The service of repentance on Shabbos Shuvah is very lofty indeed, for, situated as it is in the Ten Days of Repentance, following Rosh HaShanah, it is the culmination of many levels of repentance. The levels of repentance range from that of the whole year round, to the loftiest level of all, that of Yom Kippur. Between these two extremes lie various degrees: the service of repentance of Elul, the month of repentance; in Elul itself, there is an increase in the service of repentance from day to day, consonant to the exhortation, "increase in holiness"; then there come the days of selichos, which emphasize the concept of "To You, O L-rd, is the righteousness." Although this concept is present throughout the year, special distinction accrues when it is spoken, publicizing it to others, especially when done loudly, with much emotion (as is done when saying selichos). And the concept of "To You, O L-rd, is the righteousness," effects an elevation in all things, especially in repentance, the most important matter of these days.
Then follows the service of repentance of the Ten Days of Repentance, a level higher than that of the days of selichos. In the words of Rambam (Laws of Repentance 2:6): "In the ten days between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, [repentance] is particularly good, and is accepted immediately, as it is said, 'Seek the L-rd while He may be found.'" In the Ten Days of Repentance themselves, there are some especially auspicious days, beginning with Rosh HaShanah, and followed by Shabbos Shuvah. We shall explain why these days are especially important, but first, let us explore the meaning of repentance in general.
Repentance is a vitally important part of service throughout the whole year. Our sages say (Avos 4:17), "One hour of repentance and good deeds in this world is better than all the life of the World to Come." The Mishnah mentions "repentance" before "good deeds," although seemingly repentance applies only after one has done deeds, and found them wanting -- for through repentance the deeds are "good and illuminating." "Deeds" by themselves refer to Torah and mitzvos, for since they are eternal, they alone may be termed true deeds. But for these deeds of Torah and mitzvos to be "good deeds" -- "good and illuminating" -- the prior service of repentance is needed. For repentance, the Alter Rebbe writes, is the idea of "the spirit shall return to G-d Who gave it" -- i.e., not just repentance for sins or omissions of service, but a service in holiness itself, an ascension to the loftiest heights, where there is nothing except the spirit and soul of a Jew who has returned to G-d Who gave it.
Through such a service of repentance -- to ascend in holiness -- the deeds of Torah and mitzvos afterwards performed are "good deeds," good and illuminating.
Although this extremely lofty level of repentance is present primarily at special times, such as in the Ten Days of Repentance, such a type of repentance extends from the Ten Days of Repentance also to the rest of the year, in the general service of "repentance and good deeds" (mentioned in the above mishnah).
However, principal service throughout the year is in the realm of Torah and mitzvos, to make the world a dwelling place for G-d; the service of repentance but serves to make the Torah and mitzvos "good and illuminating." For the main emphasis in service of the year is to make the world a fit dwelling place for G-d. This is achieved through observing Torah and mitzvos with physical objects, and it is not concerned so much with the person who does the service -- unlike the service of repentance which is principally in the person's heart. In other words, service throughout the year places stress on the object (the object being the world which is to be made into a dwelling place for G-d through the observance of Torah and mitzvos), not on the person (who personally rises to a higher level through the service of repentance).
It is for this reason that the first mitzvah a Jew performs when he becomes bar-mitzvah, on the night of his fourteenth year, is to recite the Shema -- which is the idea of making this world an abode for G-d. For the purpose of reciting Shema is to "declare [G-d] king over [all that is] above and below and over the four quarters of the heaven" -- i.e., to reveal that G-d is One in the world. This is alluded to in the word "one" in the first sentence of the Shema, "Hear O Israel, the L-rd our G-d, the L-rd is One": "One" in Hebrew is Echod, comprised of the letters aleph, ches and daled. Aleph is numerically equal to 1, ches to 8, and daled to 4, alluding to the fact that a Jew's service is to draw down the One -- G-d -- into the seven heavens and earth, and into the four corners of the world. Thus the service of reading the Shema is the idea of revealing in the world that the "L-rd is One" -- for in addition to the fact that this is the truth, it is necessary that the world recognize it; and this is achieved by a Jew proclaiming "the L-rd is One." In short, it is the concept of making the world an abode for G-d.
Thus service throughout the year. Simultaneously, there are special times in the year when the principal service is that of repentance. As noted above, these include the month of Elul, then the higher level of the Ten Days of Repentance, and within this period itself, special days such as Rosh HaShanah. A yet higher level, following that of Rosh HaShanah, is the service of repentance of Shabbos Shuvah.
