The Key to Lasting Teshuvah

Ki karov ailecha ha’davar me’od b’ficha u’vilvav’cha la’asoso (Devarim 30:14)

Although repentance is the main theme of this time of the year, it is also one of the most difficult projects for us to succeed in. Some have even cynically suggested that instead of getting excited and making a new list of proposed improvements, a person should simply take out last year’s list and change the date at the top, as the lists will surely coincide. How can we make this year different and do proper and lasting teshuvah?

The Chofetz Chaim explains both the root of our difficulty in doing teshuvah as well as the solution by way of an insightful parable.

A successful merchant was once purchasing new inventory from his supplier’s warehouse. Just as he paid his bill and prepared to leave with his new merchandise, another salesman came in and presented the clerk with his list of needed items. The clerk was about to begin compiling the order when he remembered that the last few times this customer came to the warehouse, he didn’t have the money to pay his outstanding bill and promised that he would do so the next time he returned.

When the clerk demanded payment of the accumulated debts, the embarrassed man explained that he still didn’t have the money but begged for one last chance to earn it. The clerk was considering the man’s request when the owner of the warehouse overheard the commotion and declared that he wasn’t willing to extend the man’s line of credit any longer. As the salesman began to plead with him, the first merchant, who was observing the proceedings, interrupted to announce that he understood the root of the problem and would like to propose a solution.

The warehouse served as a wholesaler, selling large quantities to merchants at cheap prices. This arrangement was ideal for someone such as himself whose business was based in a large town, as his sales volume was sufficient to allow him to turn a profit. The other salesman, however, came from a small village where he was unable to sell enough of the large quantity he was forced to buy at the warehouse to recoup even a fraction of his costs.

The merchant suggested that the warehouse owner make an exception and permit the salesman to buy only the small quantity that he would be able to sell, and over time he would turn a profit and slowly be able to pay off his debts. This insightful proposal was accepted by all and worked successfully, just as the merchant had projected.

When the Yamim Nora’im draw near, a person naturally wants to rectify his ways. He sincerely examines all aspects of his life to determine which areas could use improvement. He then comes to Hashem and pleads for another year in which to make all the changes he has accepted upon himself, yet year after year he finds himself asking for additional time to make many of the same improvements that he promised to make the year before.

Eventually, there comes a time when the accusing angel will argue that Hashem (“the warehouse owner”) has repeatedly given more and more merchandise (time in this world) to this person (the salesman) in exchange for a promise of payment (complete repentance) in the year to come, but without any payment on the horizon, it is unreasonable to continue extending the petitioner’s line of credit.

The wise merchant overhears the commotion and explains that a person is simply unable to accept upon himself so many improvements in so many spheres of his life all at once. Rather than unrealistically promising to completely change oneself and become a totally different person, it would be more practical and effective to choose a small number of areas on which he will focus his energy and gradually improve until he is able to “pay his debts” in those categories and move on to others one-by-one. A person who heeds the sage advice of the merchant (the Chofetz Chaim) will merit to take the words of his commitments with him and to truly return to Hashem, something that we should all merit in the coming year.

Parashah Q & A

Q:Did Moshe become ill prior to his death, and if so, for how long?

Q:If a person is capable of writing a valid sefer Torah, is it preferable to perform this mitzvah (31:19) himself or by hiring a professional scribe whose sefer Torah will be more beautiful?

A:The Panei’ach Raza (31:14) writes that Moshe became ill five days prior to his death on 7 Adar. This is alluded to in the verse “hein karvu yamecha la’mus — behold, your days are drawing near to die,” as the word “hein” is often interpreted to refer to one object, the word “karvu” is in the plural which indicates two, and the word “yamecha” is also in the plural, indicating another two, for a total of five days that he was ill prior to his death.

A:The Chayei Adam raises this question and writes that he is unsure of the answer. Rav Elyakim Devorkes quotes a number of sources who maintain that the principle of doing a mitzvah in a more ideal manner takes precedence over the idea that it is better to do a mitzvah oneself instead of through an agent.


Originally from Kansas City, Rabbi Ozer Alport graduated from Harvard, learned in Mir Yerushalayim for five years, and now lives in Brooklyn, where he learns in Yeshivas Beis Yosef, is the author of the recently-published sefer Parsha Potpourri, and gives weekly shiurim. To send comments to the author or to receive his Divrei Torah weekly, please email