Rabbi Eliakim Koenigsberg
Rabbi Eliakim Koenigsberg

The Song of Torah, The Road to Teshuva

In Parshas Vayelech (31:16-19), Hashem tells Moshe Rabbeinu that in the future Klal Yisrael will forsake Him and serve foreign gods. As a result, Hashem will hide his face from Klal Yisrael and they will be subjected to many trials and tribulations until they will admit that all of their misfortune is due to the fact that Hashem is no longer in their midst. But even so, Hashem will continue to conceal his face (hasteir astir panai bayom hahu) because they served other gods. The posuk (31:19) concludes, "So now, write this song for yourselves and teach it to Bnei Yisrael; put it in their mouths, so that it can bear witness for me against Bnei Yisrael."

Rashi explains that "this song" in the posuk refers to Parshas Ha'azinu in which Hakadosh Boruch Hu warns Klal Yisrael that if they abandon the Torah, they will suffer dire consequences. But Chazal understood that the posuk also refers more broadly to the entire Torah, and it is the source of the mitzvah on every Jew to write a sefer Torah. Why is the mitzvah to write a sefer Torah mentioned specifically in the context of Hashem hiding His face from Klal Yisrael? And why is the Torah called a song? Moreover, why does Hashem continue to hide His face even after Klal Yisrael realizes that all their difficulties are a result of their being distant from Hakadosh Boruch Hu?

Perhaps the answer is that recognizing their guilt (hakaras hacheit) and even expressing regret (charata) cannot rescue Klal Yisrael from their misery. Until they chart a new path and change their actions, Hakadosh Boruch Hu will continue to conceal His face from them. That is why the posuk mentions the mitzvah of writing a sefer Torah because it is Torah study, more than anything else, that can help set a person on a path to teshuva.

How does talmud Torah lead to teshuva? Imagine a prince decides to go on a business trip which will force him to be away from the palace for many months. Before the prince sets out on his journey, his father, the king, gives him a letter, and tells him to read it only a week after his ship leaves the port. The son is anxious to know what his father has written in the letter, but out of respect for his father, he waits to open the letter until a week has passed. Finally, he eagerly tears open the envelope, and as he starts reading, he is overtaken with emotion. He reads how much his father and the family love and admire him, how they will miss him dearly, and that they hope he will be successful in his business venture and will bring honor to the family name. His father asks him to always remember that he comes from royalty. He should never degrade himself in his actions, but rather he should behave in a manner that befits the son of a king. As the prince continues to read, he feels a longing for his father, and he accepts upon himself to do his best to bring honor to the family.

In a similar sense, the Torah is a letter of love that Hashem has written to Klal Yisrael. In it, He expresses His boundless affection for the Jewish people (Va'eschanan 7:8), how impressed He is with their yiras shamayim (Va'eschanan 5:25-26), and how He only wants their good (Eikev 10:13). Hashem emphasizes how He has given Klal Yisrael the Torah which is a blueprint to help them navigate the complicated and challenging world in which we live. And He assures them that if they follow this guideline, they will achieve their full potential as a mamleches kohanim v'goy kadosh and merit everlasting reward and ultimate satisfaction.

One who perceives Hakadosh Boruch Hu's love for Klal Yisrael as expressed in the Torah will naturally desire to connect with Him. And that is really the essence of teshuva. The Mabit writes that teshuva involves "drawing close to Hashem from a distance of sin" (Beis Elokim, Sha'ar Ha'Teshuva 1.) Through talmud Torah, a person develops a better understanding of Hakadosh Boruch Hu. He appreciates Hashem's love for every Jew. He is awed by Hashem's patience, His compassion and kindness, and that recognition draws a person toward Hakadosh Boruch Hu.

Reflecting on the words of the Torah can strengthen a person's ahavas Hashem, and that will awaken within him a desire to connect with the Ribbono Shel Olam. For such a person, Torah is not just an intellectual pursuit; it is a song, because it reminds a person of Hashem's never-ending love for Klal Yisrael, and that recognition generates a longing to draw closer to Him. This is why the Torah discusses the mitzvah of writing a sefer Torah in the context of Hashem's concealing his face from Klal Yisrael because Torah study is the catalyst that can motivate a person to translate his inner feelings of teshuva into a tangible change of behavior.

It is not surprising, then, that Hakadosh Boruch Hu chose to give the second luchos on Yom Kippur. This is the day that Hashem agreed to forgive Klal Yisrael for cheit ha'egel and from then on it was established as a day of atonement and forgiveness. What better way for Hashem to express his affection for Klal Yisrael and His desire to reconnect with them than by giving them the gift of Torah which serves as a constant reminder of our special relationship with Him.

Yom Kippur is a day we feel a mix of fear and joy. We tremble at the prospect of standing in judgment before Hashem, but we do so with a measure of confidence because we remember Hakadosh Boruch Hu's great love for us. We sing proudly about our unique relationship - "we are your children and you are our Father...we are your friend and you are our Beloved." And we hope and pray that Hakadosh Boruch Hu will draw us close to Him and have mercy on us, that He will accept all our tefillos and grant us a year of health and happiness and beracha - for us and for all of Klal Yisrael.

More divrei Torah from Rabbi Koenigsberg

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