David Walk

Crisis Teshuva

Sometimes the stars align perfectly. This week we have a unique occurrence in our ritual year. The special Torah reading for this week’s somber commemoration of Tisha B’Av comes from the same Torah reading which we will read this Shabbast, V’Etchanan. So, I’m a lucky guy! I can write one article and cover both events. Unfortunately, the issues are distressing, so my enthusiasm can only go so far.

The section of the parsha which gets read on Tisha B’Av sort of predicts that we will have events which we must commemorate in a heavy hearted manner:

When you have begotten children and children’s children and are long established in the land, and shall act wickedly and make for yourselves a sculptured image in any likeness, causing your God, the Eternal displeasure and vexation, I call heaven and earth this day to witness against you that you shall soon perish from the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess; you shall not long endure in it, but shall be utterly wiped out (Devarim 4:25 &26).

This passage, of course, gives God the right to declare ‘I told you so!’, when the bad stuff happens. But I’m sure the Benevolent One gets no solace in that. It’s us who should have known better, because of the warning. Plus, we firmly believe that predictions of punishments are not inevitable, unlike positive prophecies.

However, it is not that passage which I want to discuss this week. Instead it is the passage a few verses later:

But if you search there (SHAM), you will find your God, the Eternal, if only you seek with all your heart and soul—when you are in distress because all these things have befallen you and, in the end, you will return to and obey your God, the Eternal (verses 29 & 30).

There are many things to like in these verses. They give us hope to carry on. Personally, I appreciate the first verse, because it contains two of my favorite verbs: BAKESH (really want something) and DORESH (seek or search). They appear in the verse for my name: Seek God and His power; crave His presence always (Tehillim 105:4 & Divrei Hayamim I 16:11).

What exactly do these two terms, BAKASHA and DRISHA, imply? The Vilna Gaon suggests that DRISHA is to search and investigate with effort and travail. It’s the sweat. While BAKASHA involves a recognition that we can’t do it all on our own. It is the appeal to God to help our efforts. It’s the prayer.

The Malbim, on the other hand, suggests that BAKASHA is a physical search for things. DRISHA is more technical. It is the legal effort to regain that which is mine with proof and evidence. One is heavy lifting; the other is technical acumen.

In any case, to get back to our former status with God requires tremendous effort. The promised ‘return’ whether physically to Eretz Yisrael or spiritually to the Torah way, is promised, but isn’t easy.

Rav Lichtenstein explains the difference between regular garden variety TESHUVA and crisis TESHUVA. Regular old Teshuva emerges from an inner guilt or at least knowledge that I have sinned. Then Rav Lichtenstein explains:

By contrast, upheavals lie at the epicenter of our second mode of teshuva, that of crisis.  The relation of crisis and teshuva is multifaceted. Crisis induces teshuva, to which it is a response…The verse, “In your distress you shall return to God” (Devarim 4:30), may be understood in a double sense: first, teshuva is induced by crisis; second, of teshuva as being mandated by crisis.  We need to recognize that teshuva is itself a crisis…Crisis teshuva focuses less on the sin, and more upon the ramifications of sin upon my relationship with God…In these circumstances, in the hour of crisis, when one’s sense of self-worth and one’s confidence in one’s abilities are so thoroughly undermined, the cosmetic initiatives of normal teshuva alone will not do.  What one needs is regeneration to be created anew.

All of this spiritual work is done M’SHAM, ‘from there’. But where is the SHAM? The simple most straightforward answer is GALUT, exile. To a certain extent, that has been true historically. On the other hand, SHAM could be meant in a temporal sense. The SHAM refers to a future epoch. More of a ‘when’ than a ‘where’, a future time-line.

But I think of the SHAM more situationally. It’s the MATZAV, spiritual or psychological place in which one will find themselves. It’s a state of mind. It’s like Psalm 130: From out of the depths, I cry out to You, O Lord, hear my voice. 

Even though one could explain that amazing poem as describing a dungeon or pit, but I believe strongly that King David was describing his psychic state. That’s the pits. That’s the SHAM. 

The nation or the individual isn’t necessarily physically distant from Israel or Judaism. Nevertheless the divide is immense. The return to God described in verse 30 is spiritual, measured in tears, not miles. 

The Rav also discussed Crisis Teshuva:

What is our request? What are we searching for? Not for wealth, but to be close to God. We want to be as near to You as possible. That is the task of the individual and the community, to search for God. Everyone wants to feel the hand of God on his shoulder. HIMATZEI LANU, let Yourself be found, BIVAKASHATENU, BAKASHA in the sense of search. In our ceaseless search, let Yourself be found. We want Your nearness, Your proximity. We want to know that whenever we search for You, You will be found. We pray that it will be easy for us to find You. very easy…However, the verse says, ‘When you search for God with all your heart and all your soul’…The search for Hashem must be total. Everything must be involved in this search. And, the truth is that whoever searches for Him sincerely will find Him. It is only a question of how long it will take.

That’s the task: Search for God! As we recite the horrific material contained in EICHA and the KINOT, don’t look at it as a search for understanding the events. Look at it as a search for God in history. And remember the words of the Rav: God will be found. It just takes some time. Isn’t 2000 years enough time?

About the Author
Born in Malden, MA, 1950. Graduate of YU, taught for Rabbi Riskin in Riverdale, NY, and then for 18 years in Efrat with R. Riskin and R. Brovender at Yeshivat Hamivtar. Spent 16 years as Educational Director, Cong. Agudath Sholom, Stamford, CT. Now teach at OU Center and Yeshivat Orayta.
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