Rav Soloveitchik: Teshuva = Facing Reality.

1 10 2014

reality check

In the weeks leading up to Rosh Hashanah, in 1967, Rav Soloveitchik was asked by his students what Teshuva is all about, what its purpose is and what difference it should make to our lives. The Rav didn’t respond with a Rambam, a Reb Chayim or piece of Mishna or Gemarah. Instead he answered with a reflection from his own life experience.

The Rav described a scene that had taken place a few months earlier, in his home in Boston, during Chol Hamoed Pesach.It was the middle of the night and there was a storm raging outside. It was very rainy and windy, everything seemed to be rattling and shaking in his house. The Rav got out of bed and shut all the windows upstairs.

Then he noticed that the windows downstairs had been blown open and he ran downstairs to close them, as he thought his wife, who was too ill and weak to walk upstairs, was sleeping there. When he closed the windows he went to his wife’s bed to check she was warm and comfortable. When he reached her bed and looked at the pillow she wasn’t there and the bed was made.

Then the harsh reality hit in, that she had died a month beforehand and he had been living a dream, an illusion. He wanted her back so much. The Rav described how he couldn’t stand being alone, but she was gone and however much he wanted to change his new life, he couldn’t. He had to face life alone again as he had done in the earlier stages of his life until he married. The Rav’s wife had died of cancer a month beforehand. The Rav said he simply could not comprehend living without her-he was living in denial.

Rav Soloveitchik explained that this is what Teshuva is all about. Teshuva has to make us jump out of the reality that we create for ourselves based on our wants, desires and needs and to face the real, objective reality of life itself. The purpose of the Shofar is to wake us up- yes, to literally wake us up from our slumber as the Rambam describes in Hilchot Teshuvah 3:4 ‘Uru Uru Yesheynim Mishinatchem’ and to make us face reality and to deal with it in a responsible and mature way. Just like the Shofar during Biblical times was a tool used to warn people that war was about to break out, Teshuva is there to shake us up and warn us to stop fooling and deluding ourselves and to see things how they really are.

Gmar Tov and fast well,

Benjy Singer.

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