Rav Baruch Plaskow
Rosh Kollel, Montreal Kollel, 2004
Is There a Need to Repent on Rosh Hashanah?
There appears to be a certain requirement to repent on Rosh Hashana. The Rambam states explicitly that the message behind the blowing the Shofar is to awaken us to repent. For this reason, there is a universal custom to perform extra acts of loving kindness during the 10 days of repentance. From here, we can deduce that there is a certain requirement even on Rosh Hashanah to do Tshuva.

However, this raises a number of difficult questions. Firstly, what is the nature of this repentance? Behold there is no mentioning of Vidui (confession) throughout the liturgy of the day. Secondly, what does the Rambam mean when he reveals to us the universal custom of performing good deeds at this time? What does this have to do with repentance? Behold, Tshuva is fulfilled only by means of regretting past deeds and accepting upon oneself not to repeat them.

The answers to these questions can be found perhaps in the Gemara (Kidushin 49b). An evil man who sanctifies a woman on the basis that he is a righteous person is considered to have succeeded in his mission because we suspect that perhaps he had thoughts of repentance in his mind at the time of betrothal. Why is this so?

There are a number of answers. The Minchat Chinuch claims that we learn from here that Tshuva can be performed in one’s heart and does not need to be vocalised. According to him, the character in question repented silently and fully in quick speed.

Others disagree. How could this person have performed the difficult act of Tshuva in such a short amount of time? Rav Soloveitchik suggests a different answer. The person in question merely had primary thoughts of repenting. We are concerned that perhaps he might have thought that the time has come to change. We are concerned that maybe he repented fully for this would be impossible under the pushed for time circumstances. Hence, we conclude that the mere thought of wanting to change is in itself an important factor in the Tshuva process, one that changes the sanctifier into a righteous person concerning that issue.

Perhaps, Rav Soloveitchik concludes, this is the Tshuva that is expected of us during Rosh Hashanah. Complete repentance is only performed on Yom Kippur with all the detailed facets of vidui (confession). However, the process begins with Rosh Hashanah, the day when the Jew accepts upon himself to make a change.

Therefore, we can comprehend the message of the Shofar – to awaken and start the process. We also understand the universal custom of performing kind acts since they are the catalyst used to direct us on the ways of repentance. May our entire community and people succeed in initiating the process on Rosh Hashanah and complete it in it’s entirety on Yom Kippur.