While teshuva, repentance, is a fundamental aspect of Jewish faith and is applicable at any time, it is particularly relevant during the Aseret Yemei Teshuva, the ten days commencing with Rosh Hashana and culminating with Yom Kippur. The Rambam in Hilchot Teshuva notes “Even though repenting and crying out to God are admirable always, during the ten days between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur it is especially admirable and received immediately as it is said: ‘search for God when he is present call out to him when he is close’ ” (hilchot Teshuva ch2 halacha 4). So what better time than this to relate to the mitzvah of teshuva?
The Rambam structured his Hilchot Teshuva in a way that has troubled many Torah scholars. He opens in the first two chapters with a discussion of teshuva and viduy, confession of sins. He then moves on to discuss related issues such as reward and punishment, actions that may prevent repentance and finally the concept of free choice. When he reaches the seventh chapter, he once again returns to discussing teshuva. Then, in the eighth chapter he again moves on to related issues such as the world to come, and the worship of God out of love for him. It is, therefore, baffling why the Rambam separated the two discussions on teshuva.
We will relate to two explanations offered by two modern day commentaries. Rav Asher Weise in his Minchat Asher on Devarim (page 371) explains that there are two aspects of repentance that the Rambam relates to. When one sins, two different things occur. The sinner deserves punishment for his misconduct but he also makes his soul impure. When repenting there is a need for kappara, clemency. Nonetheless, there is also a need for purification, tahara, of the soul. The first two chapters speak of teshuva and viduy relating to the desire and supplication of God for forgiveness and a pardon. This is made clear by the repeated noting of Kappara in these two chapters which is not mentioned in the later discussion of teshuva. The seventh chapter relates to the other aspect of repentance – the purification of the soul. This is why in the seventh chapter the Rambam describes a change in the personality of a person who repents, not mentioned in the earlier chapters.
Rav Soloveitchik (see Hararei Kedem vol. 1 pages 78-80) suggested the Rambam distinguished between two types of teshuva. The teshuva discussed in the first two chapters is a teshuva motivate by yirah, the awe of God and his supremacy. In the seventh chapter, the Rambam speaks of a teshuva motivated by ahavah, the love of God. This may well explain why the Rambam follows the discussion of the first teshuva with issues of reward and punishment while after the latter discussion he speaks of worshiping God out of love.
In truth, it can be suggested these two explanations are two sides of the same coin. While Rav Soloveitchik speaks of the motivating forces for teshuva, Rav Weise relates to the consequences of teshuva. It seems logical to state that a teshuva process motivated by yirah is focused primarily on the punitive consequences of one’s sins. One who is, even truly, repentive because of yirah is looking to absolve himself of his faults not necessarily to rebuild a meaningful relationship with God. On the other hand, a person whose repentance is motivated by a love of God will be looking to purify his soul. Such a person will look to come “home” to God and rebuild his relationship with him.
As I prepare to leave my position at Torah Mitzion and will no longer be involved in the publication of “Shabbat MiTzion” or writing this Halacha section, I would like to recognize some people. First, many thanks to all those who have helped make “Shabbat MiTzion” possible. In particular, I would like to thank Michelle Marchant without whose efforts in getting people to write and then editing the English, this publication would not have been possible. I wish her much luck in her future projects. I would also like to thank the readers and in particular those who read the Halacha section regularly.
Finally, I wish a Shana Tova, Ketiva ve’Chatima Tova to all our readers. May this be a year of good health and prosperity for us all.