Shabbat-Table Talks: Shabbat Shooba

 

By: Rabbi Ralph Tawil <tawil@bezeqint.net>

 

Value: Return and Repentance. This Shabbat is known as “Shabbat Shooba” based on the first word of the haftara, which means, “return.” This haftara is connected not to the perasha but to the time of year, the Shabbat between Rosh Hashannah and Yom Kippur. This period is known as the “ten days of return.”  (The English term “repentance” does not fully capture the idea of “teshuba.” “Repentance” contains the idea of feeling sorry about one has done. It is a regret over the past lapses. “Teshuba” literally means “return,” which is more than just a feeling—it is directed action. The assumption is that we started out good and somewhere we went astray. The prophet implores that we return to our former right path.)

 

Text: Hosea 14:2-4, 10

Return, O Israel, to Hashem your God, for you have fallen because of your sin. Take words with you and return to Hashem. Say to Him: “Forgive all guilt and accept what is good; Instead of bulls we will pay [the offering of] our lips. Assyria shall not save us, no more will we ride on steeds; nor ever again will we call our handiwork our god, since in You alone orphans find pity!”

 

He who is wise will consider these words,

he who is prudent will take note of them.

For the paths of Hashem are smooth;

the righteous can walk on them,

while sinners stumble on them.

 

Analysis: Israel was relying on their own strength to save them from their enemies. The prophet calls upon Israel that their strength is not in their military might but in their returning to Hashem. Their sin has lead to their downfall. The only path is to relinquish sin and to make a full return to the path of Hashem. This is not done by empty ritual acts, like offering sacrifices, but by heartfelt return.

 

Discussion: The prophet calls upon Israel to offer their words of return instead of bulls. The idea is that bringing a bull, as a sacrifice does not require one to really consider the wrong that he did. He can very easily fake his repentance. But, when he has to articulate what he did wrong, specifically, this is a more heartfelt action. Rambam, in describing the process of return wrote:

When a person returns and he regrets his sin, he must confess to God… This confession is a positive commandment. How is confession done? He says: please Hashem I have sinned, corrupted and rebelled against you. I have done such and such and I regret and am shamed from my actions. I will never again return to those actions. (Law of Return 1:1)

Rambam attaches a lot of importance to saying the words of the confession; to specifically articulating what exactly was done wrong.

 

Why do you think that it is necessary to say exactly what you did wrong? Shouldn’t it be enough to think about it? (The answer is that forcing to put into words what you did wrong makes you realize how wrong it is. It forces you to face the fact that you really transgressed, without reservation or justification. It is something like the alcoholic who states, “I am an alcoholic,” at an AA meeting. Saying it forces you to face up to the fact that you did something wrong.)

 

Can people use words in a ritual way, without really meaning what they are saying? (Absolutely. Just witness the many people who say the words of the “vidduy” (liturgical confession) without really considering what these words mean.)

 

How about when people speak to other people without really meaning what they say? For example, when people say they are sorry and do not really mean it. How do we know when a person really means it when he says he is sorry?

 

This year let’s take upon our selves to mean what we say when we talk to people and when we talk to God in prayer. That is very hard at first, but as we learn the meaning of our prayers and focus on what comes out of our mouths it becomes easier. In fact, if, while we pray, we imagine ourselves talking to a human being that we care for then we would be better able to mean what we pray.

 

The Rambam has taught us that the Day of Atonement only atones for those sins between man and God. For those sins between man and man it is up to us to approach our friends and family and ask for forgiveness. We should follow the words of the Rambam and actually articulate what it is we did wrong. Then ask the friend for forgiveness, while accepting not to act in such ways again. Let us think about the people that we should ask forgiveness from. [If there were something that you could ask forgiveness from at the table this would be a good time to model how this is done.]

 

This period of the year is a special one for strengthening our ties to people and for really changing and returning to the right path of relationship with man and with God. Let’s use it meaningfully.

 

Further Discussion about the Text

 

Explain the end of the quote above:  “For the paths of Hashem are smooth; the righteous can walk on them, while sinners stumble on them.”

 

[Some of the commentators have explained it that the wicked, who do not go on Hashem’s path stumble because only the path of Hashem is straight. Another explanation is that when a person travels a crooked path on a straight road he will surely stumble.] How can we apply this to life?

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Shabbat Table Talks is a publication of the Sephardic Orthodox Union.