We shall understand the lofty nature of the service of repentance on Shabbos Shuvah by first explaining the idea of Shabbos itself. Shabbos is sanctified of itself, from creation, and continues to be sanctified without any service of Jews (unlike the festivals, which are sanctified through Jews' service). In the explicit words of Scripture (Shemos 31:17): "On the seventh day He ceased from work and rested" -- meaning, that on Shabbos there is an elevation in G-dliness from the realms of deed and speech (the creation of the world) to the realm of thought. And because "He tells His words to Ya'akov, His statutes and laws to Israel" -- meaning that the mitzvos are G-d's and afterward they become man's too -- the elevation of G-dliness on Shabbos is experienced also by man. The elevation experienced by man on Shabbos is expressed in halachah: An ignorant person ("am ha'a-retz") is normally not trusted concerning the tithing of his produce, and therefore his food is suspect (that it may contain ma'aser). On Shabbos, however, if he says that his food has been tithed -- he is believed, for the elevation he experiences on Shabbos ensures that he will not lie.
Although Shabbos is sanctified of itself, without any input from man, importance is still attached to man's role. Our sages say (Mechilta, Yisro 20:9) concerning Shabbos that on it, "all your work is done" -- "your work," man's role. Moreover, a Jew can elevate and effect an increase in the delight (ta'anug) of Shabbos, in addition to that which stems from the fact that Shabbos is sanctified of itself. Further, a Jew not only increases in the delight of Shabbos associated with rest from work, but also in the delight that stems from the very essence of Shabbos, in the loftiest possible level of delight in Shabbos (rava d'ravin).
Now we can understand why the service of repentance is so lofty. Repentance is particularly associated with Shabbos, for, as the Midrash notes (Bereishis Rabbah 22:13), the special psalm for Shabbos, "A Psalm, a song for the Shabbos day," was said by Adam, the first man, when he saw "the power of repentance." And the repentance of Adam, the "creation of G-d's hands," was lofty indeed, restoring his spiritual level to that of before the sin of the tree of knowledge.
In the Ten Days of Repentance, then, which are days special for repentance, the Shabbos in these days -- Shabbos Shuvah -- is particularly illustrious. And the special characteristics of Shabbos apply also to the service of repentance on Shabbos Shuvah -- that Shabbos is sanctified of itself from above, with man's role in the aspect of the delight of Shabbos. Thus also the power to perform the service of repentance on Shabbos Shuvah stems from a level unattainable by man's service ("sanctified of itself"), and yet simultaneously man has a role to play -- his service of repentance -- a service in the manner of delight.
There is a lesson from all of the above. Although one has passed through all the lofty levels of repentance of the month of Elul, the days of selichos, and Rosh HaShanah, a yet higher level is added on Shabbos Shuvah, when all aspects of service are permeated with delight. Simply put, all aspects of service throughout the year, in thought, speech and deed, -- i.e., every observance of Torah and mitzvos -- become permeated with the concept of delight.
This lesson applies also to one's efforts to help others, consonant to the command, "love your fellow as yourself." A person may meet a Jew who needs to repent, a repentance not just of the highest level, that of "the spirit shall return to the G-d who gave it," but repentance of a lower level, for plain misconduct. One may be tempted to admonish such a Jew about his misdeeds. Shabbos Shuvah teaches that instructing a Jew about repentance should be done with delight -- pleasantly and peacefully, drawing him near with love, a love that is "as strong as self-love, for "You shall love your fellow as yourself." As is known, the Baal Shem Tov would first help Jews in their material matters -- a relationship of love -- and only then speak with them about spiritual matters, Torah and mitzvos.
On the other hand, one must be careful not to think that because Shabbos Shuvah is so lofty, to the extent that it comes from a level unattainable by man, and that he is together with G-d -- that therefore there is no need to be concerned about the fact that others may have transgressed and need to repent. This is a mistaken attitude, for G-d wants a dwelling place in this low, material world specifically. A Jew must therefore see to it that the world be fit for G-d's abode, a place about which G-d can say, "I shall dwell within them."
May it be G-d's will that every Jew use the powers granted to him on these auspicious days, especially the strength given on Shabbos Shuvah.
