SPARK OF THE WEEK

5755 - #30

Within the realm of Jewish Thought, there are two dominant -differing but clearly not mutually exclusive - approaches to understanding the overall purpose of mitzvot and, indeed, existence itself. One approach focuses on the concept of dveikut, attaching oneself to G-d. Proponents of this view assert that the ultimate goal of Torah and life is the further development of our relationship with Him. The other approach focuses on the concept of shlaimut, striving for the perfection of one's self. Advocates of this view declare that the objective is to attempt to emulate G-d's Perfection in the development of our own beings. In fact, dveikut and shlaimut are really interrelated and interconnected: the further development of our relationship with G-d demands the further development of our own beings and included in the further development of our own beings is the further development of our relationship with G-d. The question is ultimately one of focus, yet which goal one emphasizes has a great effect on one's understanding and approach in many Torah areas, including teshuva and our perception of Hashem.

There is, of course, a constant tension in the world of Torah between any attempt to understand the purpose of mitzvot and the simple recognition that we act because Hashem commands. Teshuva, in its most basic form, would seem to be the definitive recognition of the latter. We ask forgiveness because we did not follow G-d's command, perhaps in fear of punishment but ultimately because of the inherent recognition that it is right to listen to G-d. The attempt to understand teshuva, though, both in the realm of dveikut and of shlaimut, is given the utmost importance. Indeed, in both realms, teshuva is more than our penance for past mis-deeds but the very energy of Torah.

The focus of dveikut highlights our relationship with G-d. The ultimate goal in the performance of mitzvot is deemed to be to strengthen our bond with Him, to draw us closer to His Essence. In contrast, the non-performance of His commands creates a rift between Him and us, pulling us away. The goal of teshuva is deemed, ultimately, to heal and mend this rift, to re-establish our bond. We regret our mis-deed for it has separated us from Him. We cry and beg forgiveness for we desire to be close once again. We rejoice in the acceptance of our teshuva for we are again close with Hashem. In this light, teshuva is relational; its essence is our striving for connection with G-d. Hashem is our Beloved. Teshuva, in the world of dveikut, above all else, is our approach to Him to right our union gone awry, in fact it is our energy in our bonding with G-d.

The focus of shlaimut, though, highlights our attempt to emulate G-d. The ultimate goal in the performance of mitzvot is deemed to be to develop our being, to strive for the perfection of our self created in His Image. In contrast, the non-performance of Hashem's commands reflects our weakness, our inability to be G-dlike. The goal of teshuva is deemed, ultimately, to correct and rectify this fault, to again establish within us His Image. We regret our mis-deed for it is the reflection of our deficiency. We cry for we have failed our essence, declaring never again to sin, to suffer imperfection. We rejoice at the accomplishment of teshuva for we have rectified the wrong and have moved closer to our goal of emulation. In this light, teshuva is personal; its essence is our struggle with our self to grow. Hashem is our Model. Teshuva, in the world of shlaimut, is our approach to right ourselves, in fact it is our energy of growth.

The HaMelech, our declaration that G-d is King, of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur reminds us of the most basic nature of teshuva, that we approach Him because we have not followed His commands. Yet, as the liturgy of these days develop, the relational nature of teshuva comes forward. We are His children and He is our Father. The goal of dveikut surrounds these days and it is this feeling of closeness to Hashem that permeates the final moments of Ne'ila. Where, though, is the realm of shlaimut?

Teshuva demands from us to ask forgiveness from G-d - because we have violated His law and because we have estranged ourselves from Him. In both theseaspects of teshuva, we are called upon to communicate with G-d and this is the vehicle of tephila. It is, as such, why tephila occupies so much time on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Teshuva demands communication - and if we wish to accomplish our goal, we must be involved in expressing ourselves to Him.

But tephila is not the realm of the personal. Introspection is not communication. While expressing ourselves often forces us to find ourselves, the goal is the connection, not the development of self. The commitment and development aspect of teshuva, the domain of shlaimut, are not found in the liturgy of the Yomim Nora'im for they are not part of tephila. They are matters that we must confront and achieve on our own. The world of teshuva, of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur does not exist only in the synagogue. The absence of the domain of shlaimut in the tephilot only indicates a further obligation, the personal realm of teshuva, that we must encounter in privacy.

I always wondered about the difference between the observance of Yom Kippur in the times of the Temple and its observance today. In Temple times, the service of the day rested solely in the hands of the Kohain Gadol while today the service rests in the hands of each of us as our davening fills the day. What, though, did the people do, on this day, during Temple times? The answer to me now is obvious. We have the obligation of service which focuses on the relational side of teshuva but we also have the personal side of teshuva which must demand of us time for introspection as well. In the time of the Temple, when our closeness to G-d permeated our being, we had the luxury of more extensive time for introspection (and learning) on this day. In our time, as G-d's Presence is deemed removed, we require the greater emphasis on our relationship with Him, and so we stress the tephilot. But we must still ensure time for the shlaimut domain within our teshuva as well.

Rabbi Benjamin Hecht


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2002 NISHMA