Office of the Chief Rabbi

D’var Torah: Parashat Vayelech

In his D’var Torah this week, the Chief Rabbi discusses the most appropriate name for this very special Shabbat: Shabbat Shuvah or Shabbat Teshuvah. In his answer, the Chief Rabbi highlights that, perhaps counter-intuitively, when you perform a good deed because you are commanded to, it has far greater value than when you perform a good deed out of the goodness of your heart.

This coming Shabbat will be a special one, but what is its correct title: Is it ‘Shabbat Shuvah’ or ‘Shabbat Teshuvah’? Both actually are used and both makes sense.

We have a tradition that for special Shabbatot, the title is taken from a key word in the special Maftir or Haftarah that we recite on that Shabbat, such as Shabbat Hagadol, Shabbat Zachor, Shabbat Parah and Shabbat Nachamu. As a result, because the opening word of this week’s Haftarah is Shuvah Yisrael, Return, O Israel, it is appropriate to call the Shabbat ‘Shabbat Shuvah’.

On the other hand, this Shabbat will take place in the midst of the Aseret Yemai Teshuvah, the ten days of penitence, so therefore we could call the Shabbat – ‘Shabbat Teshuvah’.

‘Why should I repent? Is it because God is commanding me to do so or is it because I want to?’

Now actually there is a far more profound dimension to the difference between Shuvah and Teshuvah. That is because Shuvah is an imperative, God is commanding us that ‘You must repent’, whereas Teshuvah relates to the phenomenon – it is the penitence that takes place. This begs the question: why should I repent? Is it because God is commanding me to do so or is it because I want to?

And the same question can be asked about all of the Mitzvot. Let’s take for example, charity. Why should I give generously to others: Is it because God has commanding me to or is it because I want to help other people?

Our Sages, Chazal, teach in the Gemarah, “Gadol Hamitzuveh ve’oseh mimi sh’einoi mitzuveh ve’oseh”, when you perform a good deed because you are commanded to, it has far greater value than when you perform a good deed out of the goodness of your heart.

Now I actually might have thought just the opposite. For example, let’s take charity. If you have a person who gives generously to a good cause, without any religious connection whatsoever, isn’t this a marvellous person – it comes from such a good place? But our tradition teaches that when we give charity because God has commanded us to, we have a connection with God, and at the same time we still feel the value of it, it does come from our hearts and as a result, we have an added spiritual dimension which relates to every practical thing that we do.

‘When you perform a good deed because you are commanded to, it has far greater value than when you perform a good deed out of the goodness of your heart’

So too with regard to penitence. At this time of the year, we should change our ways because of Shuvah, because God is commanding us to do so, and we should also chart a new path within our lives because we appreciate how important it is for us.

As a result, let us therefore at this time perform both Shuvah and Teshuvah, let’s listen to Hashem and let’s appreciate the great opportunity He gives us to start afresh and please God to have, a wonderful, happy, fulfilling and successful life ahead of us.

Shabbat Shalom

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