The Divine Return Policy

One of the byproducts of the COVID-19 virus was that many stores stopped taking returns. There was naturally a concern about the handling of the products. This time of year, between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur there is a special Shabbat, called Shabbat Shuva, or “The Shabbat of Return.” This is because the first verse of the Haftarah mentions Teshuva as does our Parsha. This Haftarah is read specifically now because Shuva is the verb form of the noun Teshuva, which means repentance; and we are in the midst of the annual 10 Days of Repentance that span from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur. We read the Haftarah of Teshuvah, repentance.

So how, pray tell, does one return and do Teshuva?

Our Torah reading, Vayelech, contains a verse about Teshuvah that can give us some hints:

Deuteronomy 30:2

וְשַׁבְתָּ֞ עַד־יוָ֤ה אֱלֹיךָ֙ וְשָׁמַעְתָּ֣ בְקֹל֔וֹ כְּכֹ֛ל אֲשֶׁר־אָנֹכִ֥י מְצַוְּךָ֖ הַיּ֑וֹם אַתָּ֣ה וּבָנֶ֔יךָ בְּכׇל־לְבָבְךָ֖ וּבְכׇל־נַפְשֶֽׁךָ׃

You will return to your G-d, and you and your children heed G-d’s command with all your heart and soul, just as I enjoin upon you this day…

The commentary Chomat Anach, written by Rabbi Hayyim Joseph David Azulay (c.1784 - c.1804), Jerusalem, writes that the word עַ֖ד which means “until” can also be read “Eid,” which means a witness. This is to teach us that since Teshuva is a personal matter and no one knows what lies in the hearts of their neighbors, only G-d Himself can and will testify to the sincerity of one’s Teshuva. For Teshuva to be successful, one must be authentic and have G-d as his witness.

Great, so G-d must testify on my behalf; but what do I have to do?

The Ketav Vekabbalah, written by Rabbi Yaakov Tzvi Mecklenburg (c.1829 - c.1839 CE), Germany, focuses on the words of the verse וְשָׁמַעְתָּ֣ בְקֹל֔וֹ כְּכֹ֛ל אֲשֶׁר־אָנֹכִ֥י מְצַוְּךָ֖ הַיּ֑וֹם which means, “that you will listen and heed G-d’s voice and His commands.” He explains that Teshuvah takes place when we are willing and able to listen. So often we have an answer or an excuse before we are asked about anything. The first step towards a successful Teshuvah is an open heart, an open mind, and an open ear to listen to truths and directions even when we are not inclined towards them.

Finally, the Sforno, Rabbi Ovadia ben Jacob Sforno, an Italian rabbi, Biblical commentator, philosopher, and physician (c.1475-c1550), focuses on the word וּבָנֶ֔יךָ which means, “and your children.” He states that when a true and sincere Teshuvah takes place it will impact the children of the home and community as well. Children have incredible emotional antennae. They know when their parents and teachers are hiding something, they know when they are talking the talk but not walking the walk. Kids are incredibly insightful. So, a sign of successful Teshuvah is when the kids are inspired as well.

The common denominator between all three comments is Teshuvah requires a sincere and honest opening of our hearts and minds to learn, grow, and actualize our potential. To accomplish this one must exercise great listening skills, inspire children, and have G-d as his witness, which is all doable.

While supermarkets and grocery stores may no longer accept returns, the Torah teach us that Hashem, the G-d of Israel, most definitively does accept returns. In fact, He is waiting to welcome all of us on Tuesday evening when we hear the stirring Kol Nidrei and enter the pristine and sacred time zone we call Yom Kippur. When we return to Him, we will feel G-d return to us as well.

May we all merit a year of life, health, goodness, and fulfillment in 5783.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Ephraim Epstein
Community Scholar in Residence