Hoshea 14: 2 – 10; Yoel 2: 11-27; Micha 7: 18-20
This week’s haftorah quite appropriately focuses on teshuvah – repentance.In the previous verses, the prophet Hoshea strongly rebukes the Jewishpeople for straying after practices of idolatry. He predicts terribletragedies for the Jewish nation because of their atrocious behavior towardsHashem. Hoshea concludes his harsh words by saying, “Shomron will be putto shame because she rebelled against Hashem; they will fall by the swordwith her sucklings and pregnant women split open.” (14:1) But, Hosheathen invites the Jewish people to return and promises them in return allthe blessings of Hashem.
Hoshea quotes Hashem saying, “I will heal them from their rebelliousnessand love them through My generosity because My anger has turned away fromthem.” (14:6) Metzudos Dovid sees in this passage the revelation of oneof Hashem’s unbelievable merciful attributes. Although the Jewish nationhad been heavily involved in sin, one act of repentance would undo allwrong. The prophet describes the process of repentance in the followingwords, “Take along words and return to Hashem, say to Him ‘Remove all sinand grab hold of goodness and we will replace bullocks with our lips ofconfession.’ (14:3) Hoshea says that Hashem requires one act of them,confession. Repentance for them means a sincere statement of recognitionthat they have strayed and will not continue doing so. One statement whichreflects a sincere desire for Hashem to remove sinful practices from themwill fulfil all requirements.
But, Hashem adds an unbelievable dimension to this and concludes, “I willlove them out of generosity.” ‘This’, says Metzudos, indicates Hashem’scommitment to completely erase their wrong from His mind. Once they repentwith sincerity, their past is non-existent. Furthermore, Hashem willincrease His love for them in proportions that were never seen before.Although they have no new good track record to show, Hashem accepts theirpledge and responds with perfect faith, showering them with love.
This mirrors the beautiful words of Rambam regarding one’s relationshipwith Hashem after repenting. Rambam says, “How great is the merit ofrepentance! Yesterday one was separated from Hashem and today, afterrepenting, one merits to cleave to the Divine Presence. Today, one doesMitzvos which are pleasantly and happily accepted and Hashem even cravesfor them!” (Hilchos Teshuva 7:7)
However, Rambam adds a significant requirement to the Teshuva process. Inaddition to ones regret over sin and his conviction never to repeat suchacts, one must bring Hashem to testify to the sincerity of this conviction.(Hilchos Teshuva 2:2) Apparently, even the Teshuva process can havedifferent degrees of commitment but we are required to make our statementwith perfect sincerity. During our confession we must feel – from thebottom of our heart – that we will not return to our shameful, sinful ways.The extent of this is reflected through our willingness to look Hashem”straight in the face” and declare to Him our sincere commitment. Thesource of Rambam’s words is our haftorah wherein it states, “Take with youwords of repentance and say to Hashem.. we will never again declare astatus of deity to our hands’ craftwork.” (14:4) Yes, true repentanceincludes an affirmative statement directly to Hashem that we will neverreturn to our sinful ways. (see commentary to Kesef Mishna to Rambamibid.) The Jewish people had been involved in serious levels of idolatryand their repentance included an affirmation said directly to Hashem thatthey would never repeat that sin.
Meirei in his masterful work on repentance sensitizes us to the realisticdemand this places upon us. Using the analogy of a beautiful garden nowcovered by weeds, Meirei warns us of a potential shortcoming in the Teshuvaprocess. In order to clear the garden of the weeds, the uneducatedgardener removed every one of them by mowing them down to ground level.For a few weeks his fields was cured of its problem. However, shortlythereafter, the weeds began reappearing. Upon consultation he discoveredthat weed removal required uprooting the weeds from their source and notmerely cutting away their exposed section. In this same manner one mustsearch deeply into his heart to determine the source of his wrongdoing.Then, and only then, can he say with some degree of sincerity that he willdo his utmost to secure that his wrongful actions will never be repeated.
This idea is alluded to by the commentary of Nachmanides in this week’sparsha (Devarim 31:21) In upcoming Parshas Ha’azeinu, the Torah foretellsthat the Jewish people will engage themselves in very sinful practices andHashem will respond in very serious measures. Eventually Hashem willredeem His people and bring the world to its perfect state. Nachmanidesquestions the nature of such prophecy. Generally, the Torah predicts thatmisfortune will follow if the Jewish people act in sinful ways and blessingif they act in a proper way. We never find the Torah stating as a factthat the Jewish people will definitely follow a sinful course. How thencan the Torah make this prediction here?
Nachmanides responds with an insightful comment to this week’s parsha.Hashem says, “Because I know what your evil inclination does today before Ibring you into the promised land.” (ad loc.) Nachmanides sees in thispassage the answer to his puzzling question. He explains that theexposure of the Jewish people’s imperfect conduct thus far is a clearindication of their future actions. The inception of the Jewish people ishappening now and all imperfections in their character will inevitablyexpose themselves in the future. Although no specific generation willnecessarily fall into sin, sinfulness will inevitably occur at some point.In essence, an imperfect seed cannot produce a perfect tree.
These ten days of repentance are the incubating period for all our actionsduring the year. The basic nature we possess now will inevitably exposeitself throughout the year. Viewing character traits as the root of allour actions it is imperative that we address these traits and direct themtowards perfection. (see Vilna Gaon on Mishle) If we attack the problem atits root, we stand a fighting chance to rectify it in the future. Onlywith this approach can we readily bring Hashem to testify to our sincerityof rectifying our sinful ways. When He gazes into our souls He will nowsee the purity of intent in them with a sincere commitment to follow aperfect path.
Such repentance is readily accepted by our merciful Creator and, inresponse to this sincere pledge, Hashem erases the past and pleasantlyaccepts our service and even craves for it! May we merit to attain thislevel of sincerity which ultimately yielding Hashem’s desire and interestin all of our service.