In the following verse which has been included in one of our daily prayers (U’va L’Tzion), King David prays:
“For You, Master of All, are good and forgiving, and rich in lovingkindness to all who call upon You.” (Psalm 86:5).
In his commentary on the above prayer, Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch explains that King David is saying to the Creator:
“To grant forgiveness is Your nature. You have love in store for every human being.”
We are now in the midst of “The Ten Days of Teshuvah” which conclude with Yom Kippur. As we explained in a previous letter, the root meaning of the Hebrew word “teshuvah” is “return.” It refers to a process of self-evaluation and change which leads to a return to our Source. We return to Hashem – the Compassionate and Life-Giving One – through rededicating ourselves to the compassionate and life-giving purpose of our creation. In this way, we are also returning to our true selves – the Divine image that is within each of us.
There are some individuals who encounter a major obstacle in the process of teshuvah. They do not realize Hashem is also the Forgiving One; thus, they feel that their initial steps on the road of return will be rejected, and their hearts become full of despair. One factor that can cause this despair is a lack of Torah education regarding the Divine compassion, love, and forgiveness, as a person may have grown up with the mistaken view that God is stern and unforgiving.
A second factor can be suffering. Each person goes through some suffering in life, and without a Torah perspective on the deeper meaning of suffering, some people may mistakenly conclude that their suffering is a sign that they are totally rejected by God. They therefore feel that any efforts at self-improvement and spiritual growth are futile.
A third factor that can cause despair is the mistaken view that teshuvah is only accepted if one become perfect in all area’s of one’s life. A person with this view does not realize that the steps of teshuvah can be compared to the first steps that a baby takes. The parent delights in these imperfect few steps, and if the baby falls down, the loving parent encourages the baby to get up and try again. A person therefore needs to realize that – in a very deep sense – Hashem is the Loving and Patient Parent Who “delights” in each of our small and imperfect steps. And if we fall, Hashem encourages us to rise again and keep trying. Even a “tzadik” – righteous person – can fall; however, a tzadik rises again after each fall, as it is written: “For though the tzadik may fall seven times, he will arise” (Proverbs 24:16).
A fourth factor which can cause despair is a person’s troubled relationship with one or both parents in early childhood – a relationship which can also affect one’s relationship with God. For example, someone who was raised by an overly stern, overly critical, and/or overly demanding parent may have initial difficulty in realizing that Hashem is patient, encouraging, and forgiving. They therefore do not realize that Hashem is the Loving One Who gives new life and hope to all those who begin to engage in the process of teshuvah. Without this realization of the Divine love, a person can become despondent and heartbroken.
Yes, “despair” can be a major obstacle on the road of return. The “haftorah” – portion from the Prophets – that we chant on Yom Kippur addresses this problem, and it open with the following call: “Pave, pave! Clear the road! Remove the obstacle from My people’s path” (Isaiah 57:14).
In the next verse, the Prophet reveals the Divine proclamation which can help us to remove the obstacle of despair:
“For thus said the Exalted and Uplifted One, Who abides forever and Whose Name is holy: I abide in exaltedness and holiness, but I am with the despondent and lowly of spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the despondent.” (57:15).
According to the classical commentator, Rashi, Hashem is saying, “I am with the despondent and lowly of spirit upon whom I lower My Shechinah (Divine Presence).”
The Loving Shechinah descends in order “to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the despondent.” In this spirit, we refer to Hashem in our daily prayers as, “The Healer of the brokenhearted” (Psalm 147:3).
In Aramaic, a language which is closely related to Hebrew, the verb “racham” often refers to “love”; moreover, a beautiful Aramaic name for Hashem which is used by our sages is “Rachmana” – “The Loving One.” This term appears in the following words from a prayer called “Rachmana D’Anei La’aniyei” which we chant on Yom Kippur:
“O Loving One Who answers the brokenhearted, answer us!”
Gmar Tov – A Good Sealing,
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen
1. It is written: “For though the tzadik may fall seven times, he will arise” (Proverbs 24:16). There is a beautiful explanation of this statement by the rebbe of my rebbe, Rav Yitzchak Hutner, a leading sage who headed the Chaim Berlin Yeshiva. Rav Hutner explains that the essence of the tzadik’s rising is through his seven falls. Through these falls, he gains new insights and strengths which enable him to rise higher. (Pachad Yitzchak – Letters and Writings, p. 217)
2. Hashem proclaimed, “My firstborn child is Israel” (Exodus 4:22). As the “first born child” among the peoples, we realized that we can approach the Compassionate One directly, without an intermediary. In this spirit, the Torah states, “You are children to Hashem, your God” (Deuteronomy 14:1). The Tiferes Yisrael discusses this idea in his commentary on the Mishnah (Yoma 8:9), and he writes: “There is no need for any intermediary whatsoever between the children and their Father, the Compassionate One, since it is His compassion itself that serves as Israel's purification and mikvah (purifying waters).” The Tiferes Yisrael adds: “His hands are always open to receive their teshuvah and to embrace them with great love and eternal love.”
3. Any human being can be close to the Compassionate One without an intermediary, as it is written, “Hashem is close to all who call upon Him, to all who call upon Him sincerely” (Psalm 145:18).
The classical commentator, Radak, explains that this verse is revealing that the Compassionate One is close to “all” who call upon Him, “regardless of nationality.”
4. Some examples of how the word “”love” in Aramaic is “racham” can be found in the ancient Aramaic translation of the Torah known as “Targum Onkelos.” (See the Targum Onkelos on Genesis 25:28, 29:18; Leviticus 19:18; Deuteronomy 6:5,7:8,10:18,10:19.)