Teshuvah is the inherent yearning of each creation to return to its source
“Return, Yisrael, to Hashem your G-d, because you’ve stumbled in your sins.” (Hoshea 14:2, Tefillas Yom Kippur)
We generally assume that teshuvah is a process unique to Bnei Yisrael. Yet the Gemara (Pesachim 54a) says that teshuvah is one of the seven things created before the world. Therefore, all of the world as we know it was created from teshuvah and contains teshuvah as part of its intrinsic makeup. (Rav Itamar Schwartz, Bilvavi)
The apartment was empty and old. But to my newly-married eyes, it brimmed with potential. Despite my jet lag, I was full of energy, eager to tackle those bare walls and transform them into a background befitting our personal palace.
The family that had previously lived in this two-bedroom had ten kids. Yes, ten. Plus, their grandmother had lived with them, so they’d closed in the porch to convert it into a tiny bedroom for her.
Obviously though, my predecessor must’ve been an exceptional balabusta because there were no signs of the daily wear and tear you’d expect from such a large family. I was determined to follow in her footsteps.
Although Bnei Yisrael are the only ones who have a mitzvah to do teshuvah, gentiles such as Adam, Kayin, and Noach did teshuvah. Even plants, animals, and inanimate objects do teshuvah. Yet, they have no concept of sin, so what does this mean?
The word teshuvah doesn’t only refer to the power of repentance. It’s the inherent yearning of each creation to shov, to return to its source. The Gemara notes that birds yearn to return to their original nest, and a dog is drawn to an object he once salivated upon. The Maharal and the Vilna Gaon write that even an inanimate object, such as fire, naturally rises upward — because it yearns to return to its source Heaven. We see this concept throughout all of creation.
Armed with supplies, I swept, washed, and sprayed, humming wedding tunes under my breath. By the time I got to the enclosed porch, I was weary, but feeling virtuous as I attacked the huge triple-paned windows.
Sliding one open carefully, I glanced at the narrow sill, wondering if I could balance myself on the small ledge to clean the outside of the panes. I mean, what self-respecting new housewife only cleans the insides of windows, right?
But there, wedged into a shadowy corner between the window and the wall, was an old dusty birds’ nest. Yuck.
Balabusta or not, I didn’t want to touch the old collection of twigs and strings. Who knows where it had been or what worms or shells were still inside? But a glance at my watch showed it would be a while before my knight in shining Borsalino could save me. Besides, I’d wanted to show my husband a fully cleaned house when he returned. Sighing at the inevitable, I reached for the broomstick. Then the phone rang. Saved!
Any sensible person can wonder: If teshuvah applies to all creations, how is our teshuvah unique?
Man is called “medaber,” a speaking creature. This enables him to recite Vidui on Yom Kippur, to confess his sins and be purified — a gift given to only the Jewish people. This stems from the same power of shov that all creations have, yet it sets us apart, makes us a step closer to our Source.
My cousin Esther welcomed me to Eretz Yisrael and asked how it was going. “Oh, I’m just housecleaning,” I said airily. “You know, you can’t unpack before everything’s shining. I was just about to get rid of a birds’ nest.” I mentally gave myself some imaginary points for my industrious ways.
“I have a birds’ nest on my porch,” remarked Esther. “It’s been there for years.” (Seriously? The brand-new balabusta in me was embarrassed for her.) “But you know what’s so beautiful?” she continued, “Every spring the doves come back to the nest. I don’t know if it’s the same doves, but there’s always a couple of birds in that nest every spring. I always get emotional seeing them return. Something so touching about them coming home year after year.”
I hung up, thoughtful. Esther’s words had struck a romantic chord. New housekeeper or not, I wasn’t about to evict a couple from their home. Besides, now I had an excuse not to touch the thing.
I cleaned the windows, taking special care to avoid jarring the dusty nest. Because I knew that one day the birds would return.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 711)
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