In this week’s parsha, Moshe continues prepping the Bnai Yisrael for their entry into Eretz Cana’an. He explains to them that they are entering into a covenant with Hashem and warns them of the severe consequences for its violation. He then introduces them to the concept of Teshuva when he tells them “Vehaya ki savo’u alecha kol hadevarim ha’aileh habracha vehakelala…veshavta ad Hashem Elokecha” – “And it will be when it shall come upon you all these words, the blessing and the curse…and you shall return to Hashem your G-d” (Devarim, 30:1-2). Asks the Sifsai Kohen: It is understandable that one will have to do Teshuva when met with curses G-d forbid, but why does the passuk also mention that Teshuva is the correct response to “the blessing” – something that is surely given as a reward for one already following Hashem and not one in need of repentance?
Perhaps we can suggest the following: There is a famous story involving Rav Saadya Gaon (10th century). A talmid of his once saw him afflicting himself (as a way of repentance). The talmid, knowing his Rebbe to be righteous, inquired as to why he was punishing himself. Rav Saadya replied, “I traveled to another city and rented a room in an inn. The innkeeper didn’t know who I was, and therefore gave me a regular room, treating me just like he treats all of his guests. Sometime later though, the townspeople found out that I was at the inn, and they came running to see me. The innkeeper wondering what all the ruckus was about was told that the great Rav Saadya was staying with him. Well, after finding out who I was he was horrified over the manner in which he had treated me, and begged my forgiveness, explaining that he had no idea who I was. Had he known, he would have treated me with the honor commensurate with someone of my stature.”
Rav Saadya then continued, “It was then that I realized that I, too, am no different than the innkeeper. Each day when I serve Hashem, I attain a greater appreciation of His greatness. And that realization leads to another. That the more I appreciate His greatness, the more I realize that my prior efforts in being an eved Hashem –a servant of Hashem- were sub-par and unbefitting This is why I continually cause myself affliction as Teshuva for not honoring Hashem yesterday according to the level that I know Him on today.”
One of the ways to appreciate Hashem is being cognizant of the source of all brachos. You see, the promotion is not really from the boss, the baby is not really from the fertility treatment facility, the good deal on the plane tickets was not really a glitch, and the birthday card with the enclosure is not really from Great Aunt Bertha (Baila). Of course they deserve our thanks as messengers of our good fortune, but they are not the source. It is Hashem. And with that realization should come the sobering Rav Saadya-like thought of how much we may have under-appreciated Him until now. And that, too, demands Teshuva.
Have a great Shabbos.
Rabbi Nosson Greenberg is rov of Khal Machzikei Torah of Far Rockaway, N.Y., and maggid shiur at Yeshiva of Far Rockaway.