1. What is the special quality of Shabbos Shuvah in a Shemitah year?

The Shemitah year (the seventh fallow year in the agricultural cycle) is called “a Shabbos to G‑d” (Vayikra 25:2), similar to the Shabbos day which is the seventh day of the week.

The Midrash describes it for us:

All sevenths are favorites in the world ...among the years the seventh is the favorite, as it says, “the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie fallow” (Shmos 23:2). The seventh is the favorite among days, as it says, “and G‑d blessed the seventh day” (Bereishis 2:3). (Vayikra Rabbah 29:11)

When the entire year stands on the level of Shabbos, you can understand how much greater the Shabbos days of that year will be.

Shabbos Shuvah has an additional quality. In Tanya we learn that:

The very letters of the word Shabbos spell T’A’Sh’eV’, as in, “You return man...” (Tehillim 90:3). (Iggeres HaTeshuvah, ch. 10)

Thus, Shabbos and teshuvah share a common theme. By increasing teshuvah we strengthen Shabbos.

During the Ten Days of Repentance the theme of teshuvah is greatly enhanced and on the Shabbos of the Ten Days of Repentance the theme of teshuvah is enriched even moreso and that Shabbos day is even more special than the other Shabbosim of the year.

The Divine service of the Jewish people also adds certain qualities to the day of Shabbos Shuvah. These will be expressed in the Torah portion of the week, Haazinu:

For it is the Name of G‑d that I proclaim; ascribe greatness to our G‑d. (Devarim 32:3)

This indicates that the Divine service of the Jewish people brings greatness, as it were, to the Holy One, Blessed be He (and vice versa).

We see this also in the Haftorah: “Return, O Israel to G‑d your L‑rd” (Hoshea 14:3). In esoteric thought this represents the fusing of the infinite and transcendental power of creation, with the down-to-earth, limited strength of each being, so that in the smallest framework we will recognize and see the power of infinity.

This must be followed by action, as the prophet continues:

Take with you words...and let us pay [the sacrifices of] bulls with our lips. (Ibid.:3)

This refers to the action of prayer, that involves every limb of the person’s body: “My entire being shall declare” (Siddur).

The Divine service of the Jewish people enhances the special qualities of Shabbos Shuvah of the Shemitah year.

This special quality of closeness to G‑d during the Ten Days of Repentance and on Shabbos Shuvah applies even to the individual Jew who sincerely turns to G‑d (see Rosh Hashanah 18a), how much more so when a community of Jews approach G‑dliness during the Ten Days of Repentance. As Chassidus explains:

There is an even greater quality when many seek G‑d in the Ten Days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, for then even the individual is answered. (Or HaTorah, p. 1462)

So, when we gather many people together on Shabbos Shuvah all aspects of Shabbos Shuvah are greatly enhanced. When this gathering is involved in Torah study, another important factor is added, as our sages of the Mishnah teach:

If ten people sit together and occupy themselves with Torah, the Divine Presence rests among them. (Avos 3:6)

We also have the dictum of the Gemara concerning prayer:

For any manifestation of sanctification not less than ten (men) are required. (Berachos 21b)

There is also a greater quality in mitzvos performed by a community, as the Alter Rebbe writes in Tanya:

The indwelling of His Might (Shechinas Uzo)...dwells and becomes magnified among the children of Israel....through the occupation with Torah and the commandments by ten expressly. (Iggeres HaKodesh, ch. 23)

By discussing words of Torah of our Rebbeim in the framework of a farbrengen, the unity and closeness emerges, and when this is accompanied by drinking LeChaim on wine, “which cause G‑d and man to rejoice” (Shoftim 9:13), the joy increases the unity and closeness. Add to all this a joyous song which expresses the true feeling of joy of the heart.

We must also remember that this gathering takes place in “a great house” of prayer and study where the previous Rebbe lived. He was the “Nasi” and thereby “uplifted” all things that related to him. This uplifting influences all of the special aspects we spoke of earlier.

May it be G‑d’s will that everyone will utilize all of the qualities enumerated earlier; the time, the place, the type of Divine service, the community, etc. and thereby increase their actions and Divine service in all areas of Torah and mitzvos, especially the Divine service of Shabbos Shuvah. Start with the joy of Shabbos which breaks all barriers and draw it into the rest of the year.

The seven days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur provide an opportunity to rectify and supplement the accomplishments of all the days of the week of the past year, and provide a fitting preparation and basis for good actions during the seven days of the week of the coming year.

Since Shabbos combines all the preceding days and ensuing days, Shabbos Shuvah, by combining all the Shabbosim of the year, also includes all the days of the past year (leap year) and all the days of the coming year (regular year). And so our close attention to proper conduct and Divine service on Shabbos Shuvah will influence our future accomplishments throughout the year.

With the acceptance of good resolutions comes the merit of the reward, the true perfection of the theme of Shabbos:

For the day that will be all Shabbos and rest for everlasting life. (Tamid 7:4)

Then there will be no work of purifying the lost sparks, rather we will be involved in the Divine service of drawing down loftier light, and more, and more holiness.

