Shabbat Shuva- Parashat Ha’Azinu
7. Remember the days of old; reflect upon the years of [other] generations. Ask your father, and he will tell you; your elders, and they will inform you.
ז. זְכֹר יְמוֹת עוֹלָם בִּינוּ שְׁנוֹת דּוֹר וָדוֹר שְׁאַל אָבִיךָ וְיַגֵּדְךָ זְקֵנֶיךָ וְיֹאמְרוּ לָךְ:
(The Torah HaKedosha, Chabad.org)
The Shabbat before Yom Kippur is known as Shabbat Shuva based on the Haftara that we read in Sefer Hoshea that begins with the pasuk ‘Shuva Yisrael Ad Hashem Elokecha.’ Rav Hida (Rav Haim Yosef David Azulai, 1724-1806) explains to us to take extra caution on this Shabbat Kodesh not to speak of secular topics nor to engage in idle conversation in order for our upcoming year to be elevated and truly Kadosh like we make our Shabbat to be. Instead, we should engross ourselves in Limud Torah and Divrei Torah and surround ourselves with Kedusha.
This Shabbat is the optimal time to look into ourselves and to calculate a ‘heshbon Nefesh’ in order to come to do Teshuva before Yom Kippur.
So how do we do this Teshuva?
With Teshuva comes the spirit of change and transformation. Rabbi Shemuel Bornstein, (a Hassid who lived in Poland in the late 19th century), makes a chidush on the word ‘years’ in the pasuk above from this week’s Parasha. In Lashon HaKodeshשְׁנוֹת means ‘years’, but he points out, as Ibn Ezra explains, that the root of this very word, in fact the same exact word also means ‘change’. He reads the verse like this: ‘reflect upon the changes of (other) generations.’
We learn from here that in order to cultivate our future, we must first look into our past and consider where we came from. By doing this, we acknowledge where we might have went wrong and express the desire to change. Introspection should become a turning point in our lives and a point of departure for our Teshuva. The first step is to WANT it. When we internalize the severity of our past actions and ADMIT them, brushing off all denial, this should compel us to commit never to repeat this action, thought, or speech again.
There is a mashal where there is a father and a son who have not seen each other for a long period of time. One day, the son spots his father at the other end of a long road walking at a leisurely pace and begins to feel excited just thinking of the love his father has for him and how it would feel to finally be in his embrace. And so, he begins to pick up the pace. The father, seeing the passion in his son’s eyes isn’t going to just stand there, he’s going to start walking towards his boy faster! The boy sees his father drawing closer and becomes more encouraged, he begins to run!! Would it make sense for the father to continue walking at his normal pace? No way! He is going to run faster to match his son with his arms wide open! He is finally going to be able to hold his son after all that distance. As the father picks up speed, so does his son, until they meet in embrace.
We are the son. When HaKadosh Barukh Hu sees that we take the first step, He takes a step towards us. If we start to run closer, HaShem runs as well! It all depends on us. If we decide to commit, HaShem Yitbarakh is already standing there for us waiting. He guarantees to match us, we just decide at what speed. Once we decide that we want to decrease the distance between us and our Father, HaKadosh Barukh assures us that we don’t even have to run the entire length, He will meet us halfway! Not only that, but we are guaranteed His commitment to us as well, as long as we take the initiative and show sincere effort. He is always standing there with His arms wide open for us. Run to Him!
Sometimes, we can think to ourselves that the most technologically advanced age is the one with the most accomplishments but ‘reflecting the changes’ in the generations past is a humbling experience. ‘Perhaps the spiritual accomplishments of the previous generation were even greater than our own. We should humbly reflect on both the faults and achievements of those who came before us, and ask ourselves if we’ve really worked on improving the faults and living up to the achievements’ says Rabbi Neal.
This is especially important to think about during this year’s time of introspection, but we can also understand this midrash in a different direction too. Perhaps ‘reflecting the changes of the generations’ means that we can reflect on the potential for change in every generation, explains Rabbi Neal, in the future. An essential aspect of Judaism is the notion that people are never ‘stuck’ on a specific spiritual level. There is always opportunity for change, growth, forgiveness, reconciliation, and return to our best selves. Are these not all elements of Teshuva?
On this “Shabbat of Returning,” we might understand Moshe’s song as not only urging us to consider the mistakes of the past and learn accordingly, but also to consider that the past does not necessarily predetermine the future; it is very much in our hands. This is the beauty of Teshuva; based on the past, we are able to change our futures. The time has come for you to decide before Yom Kippur whether or not you will learn and grow from your past or if chas veShalom you will repeat those same mistakes. May HaKadosh Barukh Hu bless us with the clarity to always make the right choices and with the initiative to engage in sincere Teshuva and change ourselves for the better.
Wishing you a beautiful Shabbat Shalom uMevorakh and a Shana Tova!
Ketiva ve’Hatima Tova to all!