Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Reader question about tshuvah/Repentance

The Fall Feasts are on the horizon, folks - Halleluyah! 

Yom Teruah/Rosh Hashanna begins at sunset on September 17. A week later, beginning at sunset on September 26, we'll be celebrating Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), which is the ONLY mo'ed (Appointed Time) on which there will be no eating, as it is a complete "fasting" day on which we are to "deny ourselves"...
The final mo'ed of the year is a week-long holiday called Sukkot/Feast of Tabernacles, which kicks off at sunset on October 1.
Anyway, in the coming days and weeks, I will be posting more about each mo'ed, but right now, I want focus on Yom Kippur/Day of Atonement, because someone sent a great question to our website about  t'shuvah/Repentance....
About the tshuvah/Repentance:  As far as any reference w/in the scriptures, I've never found this word, nor any mitzvah to observe this in the form of an annual observation. The original texts show the word [שוב (Heb. "shuv"), or ושבום (Aram. "v'shuvim")], both of which are defined in English as "to turn about, to return" and/or " to turn about, to return".
The Mishneh Torah (Hebrew: מִשְׁנֵה תּוֹרָה, "Repetition of the Torah"), subtitled Sefer Yad HaHazaka (ספר יד החזקה "Book of the Strong Hand"), is a code of Jewish religious law (Halakha) authored by Maimonides (Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon, also known as RaMBaM or "Rambam"), one of history's foremost rabbis. The Mishneh Torah was compiled between 1170 and 1180 (4930–4940), while Maimonides was living in Egypt, and is regarded as Maimonides' magnum opus.
It begs the question whether one is to observe rabbinic Judaism's tradition, or the scriptures?  Thoughts?
There is indeed no mitzvah (command) commanding an annual observance of t'shuvah.  And you are correct, the root of the word is שוב (Heb. "shuv") But there are many scriptures expressing YHWH's expectations of us to return to Him and to stop sinning, and as the annual time of this is the day of Yom Kippur, there is certainly ample evidence that what we know today as "t'shuvah" is in complete compliance with Torah. 
As to the traditions of t'shuvah, no, we are not obligated to conduct ourselves in accordance with the rabbinic procedures.  But since all parts of the traditions of t'shuvah originate from scripture, the tradition is not at all "bad".
In Judaism, for example, many verses in liturgy are "chanted", and there is no mitzvah requiring that either, yet it is a wonderful way to actually remember the scripture or the commandment, liturgy, or ceremony.
Everyone, even a non-Hebrew speaking person can remember the words to the "Sh'mah" in Hebrew because all they have to do is chant it! But few can remember the words if they have to just speak the phrase.   My husband, Bill Welker, has written an excellent teaching on Yom Kippur and t'shuvah, if you're interested:
No commandment for a formal process called "t'shuvah" is found in scripture but the word is found many times to mean "to turn" (back, to or from), "return", or "repent" - all in the context of turning from sinful ways and returning to YHWH - exactly those aspects of propitiation that is the tradition of the process of t'shuvah.  See  Psalm 7:12, Psalm 90:3, Hosea 6:1, Isaiah 6:10, Isaiah 10:22, Jeremiah 3:7, for example, and many others.
And the annual aspect of it comes from the observance of Yom Kippur, the 10th of Tishri, the ONLY day the High Priest was permitted to enter the Holy of Holies to make atonement for all of Israel - Exodus 30:10, Leviticus 16:29-30, Leviticus 16:34.  
While we agree with you that the halakha (Jewish law and jurisprudence, based on the Talmud) of rabbinic Judaism carries more weight in some circles than it should, we would say that we might want to first make the effort to understand the Torah origins of the halakha before we dismiss it.   In other words, spend less time with Rambam and more in the Word....

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