The Awesome Power of Teshuva

Rabbi Reuven Mann

Many people have the notion that Jews only "care about their own." An honest study of our history shows that this is not the case. We are concerned about the welfare of all people. On Yom Kippur we read the Book of Jonah which tells of G-d's compassion for the wicked people of Ninveh. This story illustrates the awesome power of Teshuva. The most surprising element in the narrative is that the sinful people actually listened to Jonah's rebuke and repented. This is one of the most inspiring stories in Tanach. How often in history do we encounter the moral transformation of a corrupt people? Human stubbornness and the propensity for rationalization block the path of return. It is hard to believe but histories greatest villains were righteous in their own minds. They were fighting for a cause. Distorted idealism can be the worst evil. It gives rise to fanaticism and allows people to commit the worst atrocities with a clear conscience.

We face the problem today. Anti-Semitism has taken the form of primitive religious zealousness which promises paradise to those who die while destroying innocent Jews. Israel finds itself in an Aise Tzaar (time of suffering) and we must identify with the pain of our brethren. There are many things we can and must do. In addition there needs to be a fundamental change of attitude. Let us admit that we have been shaken to our very core. We had a sense of total confidence in the military and technological prowess of the Jewish state. We never believed that Israel could become so vulnerable. Statistics tell the story. Tourism has virtually come to a standstill. Many summer camps for Diaspora children had to be closed down.

The situation in Israel has great significance and demands a response. We must admit that we were wrong to believe that the security of Israel could be achieved by physical means, alone. The Torah teaches that the Jewish people are a special creation of G-d whose welfare depends on adherence to His commandments. The "blessings and curses" are clearly set forth in the Torah, reiterated by the prophets and confirmed by thousands of years of Jewish history. In recent years some "visionaries" allowed themselves to believe that a new era of enlightenment had come to the Middle East. The current violence against Israel has shattered all illusions. The "matzav" (situation) demands that we give up illusions and return to HaKadosh Baruch Hu (Holy One Blessed be He). At this time of year we must respond to the spiritual alarm that is sounded by the crisis. Let us draw inspiration from the people of Ninveh who did not harden their hearts to the words of the prophet. Let us instead seize the moment and return to Hashem with renewed determination to study Torah, obey His mitzvoth and be united with Eretz Yisrael and Klal Yisrael. Then we can be confidant that as in the case of Bilaam, Hashem will take the curse and turn it into a blessing because "Hashem your G-d loves you."