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B'siyata d'shmaya - With the help of Heaven


Teshuva "Repentance to God"

by Haham Shmuel Yerushalmi, Jerusalem from the Sephardic classic Me'am Lo'ez

"Let us search and examine our ways, and return to the Lord." (Eicha/Lamenations 3:40)

The previous verses were addressed to the people as individuals. In his appeal for Teshuva, Jeremiah approaches the people as a collective entity. Though on the one hand, Teshuva is a very personal and individual service, complete Teshuva involves the entire Jewish nation, and not merely selected individuals.

The commentaries expressed this concept with a parable. The inhabitants of a city were in debt to a prince. When a fire broke out in the town, destroying most of their property, they were f aced with two alternatives. Each one approaching the prince with a small partial payment and requesting an extension of the debt, or joining together thus offering one more substantial payment and making a collective request. Similarly, one can work towards Teshuva on a personal level, or join together to motivate the people as a whole.

There is a further allusion to starting this collective call to repentance. A person who tells others to repent must realize that he is obligated to do so himself as well. His words will be accepted.much more graciously if he realizes his own need to repent.

The verse tells us to "search and examine our ways". A person is often bribed by self -love and is thus unable to appreciate the faults in his own behavior. Unless he makes a sincere personal analysis, he may not realize how far he has strayed from the correct path. Following this line of thought, some commentaries interpret the verse "search examine yourself" as asking others, for only by consulting true friends can one really discover his personal faults.

Other commentaries explain that this is a continuation of the previous verses, which described the sufferings which had beset the Jewish people. The Sages declared (Berachot 5a) that if a person is beset with tribulations, he should examine his own behavior, find the faul and do Teshuva. Sincere repentance will cause a change in one's fortune. The final phrase of the verse is also significant. We must "return to the Lord." Teshuva is more than regret over one's sins. Its purpose is more lofty than mere repentance for one's deeds. It is primarily the establishment of a new bond with God.

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"Let us lift up our heart with our hands to God in the Heavens." (Eicha/Lamenations 3:41)

Rashi interprets the verse as follows: When we lift upourhands [in prayer] to the heavens, let us lift up our hearts with them. Prayer should not only be a superficial process performed with one's lips and body, but a sincere movement of soul affecting one's heart.

Other commentaries also mention the connection between deed and feeling. The Targum declares - Lift up our pure hearts, throw away everything that was stolen or taken by force.

Lechen Dim'ah explains that Teshuva must start with a change of deed - one must lift up his hand - but it must be followed by a raising of his heart, signifying repentance on the level of thought. Similarly, the same source explains that just as one's hands are open and visible to all, so, too, the effect Teshuva has on one's hearts must also be readily discernible to others. Everyone a person meets should be able to appreciate his refinement of character.

Alon B'chut explains that just as the verse mentions the heart before the hands, so too, we must ensure that our feelings of repentence extend beyond the level of emotion and become expressed in deed and action.

This verse can also be explained as follows: When body and mind are combined, i.e. when one's Mitzvot are carried out, for the sake of Heaven, with no intention of personal gain or reward, then they reach to the heavens, to God Himself. In contrast, a person who performs Mitzvot for his personal reasons, even if his intent is to attain a share of the world to come, is not considered as serving God. His deeds need the assistance of the angels to rise up to God.

Lechem Dim'ah adds an additional concept. The fact that "God is in the Heavens" is sufficient cause to motivate our Teshuva. We must long for the time when the Shechina is manifest on earth, and revealed in the Temple.


This is from Haham Shmuel Yerushalmi in his writing from the Me'am Lo'ez. The Tora Anthology-Yalkut Me'am Lo'ez which is available in all Jewish bookstores. Me'am Lo'ez is popular among both Sephardim and Ashkenazim (including Lubavitch). The work was originally has been printed in Ladino, but was translated into Hebrew and Judeo-Arabic. Today it is available in several languages including Spanish and Russian.

In English, the Me'am Lo'ez is available as the "Tora Anthology." It is a clear, modern translation of the original Ladino, hailed as "the outstanding work of Ladino literature." The series was first published in 1730. It changed the spiritual climate of the entire Mediterranian region, especially around the Balkans, Greece and Turkey (Ottoman territories). Sephardim esteemed Me'am Lo'ez as a major classic, affording it a similar status as the Talmud and Mishnah. Many count Me'am Lo'ez among the best commentaries ever written on the Tora - in any language.