When you have borne children and grandchildren, and have been in the land a long time, you may become decadent… you will then quickly perish from the land that you are [now] crossing the Jordan to occupy… Hashem will scatter you among the nations, and only a small number [of you] will remain, amidst the nations to which Hashem leads you… And from there you will seek Hashem, your G-d, and you will find Him – when you search for Him with all you heart and all your soul. (4:25-29)
Mefarshim (commentaries) all note that the word “you will seek (u- vikashtem)” is written the plural form, as if addressing more than one person, while the result of that seeking, “and you will find (u-matzasa)” is written in the singular. This whole section of the Torah is known as parshas ha-teshuva, the section dealing with repentance. It seems that while many will undertake the path to “return to Hashem,” only selected individuals will succeed. Is this indeed the case, and if so – why?
One interpretation is that while the awakening to teshuva is often a communal experience, the path to teshuva must be individualistic and introspective.
The events that awaken people to repent – calamities (G-d forbid), supernatural salvation and success, or just the time of year – effect many people in similar ways. Our heart-strings are plucked, and we feel the need to look for some practical way to apply our abstract feelings. This is why the initial arousal is addressed in the plural.
How we develop those feelings, however, and the ways in which they ultimately change us – the way we use them to “find Hashem” – is often a personal and sometimes lonely adventure. Even when we gather together to hear words of encouragement and motivation from gifted speakers and great Torah personalities, these speeches usually address one or more of the countless areas in which we may be lax; guarding our tongues, senseless hatred, honesty in business, diligence in Torah study, concentrating on our prayers, etc. Rome, they say, wasn’t built in a day, and when we return home from the derasha, we must still choose some point upon which to take action and begin the teshuva process. Shlomo Ha-melech writes (Mishlei/Proverbs 14:10), “[Only] the heart knows the bitterness of its soul.” There is no definitive recipe for teshuva, and no one knows better than us the areas we most dearly need to address and the holes most urgent to plug.
Perhaps there is another understanding of the many seek/individuals find phenomena. Note that the word used when addressing the many is, “you will seek (u-vikashtem).” Bakasha denotes some sort of request. It is often used to represent prayer. When addressing the one who finds, the Torah writes, “and you will find him, when you search (ki si-drishenu) for Him with all your heart and all your soul.” The word derisha implies investigation and pursuing.
When Hashem asked Moshe to go to Egypt to redeem the Jews from slavery, he was reluctant (see Shemos/Exodus 4:10-14). “Moshe pleaded with Hashem, ‘I am not a man of words – not today not yesterday nor the day before… – my mouth and my tongue are heavy!'” Rashi explains that Moshe had a speech defect, and was concerned that because of his difficulty speaking, he would prove to be an unworthy spokesman.
What was Hashem’s response? “‘Who gave man a mouth?’ replied Hashem. ‘Who makes a man dumb or deaf? Who gives a person sight, or makes him blind? Is it not I – Hashem?!'”
If there was ever an opportunity to ask for a refuah – this is it! Instead, Moshe continues to argue. Eventually Hashem becomes frustrated (to the extent we can express this) with Moshe’s obstinacy, and tells Moshe that Aaron will do the speaking on his behalf.
Why, asks the Ramban (ibid. 4:10), didn’t Moshe ask Hashem to be healed? Was Hashem’s insinuation not obvious enough? He answers that Moshe felt so unworthy of leading the Jews that he was glad to have an excuse not to go, and was by no means ready to ask for Hashem’s healing. So why, he asks, didn’t Hashem just heal him anyway? “There,” Hashem could have said ironically, “now what’s that about speech difficulties?” Hashem didn’t want to heal Moshe, he writes, because Moshe didn’t ask for it. There may sometimes be great kindnesses awaiting man, writes the Maharal (Bereishis/Genesis 30:3), but Hashem will not grant them unless one prays for them!
Of course there are times when Hashem gives us goodness that we never even imagined, and certainly never asked for. Yet it seems that there are some kindnesses that are there for the taking – but we must ask. We have to stand before Hashem in prayer, and articulate what it is we want. There’s no guarantee that we’ll get it, but if we don’t ask, who knows what we’ll be missing out?!
One of the necessary steps in teshuva is viduy – admission we’ve done wrong. This is of course accompanied by prayer, that in the future Hashem give us the strength to overcome our shortfallings. There are many people who seek to do teshuva – their hearts have been awakened, and they desperately want to change. Yet not all will find what they desire. What’s the key? “You will find it when you pursue it and investigate it with all your heart and all your soul.” Pursuing with our hearts means prayer – as our Sages say, “How does one serve Hashem with his heart? By praying! (Ta’anis 2a)” The Torah’s telling us that it’s not enough to want, and it’s not even enough just to offer Hashem a simple prayer, “Please Hashem help me do teshuva.” Just like the teshuva process requires examining one’s deeds and figuring out where the pitfalls lie, the prayers we pray to Hashem regarding teshuva must be specific and distinctive.
This is why the prayer process is expressed in the singular, “When you will beseech Him with all your (s.) heart and with all your (s.) soul” – the prayers must be catered to our situation and specify what we need. And perhaps this is why “you will find Him” is also written in the singular, because so many times we end up with no more than good intentions and a fuzzy feeling of a spark being kindled, but we so often fail to follow through with the “nitty-gritty.” It’s great to want to change, but to actually sit down and figure out when and how, and then to set aside the time to speak to Hashem and ask for it – is something that choice few actually realize.
One day a father comes home with a big box in wrapping paper. He’s bought his son a special birthday present, and can’t wait to see the look on his face when he opens it. He enters the kitchen. His son looks up for a second, gazes at father, and goes back to reading a book. He doesn’t even bother to ask what’s in the box. “Yanky, it’s your birthday – aren’t you going to ask me what’s in the box?” “What – oh… okay… ” he mutters absentmindedly, not really hearing, and goes back to his book. Imagine how painful it must feel for his father. He prepared his son such a wonderful, and all he wanted was to see a little bit of excitement and anticipation – for his son to ask him for it.
Perhaps sometimes Hashem has prepared for us the most wonderful yeshuos and salvation, yet we never find out, because we failed to ask. First we must take the time to really think about what we need, condense it, clarify it, and then ask for it with all our hearts and souls. Who knows what great things lie just around the corner…
Have a good Shabbos.
****** This week’s publication has been sponsored by Mrs. Pauline Rubinstein, in memory of her mother Elka bas R’ Pinchas HaLevi, and in memory of her father Binyamin Ze’ev ben R’ Hirsch Tzvi HaLevi. ****** Text Copyright © 2004 by Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann and Torah.org