Teshuva: Returning to Ourselves

By Ari Rabbi Gelernter

One of the Psukim we read during the Mussaf service on Rosh HaShana is
לֹא הִבִּיט אָוֶן בְּיַעֲקֹב וְלֹא רָאָה עָמָל בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל יְהוָה אֱלֹהָיו עִמּוֹ וּתְרוּעַת מֶלֶךְ בּוֹ
He does not look at evil in Jacob, and has seen no perversity in Israel; the Lord, his G-d, is with him, and he has the King’s friendship.

How can it be that Hashem averts looking at evil among the Jews? Isn’t G-d our judge? How can we read this on Rosh Hashana when we are being judged for all of our deeds for the past year?

The great Bible commentator Ohr Hachaim (1696-1743) answers this question with an important insight into Repentance. He highlights that the verse says G-d doesn’t see evil בְּיַעֲקֹב and בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל – in Jacob and in Israel. Why is this important? We can see this concept in the Talmudic dictum, “When a person sins, a wind of insanity transpires inside of him.” The evil inclination is able to penetrate man’s conscience and manipulate him to perform acts of iniquity. The verse teaches us that G-d sees the actions of man as something external from man himself and therefore He judges him favorably.

The word תשובה has roots in the word שב (“to return”). Generally we define תשובה as returning to G-d, especially reconnecting with Him during the High Holidays when we tap the power of the תְרוּעַה. The Ohr Hachaim is emphasizing that true repentance is returning to ourselves. This is accomplished by contemplation and introspection about ourselves. A person must realize that all of his desires that caused him to sin are not the true him, but rather a manifestation of the evil inclination. At the core of every Jew is total goodness and a pure heart.

When a person realizes this and works on improving it, then G-d does his part and judges us favorably by not looking at the evil as part of Jacob/Israel. No matter what flawed actions we took over the past year, G-d is “עִמּוֹ” – with us – and awaits our return.