2. This year Shabbos Shuvah falls on the eighth day of Tishrei and we read the portion of Haazinu. What significance can we glean, and what lesson can we learn, from the coincidence of these two facts.

The Previous Rebbe related in the name of the Great Maggid that the portion of Haazinu is very special and precious. The reason for this may lie in the fact that when the Torah tells us to record the song of Haazinu we also learn the mitzvah of writing a Sefer Torah (see Rambam, Laws of Sefer Torah 7:1); hence, Haazinu includes the whole Torah.

Chassidus explains that in alluding to the entire Torah with the term “this song” we may deduce that in Haazinu we will also find the underlying principles of the whole Torah.

The classic explanation of the opening words of Haazinu indicates that the word “Haazinu — listen” is used when speaking to someone close at hand, and the word “tishma — hear” applies when the listener is far away. Therefore, Moshe, who was closer to the heavens said “Haazinu — heavens” and, “V’sishma — earth”!

From this explanation we learn a basic lesson, that a Jew must be closer to heaven than to earth; he must be at home in spiritual matters, and materialistic endeavors should be further from him.

This thought enhances the theme of teshuvah. Chassidus explains that the central theme of repentance is exemplified in the verse, “and the spirit returns to G‑d Who gave it” (Koheles 12:7). The duty to be “closer to heaven” clearly emphasizes the return of the spirit to its heavenly source.

The AriZal taught that the Ten Days of Repentance correspond to the ten supernal attributes, from Kesser — crown — to Malchus — kingship. One of the configurations of these Sefiros places Binah — understanding — on the eighth day of the Ten Days of Repentance. This is appropriate, since the Sefirah of Binah — understanding — is directly connected with teshuvah and thereby the theme of repentance is once again enhanced.

The attribute of Binah also is associated with the times of Mashiach when the world will be mainly intellectual, as opposed to the present state when the world is predominantly emotional.

As a form of preparation for that future state we must begin now, at the close of the galus, to function in the futuristic way by emphasizing the intellectual Sefiros; hence, the importance of this day as a harbinger of the time of redemption.

All this gives us a clear directive which illuminates our path of Divine service with the light of Torah. At the same time the directive also carries the power and potential for us to carry out our responsibilities with joy and glad hearts. This should include the ultimate state of converting the yetzer hora to desire G‑dliness and to love G‑d, together with the yetzer tov, and even beyond that, to serve G‑d “with all your might.”

Then we will merit the Divine service of the future, with the complete redemption through our righteous Mashiach — true and complete — so may it be, speedily and truly in our time.

* * *

3. In this week’s portion a number of questions have been raised on several of Rashi’s commentaries:

1 — On the verse:

For it is the Name of G‑d that I proclaim; ascribe greatness to our G‑d. (Devarim 32:3)

Rashi cites the words “For it is the Name of G‑d that I proclaim,” and comments,

The meaning is: when I proclaim and mention the Name of the L‑rd, you (should) ascribe greatness to our G‑d and bless His Name.... (Rashi, loc. cit.)

Rashi’s meticulousness is legend, and even in his choice of citations and captions to his commentary he is extremely precise. Why then does he quote only the first half of the verse, when in fact he explains the entire verse? The second part of the verse should have been cited, or at least indicated by adding the term “etc.,” as he often does.

2 — Further on, we find a case where Rashi cites only the word “setting fire” [to the foundations of the mountains] (Ibid.:22) and explains:

i.e. Yerushalayim that is founded on the mountains as it is said: “Yerushalayim, mountains are set about it” (Tehillim 145:2). (Rashi, loc. cit.)

In this commentary Rashi adds nothing to the meaning of the word “setting fire” and only explains that the mountains referred to are the mountains of Yerushalayim. Yet, in the caption Rashi mentions only the fire and not the mountains!? He does not even add the term “etc.”

3 — On the first part of this same verse Rashi had explained:

And it shall consume the land with her increase: i.e. your land and its increase. (Rashi, loc. cit.)

What is Rashi teaching us? We know that the entire Shirah (song of) Haazinu deals with the Jewish people and the land of their habitation, why single out this verse to tell us that it refers to the land of the Jewish people?

The explanation:

1 — In pursuit of the clearest explanation of every verse in Scripture, Rashi often rewrites the words of the verse in the context of his commentary and adds a few additional words to help indicate the intention of the words of Torah. In our case Rashi felt that the two parts of the verse, namely: “For it is...proclaim” and “ascribe greatness...G‑d” might mistakenly be understood as two separate thoughts. Therefore Rashi rewrites the verse for us and connects the two halfs. Thus:

When I proclaim...(then) you (should) ascribe greatness...and bless His Name.

Here we must realize that Rashi included the words of the second part of the verse in the text of his own commentary. In fact, the typesetter should have set those words (ascribe greatness...) in the typeface used for the captions of Rashi — so that we would realize the sequence of the context of Rashi’s words. Evidently, the young typesetter did not realize the continuity of the verse and set these words in Rashi typeface. In fact however, Rashi does cite all the words of the verse. (Note: Some editions of Rashi have this correction.)

