A Reflection On Teshuvah
by Rabbi Isaac Jeret
August 29, 2005
In our Torah portion this coming Shabbat, we will read the following verse: "It was in the month of springtime that God your God brought you out of Egypt at night ." [Deuteronomy 16:1]. The Torah appears to present with certainty, and as if to make a point, that our ancestors departed Egypt at nighttime. Several weeks ago, however, we read the following verse: "On the dayafter the Passover sacrifice, the Israelites left triumphantly as the Egyptians looked on." [Numbers 33:4]. In this earlier verse, the Torah seems to teach us rather casually that the exodus from Egypt occurred during the daytime. Which teaching is correct? Did the exodus from Egypt occur at nighttime or during the day? And, presuming that one source is correct and the other is not so, how does an apparent inaccuracy on the part of the Torah in this instance reflect upon the Torah's message on the whole?
The Talmud, aiming to salvage each verse's dignity and the Torah's veracity suggests that both verses are indeed correct. The Exodus began in the evening, the Talmud suggests, and continued into the following day (in the Jewish calendar, each day begins at nightfall and lasts until the next nightfall, hence, the Exodus would still have occurred on one single day even though it began at night and continued into the daylight of the following morning). While this explanation might suffice for some, and it certainly does preserve the wholeness of the text, Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, (known as Rav Kook) the great Zionist, Kabbalist, and Mystic of the previous century, suggests that there were, in fact, two exoduses which occurred, each constituting a sequential stage in the redemption of the Jewish People. The first was the spiritual liberation of the Jewish People from the spiritual bondage caused by their enslavement. The second was the commencement of their physical journey out of Egypt and toward their future. The second could not have occurred without the first.
As I was re-reading Rav Kook's commentary last evening, it dawned on me that while the verses quoted above support his teaching they also beg for additional commentary along the lines that Rav Kook began to draw. The first stage of human redemption, the prerequisite process for any redemption to follow, must be initiated by God, as one finds that God took us out at night [Deuteronomy 16:1]. One might think that it is each human being's responsibility to reach out for help, to seek to heal one's wounds, to rectify one's errors, or to find solace for one's soul. While each of us should strive to take such spiritual responsibility, our tradition does not imagine a God who abandons either those of us who do not recognize the need for a more personal liberation or those of us whose anguish deters us from approaching the spiritual or emotional challenges of our health, our relationships, our financial circumstances, our addictions, or any other aspect of our lives, though we are greatly aware of our need to do so. God reaches out to us at nighttime with a strong hand and an outstretched arm, creating a context for our liberation from all of that which might subjugate us.
Once, however, the door is opened up for us, it is indeed our responsibility to find our way toward the subsequent stages of the inner freedom which we can earn and the practical changes to our lives which we can implement. After all, echoing the Torah's earlier verse quoted above, we can proceed with confidence on the day afterward.
As we enter our annual, sacred period of Returning -- of Teshuvah -- in anticipation of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, let us recognize that the the door is open to genuine, substantive change in our lives. The spiritual opportunity for change might consist at least of our deep and compelling recognition that such change, such liberation, is necessary. For each of us, an open door invites our journey through night - a journey pointing us toward reconsideration, responsibility, repair, andn the great celebration of renewal. And on the morning afterward, may each of us find the strength, courage, and resolve to open those doors which yet lie ahead as we journey further toward our destinations.