1. Two names are given to this Shabbos:
1) Shabbos Shuvah — the Shabbos of Return, named after the beginning words of the Haftorah, “Shuvah Yisroel” — “Return Israel.”
2) Shabbos Teshuvah — the Shabbos of Repentance, because it is in the Ten Days of Repentance. It is also associated with the Haftorah, which speaks of the idea of repentance.
What can we learn from this? The month of Tishrei is the general, all-encompassing rootmonth for the whole year. “Tishrei” has the same letters as “Reishis,” which means “beginning,” for its festivals are the general inspiration for the entire year. On Rosh Hashanah, for example, we accept the yoke of G-d for the entire year, and on Simchas Torah, we derive joy in Torah and mitzvos for the rest of the year.
Within Tishrei itself, the Ten Days of Repentance have a special place, for they are uniquely related to Rosh Hashanah, the Head of the year. Scripture (Yechezkel 40:1) terms Yom Kippur also “Rosh Hashanah,” and thus the ten days from Rosh Hashanah until Yom Kippur inclusive, are all the concepts of “Rosh Hashanah.” Just as the “head” directs and encompasses the body’s limbs, so too the Ten Days of Repentance — encompass and direct all the days of the year.
More particularly, the seven days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (i.e. the Ten Days of Repentance excluding the two days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur) — a complete week — provide the strength for man’s service to G-d in all the weeks of the coming year. This is in addition to the Arizal’s teaching that these seven days rectify the weeks of the past year. For example, the Sunday of these seven days rectifies the deficiencies in service of all the Sundays of the past year — in addition to providing strength for service of the Sundays of the coming year.
Because the Ten Days of Repentance are the idea of the “Head of the Year,” it follows that the Shabbos in these Ten Days — including the fact that it has two names — provides lessons in service to G-d.
What is the difference between “Shuvah” and “Teshuvah?” “Shuvah” is the command to repent; “Teshuvah” means the actual repentance. “Shuvah” thus relates to He who gives the command to repent, but is not yet concerned with the actual repentance. And although a command from G-d carries an assurance that it will be fulfilled, it carries no certainty that it will be implemented immediately. “Teshuvah,” on the other hand, relates to repentance as it actually exists.
Because “teshuvah” means that repentance has already been done, and “shuvah” means only the command to repent, it seems that “teshuvah” incorporates within itself the meaning of “shuvah.” What is gained, then, from this Shabbos being called “Shabbos Shuvah” as well as “Shabbos Teshuvah?”
Repentance, however, is a continuous process, and although one has already done teshuvah, he can always repent further, rising to a higher level of teshuvah. And this is what the command “Shuvah” teaches: Although one has already repented, he is told “Return Israel” — reach a higher level of teshuvah. For, writes the Alter Rebbe in Tanya (ch. 27), “teshuvah is principally in the heart, and there are many levels in the heart.” As one ascends in the levels of the heart, his service of teshuvah changes: the higher the level of the heart, the higher the level of teshuvah required.
The above is emphasized in the opening verse of the Haftorah: “Return Israel to the L-rd your G-d.” Because “the L-rd your G-d” is infinite, one can constantly keep on returning to Him, rising always higher from level to level — until one reaches the ultimate of returning to G-d: the level of “I know Him therefore I am Him.” That is, one’s existence below becomes united with G-d Above.
What does this mean? One of the principal tenets in Judaism is “There is none other beside Him.” This differs from the tenet that “there is none other” in that “There is none other beside Him” implies that there are other existences (the world), but that these other existences are not self-generating, but derive from G-d’s existence “There is no other beside Him.”
“There is none other” implies a loftier level: that there is simply no other existence except G-d, not even an existence deriving from G-d. And this is the idea of “I know Him therefore I am Him.” The person is not a separate existence that derives from G-d, but his existence is G-d’s existence, for “there is none other” — “I know Him therefore I am Him.”
The lesson from all of the above: “Shabbos Teshuvah” teaches that it is not enough that one learns about teshuvah, about the Torah’s command to repent, but that this study must actually be translated into deed: one must actually be in a state of repentance.
“Shabbos Shuvah” then informs us that even after the actual repentance, Torah commands us to “Return” — to reach a higher level of teshuvah. For, as explained in Likkutei Torah, “the principal concept of teshuvah is as written ‘the spirit shall return to the G-d who gave it’” — a person, on whatever level he is, must constantly keep on returning to G-d, ascending from level to level.
