Repentance and Rebirth

Rabbi Maury Grebenau As Yom Kippur approaches we find ourselves focusing on the idea of repentance and forgiveness. We begin to anticipate the soul searching that is one of the hallmarks of this time of year. The build up that culminates in a satisfying feeling of being cleansed after Yom Kippur has passed. There is yet another facet of Yom Kippur that is often overlooked in our preparation for the day. Yom Kippur is the day that we received the second set of Luchos (tablets). After the debacle of the golden calf, Moshe is able to convince Hashem not to destroy us and instead to give us a second chance. Although Shavous remains the day that we saw Hashem revealed before us and heard a number of the commandments straight from Him, Yom Kippur remains a day of receiving the Torah. The character of Yom Kippur is our relationship to the Torah after we have sinned and been forgiven. Sinning, ignoring the word of G-d, should be a damaging force in our relationship with Hashem. Instead, G-d in His infinite mercy allows us to take advantage of repentance. Teshuva is a rebirth and renewal of ourselves that is so novel, once it takes place everything is fresh and new. Rav Hutner1 explains that the month of Tishrei contains other examples of this phenomenon. The reason we sit in a Sukkah on Sukkot is to recall the Anannei HaKavod (clouds of glory) that surrounded us in the desert2. The Vilna Goan3 calculates that the 15th of Tishrei, the date of Sukkot, was not when we initially received the clouds. We had the protective clouds from the time we left Egypt but lost them when we sinned with the golden calf. Once we began building the tabernacle we merited the return of the clouds and this occurred on the 15th of Tishrei. If so, Rav Hutner, explains we are in essence celebrating the post-repentance clouds of glory. Once again, what seems to be the same phenomenon is actually an entirely new phenomenon and worthy of celebration. The clouds of glory that we had after we repented represented an entirely new creation. We can use the same idea to explain one of the main parts of the Yom Kippur service. We constantly are mentioning the 13 attributes of divine mercy in the Yom Kippur prayers; they begin in a strange way. They begin with Hashem’s name twice. What is the reason for this repetition? This is so bothersome to some commentators4 that they say the first name is really part of the introduction simply telling us that Hashem said these 13 principles! We clearly do not assume this as we include it in the 13 principles during prayers even after having left out the introduction. Rather, as the Gemara (Rosh Hashanah 17b) explains it refers to Hashem before we sin and Hashem after we sin and repent. Rashi (there) explains that Hashem has mercy even after we sin. On a deeper level we can also understand this repetition in light of Rav Hutner’s idea. Even our relationship with Hashem is a completely new phenomenon after we have

1 2

Kuntres Yerech HaEsanim (Mamar 9: 5 - 7) T.B. Sukkah 11b according to the opinion of Rabbi Eliezer, & Shulchan Aruch (625:1) 3 Shir HaShirim 1:4 4 See Tosfos (Rosh Hashanah 17b s”v Shalosh) quoting Rabbeinu Nissim

repented. We have ignored the word of our Master and now beg for forgiveness. Hashem takes us back and our entire relationship with Hashem is one of rebirth. Yom Kippur is the rebirth of our relationship with the Torah. Sukkos is the rebirth of the divine protection we enjoy. Our repentance itself is perhaps the most important rebirth of all, the rebirth of our relationship with Hashem. May we all reconnect to Hashem and His Torah in a profound way that carries us through the month of Tishrei and the entire year with a sense of freshness and excitement.

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