In the Torah portion of Shoftim, the Torah describes how the Jewish people were to prepare for war. Among the things said to the potential warriors was: “Is there any man among you who is afraid or faint-hearted? Let him go home rather than have his cowardliness demoralize his brethren.”1

Rashi comments on the words “afraid or faint-hearted” and explains: “R. Akiva says that this is to be understood literally, i.e., that he cannot endure the heat of battle and look upon an outstretched sword. R. Yosei HaGlili says, that he is fearful of his sins. . . .”2

All aspects of Torah are extremely precise. It thus follows that the two explanations of R. Akiva and R. Yosei are directly related to the month of Elul, the month of repentance, inasmuch as this passage is always read on the first Shabbos of the month of Elul.3

The Tur4 prefaces the laws of shofar-blowing during the month of Elul by citing the verse,5G‑d (Elokim) ascends through teruah; theL‑rd (Havayah) through the sound of the shofar.” He immediately follows this by saying: “Therefore ourSages of blessed memory have instituted that the shofar be sounded ... throughout the month of Elul so as to alert Jews to repentance....”

The words of the Tur must be understood, for the verse that the Tur quotes refers to the sounding of the shofar on Rosh HaShanah and not during the month of Elul. We must therefore say that the repentance achieved through shofar-blowing during the month of Elul also encapsulates — at least in a concealed fashion — the level of repentance achieved through shofar-blowing on Rosh HaShanah.

This may be understood as follows. When Maimonides6 explains the elusive meaning of shofar-blowing on Rosh HaShanah — thatit connotes the theme of repentance — he says the following: “This means to say: ‘Awaken, sleepers, from your sleep, and slumberers from your slumber, and scrutinize your deeds; return in repentance, remember your Creator ... search your souls....’”

Maimonides’ phrasing needs clarification: “Remember your Creator” and “search your souls” are, after all, preparatory steps to repentance; when a Jew reminds himself that G‑d examines the spiritual state of his soul, it leads him to repentance. This being so, Maimonides should have placed these two phrases before “return in repentance.”

The fact that he did not do so indicates that there are different manners and levels of repentance. The primary aspect of repentance entailing “that the sinner forsake his sin ... and earnestly resolve in his heart never to repeat it”7 is accomplished by heeding the exhortation to “awaken ... and scrutinize your deeds.” The phrases “remember your Creator” and “search your souls” then urge us on to loftier levels of repentance.

Within the primary aspect of repentance there are two general stages. First comes the spiritual “awakening from sleep,” for when a person is in a state of blissful slumber he cares not a wit about his spiritual status. The initial step leading to repentance must therefore be to awaken and shake off one’s numbing slumber.

Once the person’s soul has been roused to repentance, he must actualize this arousal by “scrutinizing his deeds,” thereby ensuring that he never transgresses again.

Rashi hints at these different levels of repentance in his above-mentioned commentary on the verse in Shoftim: First comes the comment of R. Akiva according to whom “afraid or faint-hearted” cannot mean “that he is fearful of his sins,” for as soon as one becomes truly fearful of his sins..., the essence of his soul will be roused to repentance and he will be forgiven.

Rashi, however,immediately follows this comment with the comment of R. Yosei that it indeed does refer to the person who is “fearful of his sins.” The reason is that the first level alone does not suffice — the arousal of the soul’s essence must be fully revealed and actualized so as to ensure that the penitent will never sin again.

Based on Likkutei Sichos, Vol. IX, pp. 129-132.