Through the above services of both Shabbos Shuvah and Shabbos Teshuvah, we increase in all the concepts of Rosh Hashanah, loftier than as they stand on Rosh Hashanah itself. On Rosh Hashanah, G-d’s blessings for material and spiritual good are drawn down. On the following Shabbos, Shabbos Shuvah, the service of teshuvah by Jews achieves that these blessings be effected in even loftier fashion. This means that not only does this Shabbos reveal the blessings given on Rosh Hashanah; not only does it complete the concepts of Rosh Hashanah; but it also effects a totally new drawing down, loftier than that on Rosh Hashanah.
From Shabbos Shuvah this is then drawn down for the whole year, until we merit the ultimate in G-d’s blessing — the true and complete redemption through our righteous Moshiach.
2. The above applies to Shabbos Shuvah of every year. There are, in addition, lessons to be derived from the particular date on which Shabbos Shuvah falls this year. Shabbos Shuvah, while always in the days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, can fall out on several different days on any of the days between the third and eighth of Tishrei. This year it is the day immediately following Rosh Hashanah, without any intervening days.
Of the Ten Days of Repentance themselves, certain days stand out in regard to teshuvah Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Nevertheless, on the Shabbos following Rosh Hashanah, Shabbos Shuvah, a Jew must increase in the service of Teshuvah performed on Rosh Hashanah — the above lesson from “Shabbos Shuvah.” This is particularly so since Shabbos itself is the idea of teshuvah, as we see that the letters of the word “Shabbos” can be rearranged to read “tashev,” meaning “return.” Certainly then, on the Shabbos of the Ten Days of Repentance, teshuvah is emphasized.
This year, there are no intervening weekdays between Rosh Hashanah and Shabbos Shuvah. When there are intervening weekdays, we could posit that the greatness of teshuvah on Shabbos Shuvah is only in comparison to the spiritual descent experienced in the weekday break between Rosh Hashanah and Shabbos Shuvah. After such a break, we need to repent on Shabbos Shuvah to return to the level reached on Rosh Hashanah.
But when Shabbos Shuvah immediately follows Rosh Hashanah, no such break and spiritual descent exists. Indeed, the sanctity of Shabbos is greater than that of Rosh Hashanah. Thus, the greatness of the teshuvah of Shabbos Shuvah is in comparison even to Rosh Hashanah itself. In other words, after all the lofty services of Rosh Hashanah the shofar blowing and its blessings, the Musaph prayer with its three special blessing Malchiyos, Zichronos and Shofros, etc. — a Jew must, on Shabbos Shuvah, perform a service of teshuvah even loftier than on Rosh Hashanah.
In greater clarification: Shabbos is the idea that on it “all your work is done.” The service of Shabbos is not “your work,” but the “work of heaven.” Another concept present on Shabbos is delight, as stated “You shall call Shabbos ‘delight,”’ meaning that service on Shabbos is performed with delight, one of the highest of all levels. Moreover, in addition to the delight possessed by Shabbos in its own right, Jews, through their service, add extra delight to Shabbos.
The lesson from Shabbos Shuvah — that immediately after Rosh Hashanah a Jew must rise to a still higher level of teshuvah — is expressed in both these concepts of Shabbos: “all your work is done” and the idea of “delight.”
When a Jew knows that “all your work is done,” and his service is on the level of “the work of heaven,” he may be sure that he will succeed in his service. For we are talking of “the work of heaven” — G-d’s work — and no obstacles stand in G-d’s way. So too with the idea of “delight:” When a Jew serves G-d with delight, his service is on a higher level than otherwise.
The lesson from this: Some people think piety is associated with sorrow and sighs. The above teaches that service must be performed with delight, which includes joy. There is, of course, what to sigh about: the Divine Presence is in exile, and Jewry is in exile. Nevertheless, G-d has directed “Serve the L-rd with joy.” Because one must serve G-d every day of the year, it follows one must be joyous the whole year. Only after one has served G-d with joy — in regard to oneself and in regard to making others joyous should there be, at certain times, a “sigh” over the exile.
May it be G-d’s will that through the service of this Shabbos we speedily merit “the day that it is all Shabbos and rest for life everlasting.”
3. The opening verse of parshas Ha’azinu states: “Give ear, heavens, and I will speak; and let the earth hear the words of My mouth.” An immediate question arises: Why, in regard to the “heavens,” does it state “Give ear,” and in regard to “earth” it states “Let hear.” The question is reinforced when we find at the end of the previous parshah (Vayeilech 31:28) the verse “I will call to witness against them the heaven and the earth” — one common term. Yet in our parshah, two different terms are used.
