The Gift of Teshuvah Is a Source of Simchah

This week the Torah teaches us that during the first year of marriage, shanah rishonah, a man should not go to the army; he is free of all military obligations. Instead he should remain home and “gladden his wife.”

This mitzvah can be homiletically understood to contain four very pertinent concepts that aid in repentance, a concept that is always timely but especially so during this month of Elul.

One is the enormous impact and influence of friends and acquaintances, and how selective one has to be about the people he spends his time with. Often a person doesn’t even realize to what degree he is — either consciously or more frequently subconsciously — affected by the company he keeps.

So part of the process of doing teshuvah is  to analyze whom one is spending his time with,  and contemplate whether his friends are helping him draw closer to Hashem or, chas v’shalom, the opposite. While a good friend serves as one of the most powerful sources there is for spiritual inspiration, a careless choice of friend can have a devastating effect. 

Second, someone seeking to return to Hashem must be careful not to transgress any prohibitions, whether they appear to be among the most serious of aveiros, or seem to be “only minor” ones. Even something that contains only a hint of wrongdoing must be avoided at all costs.

Third, he must recognize that avodas Hashem entails doing what is right twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. There are no days off or hours off when in the service of Hashem. The details of our mission may vary according to the call of the hour; but we remain on duty at all times, in all circumstances.

Yeshivos may have an official zman, but there is no bein hazmanim for Torah learning and keeping mitzvos.

And finally, a key element of teshuvah is serving Hashem with joy. The importance of this concept is underscored in next week’s parashah, where we learn from the tochachah that the terrible afflictions that have come upon us are “because you did not serve Hashem… amid gladness and goodness of heart….”

Feelings of regret about the past must not be allowed to lead to dejection or depression, for all aspects of serving Hashem must be done with feelings of joy and happiness — including teshuvah!

The four concepts outlined above are alluded to in a passuk in this week’s parashah.

“When a man marries a new wife” (Devarim 24:5), which can also symbolize a new beginning, akin to acquiring a new soul, “he should not go out to the army.” This can be understood to mean that he should not go out and mingle with the crowds, which can lead to the wrong types of friendships, but should choose solitude over harmful influences. The passuk continues “v’lo yaavor alav — nor shall there pass over him any matter.” Literally this means that he shouldn’t be obligated in any way by the military, but it can also be understood to mean that he should be careful not to transgress any prohibitions, or do anything even resembling wrongdoing.

“He shall be free to his house for one year,” the passuk continues. A person seeking to do teshuvah must do his utmost to ensure that he is “free,” i.e., stays clear of other entanglements and devotes himself solely and totally to avodas Hashem  at all times.  A “year” symbolizes not only a measure of time, but the concept of time as well; all the different times of the day, week, and year must be “one” when it comes to our commitment and obligation to avodas Hashem.

The passuk concludes by stating “he shall gladden his wife who he married.” This symbolizes the obligation to serve Hashem with happiness and joy. (Adapted from a teaching of the Chasam Sofer.)

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 How do we successfully balance introspection and happiness? On one hand, unless we take stock of our faults and spiritual weaknesses and confront them honestly, we can’t work to improve them. On the other hand, we are often so disheartened by what we discover that we give up.

The first Slonimer Rebbe, zy”a, once taught a close disciple how to solve this dilemma.

The Rebbe suggested that this “sin” of not serving Hashem through simchah be the very first one to do teshuvah for. If our self-reproach focuses on a lack of simchah, then we will not allow ourselves to contemplate any thoughts of atzvus, for that would be compounding the sin!

Like all other mitzvos, the mitzvah of teshuvah too should be done only with simchah. The very fact that Hashem has given us this wonderful gift, the ability to wipe the slate clean and begin anew, is in itself a reason for great joy.