Shabbat Teshuvah

Shabbat Teshuvah

Shabbat Teshuvah is the Shabbat between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur.

Let’s take a deeper look into the significance of this day.

Shabbat Teshuvah has a special advantage, compared to the other 10 days of repentance. Each of the six weekdays of the 10 days of repentance affects one particular day of the week for the whole year (the Sunday corrects every Sunday of the past year and grants strength for every Sunday of the coming one, and so on). However, Shabbat of the 10 days of repentance affects not only every Shabbat, but every day of the past and coming year.

Why is this?

Shabbat includes every day of the week: It creates an elevation and perfection in every day preceding it, as the Torah states, “and the heaven and earth were completed,” and it also elicits a blessing for the days after it, as the Zohar explains, “from it are blessed all days.” Thus, since Shabbat Teshuvah includes every Shabbat of the year, it influences all days of the year through them.

Moreover, Shabbat Teshuvah has an advantage even in relation to Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur. For the main elevation that Shabbat Teshuvah accomplishes in the preceding days is for that week, meaning that Shabbat completes the service of Rosh Hashanah. Also, the blessing from this Shabbat for the days afterward pertains chiefly to its following week: It blesses Yom Kippur.

As we approach the holiest day of the year, Yom Kippur, let us be reminded what really counts in our prayers – the sincerity and good intentions, the teshuvah, repentance, we have on Yom Kippur.

Here is a story to illustrate the power of teshuvah.

Immediately after Rosh HaShanah a Jewish merchant left his home for Moscow hoping to be back for Yom Kippur. He figured that if he was not able to return home on time, he would join the small congregation in Moscow for the Yom Kippur prayers.

On the way, it rained heavily and this delayed his trip. It was the night before Yom Kippur and he still hadn’t reached Moscow.

He entered a village where the gentile peasants were not friendly to the Jews. At the late hour, his only option was at the town’s inn, where the innkeeper was a well-known Jew-hater. As he entered, he was pleased to see the innkeeper fast asleep on a bench. One of the workers gave him a room.

The merchant davened ma’ariv and went to sleep. Early in the morning, before dawn broke, the merchant awoke and took his chicken and did the kappores ritual. The innkeeper awoke from the strange noises and asked the worker what it was all about. The worker explained that a Jew had entered the inn and brought a chicken with him.

The innkeeper was fuming. He barged into the room and froze in his place as he saw this Jew reciting the prayer and swinging a chicken over his head.

When the Jew finished his ritual, the innkeeper asked him to explain his strange activities. The Jew explained that we swing a chicken over our heads so that any sins that we may have committed go to the chicken and we are granted life. When the Jew finished his explanation, the innkeeper asked one last question. Where was the closest synagogue? To this the merchant replied, Moscow.

The merchant arrived in Moscow just in time for the Yom Kippur prayers. The davening was beautiful and there was a palpable feeling of holiness in the room.

Without anybody noticing his entrance, a stranger walked in, asked for a tallit, and sat in the back with his machzor opened. At the conclusion of the holiest prayer of the day, Ne’ilah, the Sh’ma was being recited by the chazan. The man in the back of the room said the Sh’ma with everyone else, but with strong emotion. He suddenly fainted and fell to the floor. People tried to revive him but to no avail. The stranger had died. No one recognized this man, but one person – the merchant in our story. The man was the innkeeper. He had been born to a religious family. While he was young, Russian soldiers took him away to the army and his Judaism was soon completely forgotten. The sight of the Jew doing kappores brought back memories of his youth. Even though he could not read Hebrew, he prayed and did great teshuvah. On the way back, the merchant passed the innkeeper’s town and heard that a fire had broken out in the inn. The whole inn had burned to ashes. He then realized that the innkeeper’s prayers were accepted, for all his possessions that he acquired in an unholy way were destroyed and forgotten – all because of his powerful teshuvah.

May G-d grant us all a happy, healthy, sweet new year, filled with peace and prosperity, and may we be inscribed in the Book of Life.