And it came to pass afterward, that David’s heart struck him because he had cut off Shaul’s garment (Shmuel I 24: 5)
The Shabbat that falls in the week between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is called Shabbat Shuvah, highlighting the fact that we read the haftarah that begins with the words “Shuvah Yisrael — Return, Israel, to Hashem your G-d” (Hoshea 14:2). We also refer to this Shabbat as Shabbat Teshuvah in keeping with the job at hand — to repent in the 10 Days of Teshuvah. Chacham Ovadiah Yosef, zt”l, asked how come this day was singled out with a special nomenclature. All of the first 10 days of the year are times uniquely capable for success in repentance, yet we don’t, for example, designate the “Tuesday of teshuvah” — or any other day, either.
Many people wrongly believe that teshuvah is successfully done by beating on one’s chest in the vicinity of one’s heart and saying words of confession. The prophet Yeshayahu (1:5) said, “Why should you be stricken again while you continue to act perversely?” The commentators explain that this verse refers to those who bang on their hearts while continuing to embrace their sins. Since they do not regret their wrongdoing and abandon their sinful activities, the fact that they “act out” penitent behavior results in even more disciplinary action from Above. It is as if they intend to “fool” the Alm-ghty by feigning regret on the outside while continuing to hold on to their sins on the inside.
The Chofetz Chaim once said, “It’s not the one who beats on his heart that is called a baal teshuvah (repentant one); it is the one whose heart beats on him who is truly repentant.”
When David was being pursued by King Shaul, he found an opportunity to kill the king of Israel. Instead, he cut a corner of Shaul’s garment to prove to the monarch that he held no ill feelings towards him. However, since ripping a king’s garment is a sign of disrespect, David felt as if he sinned and was overcome with remorse. The verse says, “And it came to pass afterward, that David’s heart struck him because he had cut off Shaul’s garment” (Shmuel I 24: 5).
This Shabbat is a testimony to this concept. On the other days of repentance, one is permitted to make confessions and beat on one’s heart, but on Shabbat, the outward signs of repentance are forbidden. Therefore, the repentance done on this day is limited exclusively to thoughts and feelings of regret and return. Heartfelt resolve to eliminate sinful ways and commitment to change for the better are the order of the day. This is done by individuals who communicate their feelings to Hashem with thought, not action. It is a unique expression of desire to get close to one’s Maker in keeping with Shabbat. The prophet Yirmiyahu said, “For after my returning, I regretted; and after my being made aware of my sinfulness, I slapped my thigh” (31:18).
This special opportunity to spend a Shabbat in introspection and self-evaluation is an opportunity one should not waste. Consider the past, resolve for the future, and truly return to Hashem.
Gmar chatimah tovah.