In this week’s parsha, we read about Klal Yisrael entering a bris with Hashem. In perek 29 pasuk 15-16, Moshe Rabbeinu says a reason as to why Klal Yisrael had to take an oath. The reason he gives is because, “You have seen the other nations’ abominations and idol-worship.”
Rav Yitzchak Isaac Sher asks a very simple question on this. Why did they needed to take an oath just because they saw idol worship? This was a nation which witnessed the miracles of the Midbar!? They saw yad Hashem almost every day! Why is this a valid reason to warrant the necessity for an oath not to stray off the path of Hashem?
Rav Sher explains that the answer lies in the following pasuk, “Perhaps there is among you a man or woman whose heart turns from being with Hashem.” That is, as the Ramban explains, that there could exist some small inkling of evil and bitterness inside the person. And that little inkling of bitterness could be the seed which could grow until it ultimately destroys the human being.
I think we see a very powerful point here which is very related to the upcoming yom tov of Rosh Hashana. The Gemara in Rosh Hashana (16b) says that four things warrant a negative judgement to be ripped up; tefilla, tzedakah, shinui sheim (the changing of one’s name) and shinui maisov (the changing of one’s actions). The Rambam in Hilchos Teshuva writes that the way of teshuva is to cry out to Hashem, then to give tzedakah, and then separate himself from the actual sin and finally to “change his name,” meaning that the person should say to himself, “I am a different person,” and to change his ways for the good. The problem is that the Rambam implies that all these are necessary stages towards a correct teshuva and to tear up a negative judgement. However, as the Lechem Mishna asks, each one is enough to tear up a negative judgement?! And furthermore, it’s made clear in many different places that a person doesn’t even need one of these things to tear up a bad judgement, rather it’s enough to feel bad, be mekabel for the future, and do a verbal confession!? So, what’s the explanation in the Rambam?
Rav Ahron Leib Shteinman answers that in reality, to achieve teshuva all one needs is to feel bad, accept upon himself to no longer sin and to do a verbal confession. However, even after a person does this, there could remain inside of him small inklings of evil which resulted from the sin. These little “roots” of evil was what the Rambam was pinpointing. It’s true, one doesn’t need to go through the Rambam’s whole process to attain teshuva; but he does need to go through that to change himself.
The point is penetrating. We see from this week’s parsha and from this Rambam that if a person wants to walk on the path of teshuva, it’s not enough to attack the sin itself, rather one needs to attack the root of the problem. Rosh Hashana always warrants introspection. But instead of looking at our actions and deciding what we need to change, the real focus should be within. “What do I need to change about myself” is the correct question. Hopefully, armed with our heightened sense of self and what “roots” need changing, we can successfully daven to Hashem and warrant a successful year.