The Creator always provides Jews with a way back home

Shabbat Shuvah


Deuteronomy 32:1-52

Hosea 14:2-10

Micha 7:18-20

Joel 11:15-27

There is much to be learned in this season of repentance from this week's Torah portion and the Haftarah as well. In Haazinu 32:9 it states, "ki chelek Hashem amo, Yaakov chevel nachlato" — "for Hashem's portion is His people, Jacob is the measure (literally rope) of his inheritance."

The Vilna Gaon connects this verse with a puzzling thought expressed in the commentary Tanna D'vei Eliyahu. Here it is stated that G-d is "sameach B'chelko" — "happy with His portion." This is difficult because the whole universe belongs to G-d, so what is meant by the word "portion"? The Gaon explains that we can learn from the second part of the verse that G-d's portion refers to His people. Beyond this, the commentary adds, G-d is supremely content with His choice of Israel as His people. He is satisfied that Israel is the best choice to fulfill His task.

Rashi brings a midrash in next week's Torah portion, V'zot Habracha, which suggests that G-d actually offered to give the Torah to every nation. Upon discovering what would be expected of it, each nation declined to be chosen. "Thanks, but no thanks."

The Jewish nation, on the other hand, accepted the necessary obligations and commitment of G-d's great gift without question. Its people understood both the privilege and the responsibilities being bestowed upon them. They appreciated the fact that a gift from the Almighty could only be good. The Tanna D'Vei Eliyahu assures us that G-d never regretted this choice.

The conclusion of the original verse from Haazinu ("Jacob is the measure [rope] of His inheritance") offers an understanding of why the Almighty continues to be happy with His portion even when His people sin and turn away from Him. The word "chevel" or rope suggests a connection between G-d and His people, which is always secure, a tether, which albeit unseen, ties Israel to G-d and can never be broken.

In the same vein in an earlier verse in Haazinu (32:6), Moses declares in a beautiful and poetic song, "Halo hu aveichah kanechah" — "Is He not your father that bought you?" The word "kanechah" is often understood to mean acquisition, for we are G-d's possession. The word, however, can also mean "who nested you." In the Talmud Bava Basra 24a our rabbis teach us that when little birds leave their nest before they are able to fly. they hop a little and then stop, always looking back. They need to determine if the nest is still in sight before venturing forward. If they can no longer see their nest, they will stop hopping from fear of being unable to find their way home.

This is like the Jewish neshamah (soul) nesting in every Jew. Though they may stray far from home, their origins and family, the Jews always look back, not wanting to leave their nests totally out of view. This explains not only the mystery of Jewish survival but also the source of G-d's satisfaction with His choice. The nest is always there and the rope is very strong. There is always a way back home. Notwithstanding the popular adage that suggests that you can never go home, the Hebrew word for repentance, tshuvah, means to return, to come back.

This week's additional portion from the Prophets appropriately stresses the idea of tshuvah, coming back to G-d. Hosea 14:2 pleads: "Shuvah, Yisrael ad Hashem Elokechah" — "Return O Israel to the Lord, your G-d."

No matter what the sin of the Jewish nation or of individual Jews, they remain essentially good and decent. They need merely to turn back toward G-d, and He who waits with infinite patience will accept their repentance and forgive. Rabbi Chaim Shmulevitz of blessed memory adds that even a completely righteous person cannot necessarily reach the heights of the penitent because G-d Himself assists the latter from above. It has been said before that U-turns, which is what tshuvah is all about, are always legal in Judaism. More than legal they are profoundly to be desired.

Shabbat shalom and l'shanah tovah!