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by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek


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Shabbat Shuva(66)

This week is Shabbat Shuva. So we will discuss some ideas on the topic of T'shuva (repentance). Last week's sedra, Netzavin, (Deuteronomy chapter 30) is the Torah portion devoted to T'shuva. There we find the following verses:

1) It will be that when these things come upon you - the blessing and the curse - then you will return it to you heart, among all the nations where Hashem, your G-d has cast you.

2) And you will return unto Hashem, your G-d and listen to his voice, according to everything that I command you today, you and your children, with all your heart and all your soul.

3) Then Hashem , your G-d, will return your captivity and have mercy upon you and He will gather you in from all the nations to which Hashem, your G-d, has scattered you.


8) and you will return and listen to the voice of Hashem and perform all his commandments that I command you today.

9) ...then he will return to rejoice over you for good as he rejoiced over your forefathers.

10) When you listen to the voice of Hashem, your G-d, to observe his commandments and his decrees that are written in this book of the Torah when you shall return to Hashem, your G-d, with all your heart and all your soul.

11) for this commandment that I command you today - it is not hidden from you and it is not distant -

14) Rather the matter is very near to you - in your mouth and your heart to perform it.

Note: The word "return" ( from the Hebrew root "shav" ) is repeated exactly seven times in the section. The seven code is an indication that the topic has special significance.

For this commandment: Rashi: interprets "this commandment" to mean the whole Torah (see his comment on the words "For it is close to you")

The Ramban on the other hand interprets the words " this commandment"

to refer specifically to the mitzvah of repentance, T'shuvah. The Torah refers to it as "in your mouth and in your heart to do it." This certainly sounds like the act of T'shuvah.

Thus for the Ramban (Nachmanides) doing T'shuvah is one of the 613 commandments in the Torah.

Interestingly enough, The Rambam, (Maimonides), does not consider the act of T'shuvah to be one of the 613 mitzvos. (It certainly is a mitzvah, but not one of the 613.) The Rambam begins his Laws of T'shuva with the following words:

"If a person transgresses any of the laws of the Torah, then when he does T'shuva and turns away from his sin, he must confess before G-d etc."

We see that the Rambam lists the act of T'shuva as the precondition for the mitzvah of confession, but not as a mitzvah in its own right.

How can we understand this difference of opinion between the Ramban and the Rambam? Why does one- the Ramban - consider t'shuva to be one of the 613 mitzvos and the other - Rambam - does not?

Can you explain this?

Hint: Can you explain why T'shuva should be a separate mitzvah at all?

Your Answer:


An Answer: I would suggest the following explanation. If, for example, a man steals, do we need a special mitzvah to tell him to repent and stop stealing? (There is, in fact, a mitzvah to tell him to return the stolen article.) Of course, he must not steal in the future just as he was commanded never to steal, in the first place. That is obvious. So telling him to do t'shuva is in effect telling him to stop stealing, but he has already been commanded for that.

This would seem to be the Rambam's reasoning. If T'shuva means turning away from one's sinful behavior, then we are always commanded to that, without the need for a special mitzvah. So, the Rambam says, when we do the obvious act of turning away from our past sins, then the special mitzvah of confession is obligatory upon us.

But if this is so common-sense -ical, then how are we to understand the Ramban who says T'shuva is a special mitzvah? Can you think of a justification of the Ramban's position ?

Your Answer:


An Answer: I would suggest this explanation of the Ramban's position. Doing T'shuva is not just stopping doing a sin one had been doing. For a person to truly repent means a major psychological and spiritual change in the individual. This changes has the power to elevate him spiritually much more than just the act of not doing a sin. This major spiritual act has been praised by the Sages. They say that even the truly righteous do not attain the same spiritual heights that the Ba'al T'shuva does.

This may be the reason that the Ramban considers the mitzvah of T'shuva to be special and separate from the mere act of improving ones self. The spiritual leap forward that it signifies is an important aspect of one's spirituality, therefore it is a mitzvah in its own right.

My we all be privileged to make such a leap in these days of T'shuva.

Shabbat Shalom
G'mar Chatima Tova
Avigdor Bonchek

"What's Bothering Rashi?" is a production of "The Institute for the Study of Rashi."

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