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Three Types of Teshuvah
Ours is a generation of teshuvah (return to God) and teshuvah is one of the keys to redemption, as Maimonides states, “The Jewish People will only be redeemed through teshuvah and the Torah has promised that in the end the Jewish People will do teshuvah at the end of their exile and they will immediately be redeemed.” Teshuvah must encompass everyone and nobody is exempt from it because, “There is no righteous individual on earth who does [only] good and never sins,” and we must all do teshuvah for our weak points.
Within each year, the three pilgrimage festivals are three pulses of teshuvah and the pilgrimage to Jerusalem is also an ascent of teshuvah: on Passover one should return to one’s essential faith in God; on Shavuot one should return to the Torah and mitzvot; and on Sukot we need to return to the Jewish People as one whole. Then we return to Passover, the beginning of the cycle that turns and rises in a spiral, because there is always some way to advance further, reaching an ever deeper and more genuine connection to our faith, the Torah, and the Jewish People.
Just as the pilgrimage to Jerusalem each year encompasses all avenues of the Jewish People, so too these three types of teshuvah are relevant to each and every one of us and to all of us as a unit.
The Teshuvah of Sukot
In particular, the festival of Sukot is the festival of teshuvah for the Jew who has separated themselves from the rest of the Jewish People to some extent or another. Yes, even those who already fear God’s word need to do teshuvah for this! Even if you are full of faith in God, a Torah personality who observes the 613 mitzvot with all your 248 limbs and 365 sinews, don’t be deceived into thinking that all is well, because with all due respect to the wonderful community that you belong to, it is only one piece of the whole puzzle of the Jewish People and for the time being there is a wall that divides between the different factions. In practice, you may have despaired of the Jews to your right and those to your left. You might not see how to make the Torah available on the public arena, which is why you seclude yourself within your community. However, since in practice there is a certain detachment between Jews, we can’t yet all sit together in one big sukah as one big happy family. Sure, there is a genuine problem sharing part of the “burden” as it is defined by the current leadership in Israel. However, one should acknowledge this deficiency and aspire to fill in the missing pieces, reconnecting all four of the four species, because when all is said and done, the goal is not to rectify just my own faction, but eventually to rectify the entire Jewish People with each and every one of us playing a role in this enterprise, “All Jews are responsible for one another.”
The festival of Sukot, the Time of our Rejoicing, is the festival of the Jewish People. Culminating the three pilgrimage festivals and following the days of personal and communal repentance and atonement, we gather together on the Festival of the Ingathering, into a sukah that has room for every one of us, as stated by the sages, “All Jews are worthy of sitting in one sukah.” Similarly, on Sukot, we hold together the four species that represent all four different types of Jews. From the “righteous” etrog (citron fruit) who is involved in studying the Torah and observing mitzvot, down to the simple aravah (willow branch) who we are unwilling to abandon despite the fact that they have neither Torah nor good deeds. We love them all and all of them rustle together in fraternal love in a tangle of green leaves. When we emphasize the warm inner circle of love within the Jewish People, we are also able to relate in a rectified way to the gentile nations, who also participate in the festival of Sukot. Sukot also has a special “Land of Israel” fragrance, since the roots of the Jewish People are planted firmly in the Holy Land that has been given them as an eternal inheritance.
(Abridged and adapted from the article on our website: Three Types of Teshuvah)
Hilchot Teshuvah 7:5.
See Sukah 55b.