical reality of exile. The Torah began with Bereishit to teach us that we don’t only live life in the physical reality. Although we can grasp it with our five senses without effort, it’s only an expression of a spiritual reality that is much greater, more meaningful, and eternal.

Although we are in exile and very far from Hashem, we must remember that we have the ability to return. “Ner Hashem nishmat adam.” The divine spark within us that connects us to our Creator remains with us forever no matter what we do and where we are. That is the connection between teshuva and geulah. Hashem says, “Shuva eilai ki g’altecha. Return to me because I am redeeming you.” Coming back to Hashem is redemption, returning to where we belong. Chodesh Elul is hinted at in the verse, “Ani l’dodi v’dodi li.” It’s reaching that point of closeness to Hashem that our soul yearns for.

The Ari Hakadosh points out another verse that hints to the letters of Elul, “V’haElokim inah l’yado v’samti lecha.” This refers to the unintentional murderer who must run to a city of refuge to save himself from the hands of those who want to take revenge on him. All along the way there were signs placed directing the murderer where to go. Although, he did something wrong and was forced to go into exile, to a place where he was not meant to be, Hashem would help him to repent and return. So too in Elul Hashem says, “No matter how far removed you are from Me, although your inner spark may be buried under layers of negativity and you may not feel any connection to Me, the month of Elul and the holy days that follow are opportunities like the cities of refuge, where you can run and seek Me. I will give you the signs how to get there.” You just have to want to get there. Elul is a time to reconnect to Hashem, to return to the place where we were meant to be.

In Parshat Nitzavim the Torah says, “U’mol Hashem Elokecha et levavcha v'et levav zarecha.” Hashem will circumcise your heart and the heart of your children. Circumcision removes something unwanted. Hashem will take away the negativity from our heart. When Mashiach comes we’ll feel fully at home and at rest. We will no longer feel temptation to sin. We’ll enjoy the closeness of Hashem. But we can reach something of that level even now. As we grow in our avodat Hashem, we begin to feel more at home with the Creator. For example, if I open my siddur and my heart pulls me towards the supermarket or the kitchen, that means I need to invest more in tefilah. The more effort I put in to developing my davening, the more joy and at home I will feel when I pray. That’s true with every level of spiritual growth because it means we are on the path of returning to our true place. The journey might be difficult, but eventually when we reach our goal, we will feel the sense of euphoria of having arrived. The Torah tells us, “This commandment that I command you today is not hidden or distant from you.” The Ramban says this refers to teshuva. It is not beyond us. If we believe in the divine spark within us, that Hashem is our father and that our aim is to get close to Him, then if we invest effort and show Him that this is what we truly desire, Hashem will circumcise our hearts and help us to get there.


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