Parshat Vayelech – Shabbat Shuva (Hosea 14:2-10)
October 8, 2016 / 6 Tishre 5777
Rav Yosef Soloveitchik, in his classic work, Al Hateshuva, points out that the fact that time is linear, namely, that it is one directional, creates a frightening predicament for human beings. Deeds cannot be undone because time cannot be turned back. Consequently, one must live with the consequences of one’s deeds. They seemingly cannot be erased or corrected. The implications of this are dire since it leaves us all permanently blemished. This burden can be difficult to bear even for those of us with relatively minor infractions.
The Jewish tradition’s answer to this quandary is found in the words of the prophet, Hosea, in the haftarah we read this Shabbat Shuva, the Shabbat between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur: “Shuva Yisrael – Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God, for you have fallen because of your sin. Take words with you and return to the Lord. Say to Him: ‘Forgive all guilt and accept what is good; instead of bull we will pay [the offering of] our lips’” (14:2-3)
One midrash assesses these words as follows: “All of the Prophets call upon Israel to repent but none like Hosea. Jeremiah said: ‘If you return, O Israel, declared the Lord, if you return to Me.’ (Jeremiah 4:1); And Isaiah said: ‘Seek the Lord while He can be found’ (Isaiah 55:6); but none teach Israel what to say. But Hosea said: ‘Do Teshuva (Repent) and He teaches them how to appease themselves before God: ‘Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God, for you have fallen because of your sin. Take words with you and return to the Lord. Say to Him: ‘Forgive all guilt and accept what is good; instead of bull we will pay [the offering of] our lips’” (Pesikta Rabati 44, Ish Shalom ed. p. 183b)
The midrash takes Hosea’s words as a prescription for repentance. And, in fact, Rabbi Yosef Karo, in his commentary (Kesef Mishnah) to Maimonides’ Mishnah Torah, cites this verse as the source for Maimonides’ formulation of the process required for Teshuva: “And what is Teshuva? It is when the sinner leaves his/her sin and removes it from their thoughts and determines in his/her heart not to do it again, as it says: ‘May the wicked abandon his ways…’ (Isaiah 55:7) Similarly, he must regret the past, as it says: ‘After I returned (repented), I regretted’ (Jeremiah 31:18) [He must reach a point where] one who knows his hidden [life] can testify that he will never return to this sin again, as it is written: ‘We will no longer say to the works of our hands… you are our gods.’ (Hosea 14:4)”
The process of Teshuva is one of vidui (acknowledgment of the sin), commitment to not returning to the sin and gathering the willpower to be able to refrain from the sin. Having a methodology for behavior change is incredibly helpful even in our day. Perhaps, that should even make Hosea worthy of making it to the best seller page.