Question: How should one do teshuvah during this Elul and Yamim Nora’im season?
Answer: It would take volumes to comprehensively answer your question. Of course, a thorough study of Rambam’s Hilchot Teshuvah is a good place to start. One sure way of unlocking the gates of repentance is trying to do everything “lifnim mishurat ha’din – above and beyond the requirements of the law.”
The Talmud (Berachot 7a) states: “R. Yochanan said in the name of R. Yose, ‘How do we know that the Holy One Blessed be He says prayers? Because it is written [Isaiah 56:7], ‘I will bring them to My holy mountain and I will gladden them in My house of prayer.’ It does not say the house of ‘their prayer,’ but the house of ‘My prayer.’ Therefore, we see that the Holy One Blessed be He says prayers.’
“What does He pray? R. Zutra b. Tobi said in the name of Rab, ‘May it be My will that My mercy suppress My anger and that My mercy prevails over My other attributes so that I deal with My children according to the attribute of mercy and, on their behalf, go lifnim mishurat ha’din – stopping short of the limit of strict justice and [acting] mercifully beyond the letter of the law [in forgiving them for their transgressions].’”
The Gemara shares a related anecdote concerning the sage R. Yishmael b. Elisha, who was a kohen gadol. He stated as follows, “I once entered the innermost part [of the Sanctuary] to offer incense and saw the L-rd of Hosts seated upon a high and exalted throne. He said to me, ‘Yishmael, My son, bless Me.’ I replied, ‘May it be Your will that Your mercy suppress Your anger and that Your mercy prevail over Your other attributes so that You deal with Your children according to the attribute of mercy and judge them with a mercy that is beyond the requirements of the law.’ And He nodded to me with His head.”
Rashi explains that by nodding, G-d assented to R. Yishmael’s words. This story illustrates the greatness of our relationship with G-d. His request for a blessing from a mere mortal was a sign of His love for us and should remind us of the boundless opportunities for us to grow closer to Him as well.
The Torah tells us (Deuteronomy 18:14-15), “Ki ha’goyim ha’eleh asher atah yoresh otam el me’onnenim v’el kosmim yishmau v’atah lo chen natan lecha Hashem Elokecha – For these nations that you are possessing, they hearkened to astrologers and diviners; but Hashem, your G-d, has not given these for you. Navi mi’kirbecha me’achecha kamoni yakim lecha Hashem, Elokecha, eilav tishma’un – A prophet from your midst, from your brethren, like me, shall Hashem, your G-d, establish for you; to him shall you hearken.”
What these verses say is dramatic. They seem to imply that G-d was in our midst when Moses was in our midst. Apparently a mortal man of flesh and bones can be endowed by G-d with His holy spirit. And such a man will arise in every generation, these verses state. This is a startling point to ponder when we consider our relationship with our Creator!
(To be continued)