Parashas Nitzavim: the mitzvah of teshuvah

The Torah says, “For this mitzvah which I command you today — it is not hidden from you, and it is not distant. It is not in heaven for you to say, ‘Who can ascend to the heavens for us and take it for us, so that we can listen to it and perform it?’ Nor is it across the sea, for you to say, ‘Who can cross to the other side of the sea for us and take if for us, so that we can listen to it and perform it?’ Rather the matter very near to you — in your mouth and in your heart — to perform it” (Devarim/Deuteronomy 30:11-14).

Rashi explains this parasha to be referring to the entirety of Torah, which was written and given b’al peh, orally, which brings it close to us.

The Ramban, however, interprets this parasha to be referring to the beginning of the perek, “It will be that when all these things come upon you, the blessing and the curse that I have presented before you, then you will take it to your heart among all the nations where Hashem, our G-d, has dispersed you, and your will return unto Hashem.. and listen to His voice…” (Devarim/Deuteronomy 30:1-2).

“You will return,” ve’shvta, is not just a promise. “For this mitzvah,” “ki hamitzvah hazos,” is informing us that the teshuvah of acharis hayamim, which will come at the end of days, is, in fact, a mitzvah incumbent upon us now.

That’s why, says the Ramban, the Torah says it is “within your mouth and your heart to perform it.” This is referring to the foundational requirements of teshuvah: remorse over the past and acceptance for the future in the heart; vidui, confession, from the mouth. 

This raises a question. Why is teshuvah different than all other mitzvos which were given to us in command form, whereas teshuvah is told as a promise for the future and we are only later reminded that this promise is, in fact, a mitzvah?

Perhaps it’s due to the very nature of teshuvah. Teshuvah is something truly miraculous, which derives its power from the future world of techias hameisim, the revival of the dead, the final principle in the Rambam’s 13 ikarim. This is because Chazal tell us that “reshayim, afilu b’chayehem, keruyim meisim,” the wicked, even while alive, are considered dead. Our definition of life is a connection to the Source of life, Hashem. To sever that connection is spiritual death. Teshuvah, which reconnects one to the Source of life, is an act of techias hameisim.  For that reason, the Yaaros Devash says that during this period, when one recites the beracha of “mechayeh hameisim” in the Amidah, he should have teshuvah in mind!

Since we don’t, in this world, have the power of techias hameisim (besides isolated stories in Tanach), to perform teshuvah would have been impossible if not for the fact that Hashem, in His kindness, has given us the ability to tap into that future world through the gift of teshuvah. That is why we cannot simply be commanded to perform teshuvah like any other mitzvah. Rather, we are told that there will be a future time when all will perform teshuvah, and we can connect to that time by this act which, incredibly, is a mitzvah upon us as well.

May we all take full advantage of this gift and opportunity! And may all be blessed with a kesiva vechasima tova l’altar lchaim tovim ul’shalom.

Sincerely yours,
Rabbi Yerachmiel Fried
Rosh Hakollel,
Dallas Area Torah Association

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