Listening is key component while cultivating tishuvah

BY RABBI HYIM SHAFNER

We are currently in the month of Elul, the Hebrew month preceding the days of awe.

This is the month spent cultivating tishuvah. Tishuvah is often translated as “repentance” but literally means “return.”

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The Torah portion this week speaks of blessings and curses. The Jewish people are promised blessing if they listen to God to fulfill the Torah and the opposite if they do not listen to God’s Torah to keep it.

Why does the Torah include the need to listen, why not just tell us if we keep the Torah, if we do what is in it we will be blessed and if we do not we will be cursed?

Why stress the need to listen as a prerequisite to doing?

The Midrash write that every day a heavenly voice calls out from Mount Horev, declaring, “Return my children return.”

Rabbi Levi Yitzchok of Berdichev writes that each of us can hear this voice according to our spiritual level, according to where we personally are at in the process of tishuvah. The question of course is how are we to prime the tishuvah pump?

What if we are not spiritually already on the level to hear the voice, how do we get there? How do we begin?

The Sefat Emet, Rabbi Yehudah Leib Alter of Ger teaches that even if we are not able to hear the voice that calls us to tishuvah we can still begin the process. We may not be in a state where we can do tishuvah yet, we may not even be able yet to hear the divine voice that calls us to tishuvah, to return, but we can at least know that we are in the darkness. That something is not right, not complete, that we are lacking in our connection to the Divine.

This is the first step. Then we will be able to open our ears to hear the voice which calls us back and only then might we be capable of truly returning.

And so we must not give up hope.

Just to cry out that something is spiritually amiss, that we are distant from God, this is the true first step in hearing and listening to the call.

May we all merit that this month of Elul be one of true tishuvah, of return, and of shmiah, of listening.

Rabbi Hyim Shafner, of Bais Abraham Congregation is a member of the St. Louis Rabbinical Association.