Thursday, October 2, 2008

Shabbos Shuva - Guest Posting From Mei Hashiloach by R' Zvi Leshem

PARSHAT VAYELECH: The Meaning of Hakhel
Rav Zvi Leshem

In Parshat Vayelech, we read about the mitzvah of Hakhel, in which, on the Sukkot after Shemittah [the Sabbatical year], all of Am Yisrael, men, women, and children, gather in the Temple, where the king reads portions of the Torah to the public. All of the people reaccept the covenant in a ceremony that some commentators describe as a reenactment of the giving of the Torah. If this is the case, why is Hakhel held on Sukkot? Surely Shavuot would have been more appropriate.

The Mai Hashiloach gives a fascinating answer. At the end of the Shemittah year, during which everyone has dedicated themselves to spiritual pursuits, there may be a natural tendency to jump on the tractor, get to work in the field and … forget what one learned during Shemittah. The Torah gives us the mitzvah of Hakhel, precisely when the demands of making a living may cause us to forget the spiritual lessons that took a year to learn. Hakhel reminds us that the work we are setting out to do must also be dedicated to heaven.

Similarly, says the Mai Hashiloach, we are accustomed to continue seudah shlishit [the third Shabbat meal] into the night after Shabbat ends, in case we rush immediately into our weekday activities and forget the spiritual lessons we internalized during Shabbat. For the same reason, the Psalm of the day on Sunday includes the words, "The earth and all of its fullness belong to Hashem." When we recite this psalm we are reminded that while we do make Havdalah and separate between Shabbat and the week, our weekdays must also be days of holiness. Rav Soloveitchik wrote in Al Hateshuvah that while there are plenty of Jews who are shomer Shabbos, there are not enough Jews that are shomer erev Shabbos!

This important message, of bringing the holiness of Shabbat into the week through seudah shlishit, and bringing the holiness of the Yamim Noraim into Sukkot, the Time of our Rejoicing, and the entire year through the mitzvah of Hakhel needs to be internalized, giving meaning to our daily lives.

SHABBAT SHUVAH: The First Act of Teshuvah
Rav Zvi Leshem

While we tend to think of Shabbat Shuvah as the Shabbat that happens to fall out during the Ten Days of Teshuvah, in fact the opposite is true. Based upon the Midrash in Bereishit Rabbah the Pri Tzaddik explains that Adam and Chava were created on Friday (Rosh Hashanah). On that very day they also violated the divine commandment not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge and were judged, the sentence being banishment from the Garden of Eden. Nonetheless, they were allowed to spend Shabbat in the Garden of Eden, and were only banished after Shabbat. Why? The Midrash continues that the moment Shabbat began, Adam first grasped the concept of Teshuvah and repented. Hashem knew that Adam would not dare to eat from the Tree of Life on Shabbat, for there is a halachic concept (Aimat HaShabbat) that people are afraid to do the wrong thing on Shabbat.

Every Shabbat has the power to help us do Teshuvah, and we know that even the two words Shabbat and Teshuvah are made up of the same letters. This is a major theme in the Netivot Shalom of the late Slonimer Rebbe.

Shabbat Shuvah, the first Shabbat in the year (i.e. the first of creation), has the greatest power, since on it the first act of Teshuvah in history was performed. Its influence is so great that it lights up the days before and after it, transforming them into the Ten Days of Teshuvah!

We must aspire to reach perfect Teshuvah out of love for Hashem on this holy Day. This will ensure that each of us, together with everyone in our community and all of Am Yisrael will be sealed in the Book of Life for the coming year.

(Picture courtesy of

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