All of the above applies to Shabbos Shuvah every year. In addition, the fact that this year Shabbos Shuvah follows Rosh HaShanah immediately, without any intervening days, provides further lessons. This lends distinction to both Rosh HaShanah and Shabbos Shuvah: Rosh HaShanah -- in that Shabbos Shuvah follows it; Shabbos Shuvah -- in that it is immediately preceded by Rosh HaShanah.
On Rosh HaShanah, Jews crown G-d as king. The blowing of the shofar on Rosh HaShanah also expresses this point, for it is customary to blow trumpets and shofars at a king's coronation. Further, G-d is crowned in the manner of "His sovereignty they accepted upon themselves willingly" -- as even a child understands: to a child, his father is as a king, for he must obey him in all matters, even if sometimes he becomes angry at his father for telling him to do or not to do certain things; yet the child's relationship to his father is full of love. Similarly, a child understands what is repentance, again from the relationship he has with his father: if at times he doesn't listen to his father, he later regrets his actions, repents, and resolves to do better in the future. And because he loves his father and wants to do his bidding -- his repentance is to him a matter of delight (the idea of Shabbos Shuvah).
When there are weekdays intervening between Rosh HaShanah and Shabbos Shuvah, there is a break of weekday work between the two days. When there is no such break, it is much easier to reach the lofty heights Shabbos Shuvah imparts to all aspects of Rosh HaShanah -- for there is no intervening "descent" into weekday affairs. Conversely, the service of Shabbos Shuvah can be performed in loftier fashion, for one comes directly from the heights of Rosh HaShanah.
This affects all the following days: both Rosh HaShanah, the Head of the Year, and Shabbos Shuvah, which blesses the days of the following week, leave their influence on the days which follow them. When they follow one another, without any weekday intervening, as this year, that influence is that much greater and that much more forceful.
In the light of the above, it also follows that the lesson previously derived from Shabbos Shuvah -- that one should help another Jew ("love your fellow as yourself") in a manner of delight -- is more emphatically stressed this year, when Shabbos Shuvah immediately follows Rosh HaShanah. For Rosh HaShanah emphasizes the unity of Jews, as in the verse, "You are all standing here today before the L-rd your G-d," "today" referring to Rosh HaShanah. This is an expression not just of love of fellow Jews but even more, unity between Jews. "You shall love your fellow as yourself" means that although there is love between the two, they are still somewhat separate entities. Unity between Jews means they are one.
When, therefore, Shabbos Shuvah immediately follows Rosh HaShanah, there is a heavy emphasis on the fact that helping another Jew (stressed on Rosh HaShanah) should be done with delight (as derived from Shabbos Shuvah).
Through increasing in love of and unity between Jews, we merit an increase in G-d's blessings, as we say in our prayers, "Bless us our Father, all of us as one, with the light of Your countenance."
Chapter 32, verse 9 of parshas Ha'azinu states: "For the portion of the L-rd is His people, Ya'akov is the chevel of His inheritance." Rashi, on the words "Ya'akov is the chevel of His inheritance," comments: "He (Ya'akov) is the third of the Patriarchs, who is crowned with three merits: the merit of his father's father, and the merit of his father, and his own merit; these total three, just like a rope (chevel) which is made of three stands. And he (Ya'akov) and his sons became His inheritance, and not Yishmael the son of Avraham, nor Esav the son of Yitzchok."
Rashi interprets the word chevel in our verse as meaning a rope (made of three strands). Thus the verse would read, "For the portion of the L-rd is His people, Ya'akov is the rope of His inheritance." That Rashi chose to interpret chevel as "rope" is puzzling, for chevel also means "portion." This interpretation would seem to be more appropriate than "rope," for then the two parts of the verse would be one continuous whole. It would read, "For the portion of the L-rd is His people, Ya'akov is the portion of His inheritance," repeating the concept to give it added poetic beauty. Why then does Rashi choose to interpret chevel as "a rope which is made of three strands"?
Further, Onkelos (who Rashi cites in many instances) renders chevel as adav, which means "lot." The verse would now read "Ya'akov is the lot of His inheritance." This interpretation would be better even than rendering it as "portion," for now the repetition is not just for poetic beauty, but also adds new mean-ing -- that Ya'akov is the lot of G-d's inheritance. Yet Rashi interprets it differently.