Rashi is the commentator par excellence on Scripture, who always comments on a difficulty in the plain meaning of Scripture. Yet Rashi makes no comment on our verse to answer the above question. Why not?
The Sifri states that “Because Moshe was close to heaven, he said ‘Give ear, heavens;’ and because he was far from the earth, he said ‘let the earth hear.”’ That is, “Give ear” is an expression used to someone close by, to a person whom it is possible to whisper in his ear. “Let hear” is an expression used to someone far off.
This interpretation is consonant with the plain meaning of the verse. Why, then, does Rashi not use it to answer the question posed above?
The question is further strengthened by the fact that on this verse Rashi does bring an interpretation from the Sifri. “Why did he call the heavens and earth to witness against them? Moshe said: I am of flesh and blood; tomorrow I die. If Israel will say, we have not taken upon ourselves the covenant, who will come and contradict them? Therefore he called the heavens and earth to witness against them, witnesses that exist forever.” Rashi does not even bring this interpretation in the name of the Sifri, but as the plain interpretation of the verse. Why, then, does he not bring the Sifri’s interpretation on the differences in expression between “Give ear, heavens,” and “let the earth hear?”
The question becomes even more perplexing. The beginning of the book of Yeshayah states “Hear, heaven, and give ear, earth.” Rashi comments on this: “Moshe said ‘Give ear, heaven, and let the earth hear’ ... There are many expositions [on this] in parshas Ha’azinu in Sifri ... When witnesses come and testify and their words [of both witnesses] are found to be the same, their testimony stands. If not, their testimony does not stand. If Yeshayah had not come and used the words ‘hear’ in regard to heaven and ‘give ear’ in regard to earth, the heavens would testify and say that when we were called to witness in this matter in the days of Moshe ... we heard it with the words ‘give ear.’ The earth would testify that I was called with the term ‘let hear.’ And their testimony would not match. Yeshayah came and switched it about, and therefore both of them [heaven and earth] testify in both the terms ‘let hear’ and ‘give ear.”’
We learn two things from this:
1) Since Rashi’s commentary on the Prophets is the plain interpretation, and because Rashi comments on the terms ‘give ear’ and let hear’ in Yeshayah, it proves it is a valid matter for concern in the plain interpretation.
2) Rashi does not resolve the difference in Moshe’s and Yeshayah’s terminology with the answer that Moshe was close to heaven and far from earth, whereas Yeshayah was far from heaven and close to earth.
Why, then, in our verse, does Rashi make no comment whatsoever on the differences in expression between ‘let hear’ and ‘give ear?’ The question is not why Rashi makes no comment in our parshah about the difference between Moshe and Yeshayah, for Rashi does not answer a question that will crop up only later — when Yeshayah is learned. The question is rather why Rashi makes no comment about the difference in usage between ‘let hear’ and ‘give ear.’
In the plain meaning of Scripture, there is no need to explain the reason for the difference between “Give ear, heavens” and “let the earth hear,” for we find other instances in Scripture where different terms are used for the purposes of expressive language. In our case, particularly, it is a song, and in a song, different terms are used for purely literary reasons. Rashi therefore need not explain that “let hear” and “give ear” are different expressions used for literary purposes.
In Yeshayah, however, Rashi is explaining why the language there is different from Moshe’s — who used “give ear” in regard to heavens and “let hear” in regard to the earth, whereas Yeshayah used the opposite.
Yet all is not clear: Although a verse may be perfectly understandable in its plain meaning, Rashi nevertheless occasionally brings an additional interpretation to add further insights. Why does Rashi not bring the Sifri’s interpretation that Moshe said “Give ear” in regard to the heavens because he was close to heaven, and “let hear” in regard to the earth because he was far from the earth?
However, if Rashi would do so, a question would arise in regard to another verse, where two different expressions are brought in regard to one person. In parshas Bereishis (4:23) it states: “And Lemech said to his wives: Adah and Zillah, hear my voice; wives of Lemech, give ear to my speech.” Because these two expressions are used in the same situation by the same person (Lemech to his wives), it is impossible to interpret that “hear” is addressed to a nearby place, whereas “give ear” is used for near-by. Rashi therefore cannot say in our verse that Moshe said “Give ear, heavens” and “let hear, earth,” because he was close to heaven and far from earth.