2 — In the case of the verse “setting fire,” this approach will not help us because Rashi does not cite the exact words of the verse in his commentary.

Here, however, we must try to fathom Rashi’s intention.

Rashi is not explaining the simple meaning of the words “the foundation of the mountains,” for the five-year-old Chumash student knows Hebrew, and can translate these words. What is Rashi trying to bring to our attention? The sequence of the verses seems strange, why should the sins of the Jewish people cause G‑d to burn the “foundations of the mountains”?

To clarify this point Rashi adds the words “Yerushalayim, that is founded on the mountains.” Now, read the verse: “setting fire, to Yerushalayim,” the capital city of Eretz Yisrael, and which, “is founded on the mountains.” This makes the sequence of the verses so clear that no further explanation is needed and no more words need be quoted from the verse, even the words “foundations of the mountains” of the verse is paraphrased in the words “founded on the mountains.”

3 — This same thought will explain Rashi’s strange commentary on the words, “The land with her increase (produce)” — “your land and its increase.” By connecting this punishment to the Jewish people Rashi clarifies the sequence of crime and punishment.

The independent components of this verse now take on an interdependent sequence, relative to the earlier verses.

On the word “kodchah” Rashi translates “burns” — to indicate an active blaze which reaches out to destroy — not simply an inner “anger.” Such a fire will “blaze in your midst to the very foundation” (Rashi), and then it will destroy your land and its produce until finally it will burn Yerushalayim, your capital city, which is founded on the mountains.

In this manner other unclear points will be clarified; “Give instruction to a wise man and he will be yet wiser” (Mishlei 9:9).

May G‑d grant that instead of “setting fire to the foundations of the mountains,” referring to Yerushalayim, we will see “you shall be inhabited like unwalled towns.” Yerushalayim will not need the protection of walls and it will not be limited or restricted.

In Divine service this will symbolize the state of teshuvah, which converts darkness to light, so that even the “outside” forces will be absorbed in the holiness of the “interior” — Yerushalayim.

In this state the baal teshuvah ranks even higher than the tzaddik, for he tasted the sapidity of sin and nevertheless he repented. Now the outside force will have no influence over him. The tzaddik, however, never succumbed to evil and has never overcome it.

4. In the previous farbrengen, it was explained that the essence of Yom Kippur brings about atonement. There were those who questioned that statement, noting that the Rambam states: “The essence of Yom Kippur brings about atonement for those who repent;” on the surface, implying that the influence of teshuvah is also necessary in addition to “the essence of Yom Kippur.”

[Parenthetically, it must be noted that asking questions is very desirable as implied by our Sages’ statement: “A person who is embarrassed will never learn.” Similarly, we find that in his responsa, the Rambam encouraged those who asked him questions for, if the question is legitimate then the teacher will learn from it himself and if not, he will help others understand his idea.

Nevertheless, unfortunately, many of the questions are asked because the person who asks is concerned with a difficulty regarding a particular word and does not bother to consider the concept in its entirety. This is surely the case in the present instance....]

When the Rambam states: “The essence of Yom Kippur brings about atonement for those who repent,” it is clear that the atonement is brought about by the essence of Yom Kippur alone. Repentance is necessary, not because it also helps bring about the atonement, but because without it, one would be prevented from receiving the atonement brought about by the essence of Yom Kippur.

Thus, repentance is comparable to a condition placed upon a business transaction. If the condition is fulfilled, the transaction is binding, if not, the transaction is nullified, but; nevertheless, the transaction and the condition do not share an intrinsic connection between themselves.

For example, the paradigm for all conditional agreements is that made between Moshe and the tribes of Gad and Reuven concerning their taking possession of the land of Trans-Jordan on the condition that they take part in the war to conquer the land of Canaan. Though their possession became dependent on their participation, there is no intrinsic bond between the two.

To cite another example (related to Yom Kippur, for Yom Kippur, the day on which the second tablets were given is referred to as the day of “G‑d’s wedding” with the Jewish people): When a couple agree to marry if a certain condition is fulfilled, the marriage becomes dependent on the condition, nevertheless, the condition remains an external factor that is not related to the actual marriage relationship.

The same applies in the present instance. Without teshuvah, a person will be unable to benefit from the atonement granted from “the essence of Yom Kippur.” Nevertheless, it is the essence of Yom Kippur itself that brings about the atonement and teshuvah is merely an external condition.

We see this concept both in the halachah before and the halachah after this concept in the Mishneh Torah. The previous halachah states:

The goat sent [to Azazel] atones for all the sins of the Torah, whether severe or minor,... provided one repents.... If one does not repent, it only atones for... the minor ones.

Thus, we see that the atonement is brought about by the goat. However, if one repents, that atonement can have a greater effect. Similarly, the following halachah states, “even though teshuvah atones for... and the essence of Yom Kippur atones for...”, implying that the essence of Yom Kippur effects atonement on its own, and in that regard teshuvah is only an external factor.