A look at the source for Rashi's interpretation makes the puzzle grow yet greater. The Sifri says "'Chevel' means only 'lot,'" and only afterwards does it add the part that Rashi cites, about the three-stranded rope. If the Sifri, which brings homiletic and halachic interpretations, interprets "chevel" as meaning "lot" (i.e., portion), then Rashi, whose interpretation is based on the plain meaning of the verse, should certainly do so.
We will understand why Rashi chooses to interpret "chevel" the way he does, by first examining the next verse, which states, "He found him in a desert land." Rashi explains this to mean, "He (G-d) found them (Ya'akov's sons) faithful to Him in the desert land, for they took upon themselves His Torah, His kingship, and His yoke, which neither Yishmael nor Esav did, as it is stated, 'He rose from Seir to them, He shone forth from Mount Paran.'"
This is difficult to understand, for the preceding verse states "Ya'akov is the chevel of His inheritance," implying that Jews were G-d's inheritance already in the time of the Patriarch Ya'akov. What then does it mean that "He found him in a desert land" -- that G-d only found the Jews many years after the time of the Patriarchs?
All the verses of this passage, however, form one unit, and follow each other. "Remember the days of old.... Ask thy father and he will tell you, your elders and they will say to you" (verse 7): this verse says that the elders of the people will tell the Jews what occurred in earlier times. And what was that? Verse eight continues: "When the Most High gave the nations their inheritance, when He separated the children of man, He set the borders of the peoples to parallel the number of the children of Israel." Rashi explains that this means, "When he dispersed the generation of separation, it was in His power to destroy them from the world. He did not do so, but 'He set the borders of the peoples' -- i.e., He let them live, and did not destroy them." Then, as a continuation, Scripture says (verse nine), "For the portion of the L-rd is His people," upon which Rashi comments: "Why was all this [done]? Because His portion was contained among them, and was destined to issue [from them]. And what is His portion? His people. And who are His people? Ya'akov is the chevel of His inheritance."
Similarly, the verse "He found him in a desert land" is a continuation of the verse "Ya'akov is the chevel of His inheritance." And therefore Rashi interprets "Ya'akov is the chevel of His inheritance" to mean "the third of the Patriarchs, who is crowned with three merits ... just like a rope which is made of three strands." The reason "He found him in a desert land" -- i.e., the reason "He found them faithful to Him in the desert land, for they took upon themselves His Torah" -- is because "Ya'akov is the rope of His inheritance": Jews are the children of Ya'akov, who had three merits (his grandfather's, his father's and his own), "like a rope which is made of three strands," and "he (Ya'akov) and his sons became His inheritance" -- and not Yishmael (who had only the merit of his father, Avraham), and not Esav (who had only the merit of his grandfather, Avraham, and his father, Yitzchok). The next verse, "He found them in a desert land," then follows naturally: it was specifically the sons of Ya'akov who were faithful to G-d in the desert land, and not Yishmael and Esav.
Today's portion of Rambam is chapters 2-4 of the Laws of Entrance in the Sanctuary. Chapter three talks of the commandment to banish all unclean persons from the Sanctuary. If such a person entered the Sanctuary willfully, he was liable to kores (excision of the soul), and an offering if he did so unintentionally.
Halachos 21 & 22 state that if one entered the Sanctuary and became unclean after he entered therein, even if he willfully made himself unclean while there, he was merely obliged to make haste and go out the shortest way. He was forbidden to tarry or prostrate himself. If he turned his face toward the Temple and prostrated himself (even without tarrying), he incurred he penalty of kores (if he did so willfully).
Halachah 23 then states: "If he did not turn his face, but prostrated himself in the direction of his going out facing the outside, he did not incur any penalty unless he tarried the time limit. What was the time limit of tarrying? The time it takes to read the verse, 'and they bowed themselves with their faces to the ground upon the pavement, and prostrated themselves, and gave thanks to the L-rd: 'for He is good, for His kindness is everlasting.' This is [also] the prescribed time for prostration."
The source for Rambam's ruling concerning the time limit of tarrying is the tractate Shavuos (16b), which cites a difference of opinion: "In this there is disagreement between R. Yitzchok b. Nachmeni and one of his associates.... One says: As the time taken to recite the verse, 'And all the children of Israel looked on, when the fire came down, and the glory of the L-rd was upon the house; and they bowed themselves with their faces to the ground upon the pavement, and prostrated themselves, and gave thanks to the L-rd: 'for He is good, for His kindness is everlasting.' The other says, As [the time taken to recite] from 'and they bowed' till the end."
