Mordechai Silverstein
Mordechai Silverstein

Shabbat Shuva – Repentance with God’s Help (Hosea 12:1-10)

Hosea’s prophetic message closely links repentance, the return to God, and political hegemony. Hosea champions the idea that one’s political fate is not dependent on juggling political and international alliances or on one’s weaponry, but rather on faith, loyalty and dependence on God. This ideology is stated succinctly in the following verse: “Assyria shall not save us, no more will we ride on horses; Nor ever again will we call our handiwork our god, for in You (God) alone orphans find pity.” (Hosea 14:4)

In the Mishnah Torah, Laws of Repentance (2:2), Maimonides offers his definition of Teshuva (repentance) using this verse as a proof for God’s role in the process: “And what is teshuva? It occurs when the sinner forsakes his sin and removes it from his thoughts and resolves in his heart that he will not do it again, as it is written: ‘Let the wicked give up his ways, the sinful man his plans; let him turn back to the Lord and He will pardon him’ (Isaiah 56:7). The sinner should also regret his sins, as it says: ‘Now that I have turned back, I am filled with remorse’ (Jeremiah 31:19). And the One who knows all secrets (God) should bear testimony regarding him that he will not return again to this sin ever again, as it says: ‘we will never again call our handiwork our god, for in You, the orphan finds mercy’ (Hosea 14:4) And he needs to confess verbally that which he has concluded in his heart.

Commentators felt compelled to explain Maimonides’ use of the verse from our haftarah as proof that God acts as a witness for the person who repents so that he or she will not again return to his or her sin. Joseph Karo (Kesef Mishnah), the author of the Shulchan Aruch, explains that one must understand the verse to say that a person takes God as the exclusive witness to the promise not to return to one’s sinful ways.

Rabbi Zadok Hakohen from Lublin, one of last of the great Hasidic masters of Poland (19th-20th century), explains why this is so important. He points out that making God the witness and guarantor will help a person not to return to his or her old sinful ways. He asserts that it is human nature to show remorse over past wrongdoing, but it is equally human nature to easily slip back into sinful behavior the moment that the opportunity arises. To show remorse and then to return to sin is not teshuva. If God is involved, it may reenforce a person’s resolve to conquer his or her sins. This is why teshuva requires a “return to God” (Hosea 14:3).  (See Takanat Hashavim 9:2 Melamed ed. p. 101)

About the Author
Mordechai Silverstein is a teacher of Torah who has lived in Jerusalem for over 30 years. He specializes in helping people build personalized Torah study programs.
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