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Elul- The Unique Teshuva of Yonah: Part I

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Elul- The Unique Teshuva of Yonah: Part I
Based on a shiur by Rabbi Avishai David - August 22, 2010

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In Hilchat Teshuva, the Rambam devotes two chapters to the definition of repentance and its relevance. In the first chapter, he defines teshuva as primarily being the act of confession. In the second chapter, the Rambam expands on the other aspects of repentance which include abandoning sin, expressing regret, and committing not to sin again. Teshuva is relevant the entire year but during the High Holy Days, it is immediately accepted by Hashem.

The Rambam notes that teshuva is a universal phenomenon relevant to all mankind. One whose merits overweigh his demerits is considered righteous and is immediately inscribed in the Book of Life. One whose demerits overweigh his merits is doomed to death. One whose merits and demerits are equal is a beinoni and awaits the final verdict on Yom Kippur. These principles apply to individual countries and to the world at large which also stands in judgment on Rosh Hashana. The Rambam bases this on a well known Mishna in Rosh Hashana which mentions that the world is judged on four occasions. In Mussaf of Rosh Hashana we recite the awesome prayer of Unesana Tokef which graphically depicts how Hashem scrutinizes each individual's behavior and allots universal judgment. There is a beautiful message in the blowing of the shofar. It announces, "uru yesheinim mishnaschem.."-'Awake from your sleep, you slumberers'. Rosh Hashana is a time to arouse ourselves and engage in introspection. One should consider oneself a "beinoni" with the power to not only affect one's personal scale, but the entire world. Doing one mitzvah can tilt the world's scale in a positive direction while one sin can accomplish just the opposite. Therefore our custom is to increase our prayers, mitzvoth, and teshuva so that we may positively impact our judgment.

If one closely examines the Rambam's treatise on teshuva, several questions arise. In chapter three, he defines teshuva as abandoning sin. However, in chapters one and two he also includes confession, guilt, and commitment for the future. What is the real definition of teshuva? In chapter one he notes that teshuva is not limited to the Jews but is relevant to all mankind. He bases this on Sefer Yonah and the story of Ninveh. Is there a distinction between the repentance of the Jews and non-Jews? In Chapter ten, the Rambam writes that non-Jews can achieve selicha through teshuva unlike the Jews who can additionally achieve kaparah and tahara. Why is there a distinction? The Rambam answers that non Jews tend to hold grudges while Jews forgive and do not take revenge. Therefore non Jews can achieve selicha but nothing beyond, that while Jews can attain far more. In addition, the Midrash says that non Jews can easily do teshuva while the process is much longer for Jews. We see this in Sefer Yonah where there is none of the inner struggle or circuitous ups and downs typically associated with teshuva. The people of Ninveh repented superficially to remove the sword hanging over their city and Hashem had mercy on them. So we see that in chapter one where the Rambam speaks only about azivat hachet, he refers to universal teshuva as relevant to the non-Jews, while in chapter two he discusses complete teshuva which is unique only to the Jewish nation.

About the Author: Rabbi Avishai David
An accomplished Talmid Chachom and veteran educator, Rabbi Avishai David is the Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivah Torat Shraga in Bayit Vegan, Jerusalem. As the founding Dean of Michlelet Mevasseret Yerushalayim and popular lecturer at Michlala Jerusalem, Rabbi David has contributed in a concrete way to the advancement of Jewish women's Torah education.

Rabbi David is well-known for his high-level shiurim, which cover extensive amounts of material in a relatively short time. His shiurim are a unique blend of intellectual stimulation, emotional appeal, and upbeat interaction. His classes both satisfy and challenge the listener, as he shares the depth and beauty of Torah.

A long-time talmid of HaRav Yosef Dov Halevi Soloveitchik ztz"l, RabbiDavid applies his rebbe's unique methodology to all the topics that he teaches in his shiurim- Talmud, Navi, Halacha, or Chumash. In explaining Gemara concepts or verses in the Torah, Rabbi David focuses on the nuances and distinctions within a given text, presenting the listener with eye-opening insights and a new perspective on the precision of every word of Torah.

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