The argument in the Talmud, then, is whether the duration of tarrying is the time taken to recite the whole of this verse, or just the second half, from the words "and they bowed." Rambam rules that it is the time taken to recite the second half.
The Kessef Mishnah (a commentary on Rambam) asks: Why does Rambam rule like the stricter view (stricter -- in that a person becomes liable to kores on a shorter time of tarrying), that the duration of tarrying is only the time taken to recite the second half of the verse, and not like the first view, which seems to hold that it is the time taken to recite the whole verse?
The Kessef Mishnah answers that perhaps Rambam is of the opinion that the first view is not that the duration of tarrying is the time taken to recite the entire verse, but rather the time taken to recite the first half of the verse, till the words "and they bowed." Thus the second view is now the more lenient (the second half of the verse is longer than the first half), and therefore Rambam rules like it.
The Kessef Mishnah brings a proof for his contention from the Talmud Yerushalmi (Yoma 3:3) which also debates the duration of prostration. One opinion states it is from the beginning of the verse till the words "and they bowed themselves with their faces to the ground upon the pavement, and prostrated themselves," and the second opinion adds to this time limit, by extending it to the end of the verse. The Kessef Mishnah identifies the first opinion in the Talmud Yerushalmi with the first opinion in the Talmud Bavli -- that the duration of prostration is the time it takes to recite the first half of the verse.
Not all is clear, however. The plain meaning of the first view in the Talmud Bavli is that the time limit is the time it takes to recite the whole verse. Thus the first opinion in the Yerushalmi, that it is the time taken to recite the first half of the verse, is a third opinion. And thus the original question remains: Why does Rambam rule like the stricter view?
All three views agree that the duration for prostration is associated with the verse cited above. The argument is merely what is the relevant, principal part of the verse -- the first half, the second half, or the whole verse. But what is the respective reasoning of these three opinions as to what constitutes the relevant part of the verse in regard to determining the duration of prostration?
We will understand this by first exploring the following concept. In general, a cause must always precede the effect. However, sometimes two things can both be cause and effect, with both happening simultaneously. For example, a person must separate terumah and ma'aser from his produce. The unseparated food is called tevel, and is forbidden to be eaten. But what is the cause for the prohibition, and what is the effect? Is it the unseparated food which is forbidden, and separating terumah from it renders it fit for use? Or is it the terumah in the produce which renders it forbidden, and separating the terumah from the produce allows the produce to be eaten?
We can apply the same reasoning to the argument about what is the duration of prostration, based on the association with the verse "And all the children looked on...." One opinion holds that the cause for the prostration is that "all the children of Israel looked on, when the fire came down, and the glory of the L-rd was upon the house" -- and the effect is that "they bowed themselves with their faces to the ground upon the pavement, and prostrated themselves, and gave thanks to the L-rd: 'for He is good, for His kindness is everlasting.'" Therefore the first part of the verse -- the cause -- is the important, relevant part.
On the other hand, one could say the actual prostration is the cause -- i.e., the principal thing -- since it is the essence of a Jew to give thanks to G-d. That Jews saw the fire and G-d's glory was only to arouse them to bow down. Since the seeing was for the sake of the bowing, the bowing is the real cause. Yet, the actual cause for the bowing was the seeing. Because both act as a cause, they act simultaneously -- and therefore the whole verse is critical.
Another view is that the seeing was only to prevent a side obstacle to the bowing, which is the main essence of a Jew. Since the material world and body may prevent a Jew from bowing to G-d, the seeing of the fire and G-d's glory acted to remove any such hesitation -- and automatically a Jew's true essence comes to the fore and he bows and prostrates himself to G-d. Thus the second part of the verse is the important, relevant part (the cause).
Rambam rules elsewhere that every Jew "wants to do all the mitzvos and keep far away from transgressions." It is only external matters (one's evil inclination) that obstruct this inner will from asserting itself. When that is removed, the true will is revealed.
Rambam follows this line of reasoning in our case. Since a Jew's real, innermost will is always whole and intact, the relevant part of the verse is the second half, that "they bowed themselves ... and prostrated themselves" -- i.e., from his innermost perspective, a Jew is always in a state of prostration to G-d -- even if he actually doesn't bow down until he sees the fire and the glory of the L-rd; for the seeing is only to remove a side-obstacle. For this reason Rambam rules that the duration of prostration is the time taken to recite the second part of the verse.