Nitzavim 5781


Angels and repentance[1]

כי המצוה הזאת אשר אנכי מצוך היום לא-נפלאת הוא ממך ולא רחקה הוא
For this mitzvah that I command you is not beyond you, nor is it far from you[2]

The subject of this verse is a matter of dispute. Rashi says[3] that it’s referring to the Torah, its fulfillment and study. Ramban however says[4] it’s referring to something very apropos to the time period we are in. It’s referring to the mitzvah of teshuva, repentance[5]. There’s an interesting Midrash about this verse[6]. It says that “this mitzvah” is not removed from us, but it is removed from the Angels. At first glance[7], this would sound more like Rashi’s interpretation. The Torah was given to humans and not the Angels, so it is in a sense “removed from them”[8]. Is there any way to understand this Midrash according to the Ramban, that “this mitzvah” is referring to teshuva?

Our Sages describe[9] the dramatic scene that occurred when Moshe went up to the heavens to receive the Torah. The Angels initially didn’t want to let humans have the Torah, and threatened to burn Moshe alive. Hashem protected him, and told him to refute the claims of the Angels on the Torah. Moshe asked them if they felt jealousy, such that they would be commanded against murder. He asked if they had desires, such that they would be commanded against theft. We could imagine Moshe asking them about practically all of the negative prohibitions in the Torah. They would fail to justify why they should keep the Torah for themselves[10]. Moshe’s was triumphant in his debate, and brought down the Torah to the Jewish people.

However, this doesn’t explain everything. One could have argued that the Torah be divided into two: the positive mitzvos and the negative ones. The positive mitzvos would be given to the Angels, and the negative ones be given to the Jews. However, what is written towards[11] the end of the Torah? The positive mitzvah of teshuva. This mitzvah is only relevant for someone with a yetzer hara, an evil inclination. Since Angels aren’t prone to sin, we found a positive mitzvah which has no relevance to them[12]. As well, since the Torah couldn’t be subtracted in any way, there was no choice but to give the entire Torah to the Jewish people.

We can now understand what Chazal meant when they said that “this mitzvah”, namely teshuva, isn’t removed from us, but is removed from the Angels. It’s something that is not in their realm of possibility. For us, not only is it possible, but the Torah attests that, “it is something that is very close to you, in your mouths and in your hearts, to perform”[13].

Good Shabbos and Chasima Vechasima Tovah; have a blessed, sweet new year.

[1] Based on Derashos Chasam Sofer III p. 8b s.v. כי

[2] Deuteronomy 30:11

[3] See v. 12 and 14

[4] V. 11

[5] The Ramban understands this verse to be a command. Cf. Rambam in Mishneh Torah Hilchos Teshuva 7:5 who understands this to be a prophetic promise that the Jews in the future will repent for their sins. Some understand that the Rambam doesn’t hold there’s a mitzvah of teshuvah (Minchas Chinuch 364:2; HaEmek Davar to v. 11; Meshech Chochmah to Deuteronomy 31:17), as he writes ad. loc. 1:1: כשיעשה תשובה וישוב מחטאו חייב להתודות. It sounds like there’s a mitzvah of vidui, confessing one’s sins, but not teshuva itself. This also seems apparent from his Sefer HaMitzvos Aseh § 73. He also cites Leviticus 5:5 as a source for the mitzvah, which discusses vidui when bringing one’s offerings. Nevertheless, many hold that there is indeed a mitzvah of teshuva, such as this RambanSha’arei Teshuva 1:1 and 4:17, and Semak § 53. However, some say that the Rambam agrees that there is a mitzvah of teshuva, as we see from his words at the beginning of Hilchos Teshuva: מצות עשה אחת והוא שישוב החוטא מחטאו לפני ה’ ויתודה. This could also explain why the Ramban doesn’t include a mitzvah of teshuva in his own list of the 613 mitzvos. Perhaps he understood the Rambam included this in his mitzvah of vidui. See L’Dofkei BaTeshuva to Hilchos Teshuva 1:1:10 for various approaches on how to resolve the phraseology and opinion of the Rambam

[6] Devarim Rabbah 8:2

[7] In the original it is written ולפי’, but in newer editions it is suggested it should say ולכאורה

[8] To be honest I’m not entirely sure why the Chasam Sofer initially says it sounds more like Rashi. This is my best guess as to his intention

[9] Shabbos 88b

[10] See Teshuvos Radvaz III § 643 (אלף ס”ח), Chasam Sofer’s Toras Moshe I to Deuteronomy 32:3, and Beis HaLevi to Exodus Chapter 19 s.v. להבין for interesting explanations for why the Angels wanted the Torah in the first place

[11] The Chasam Sofer writes חותם שהיא עשה של תשובה. He can’t mean literally as there are still a few parshiyos remaining with their own set of mitzvos

[12] The Chasam Sofer didn’t need to go so far to find a positive mitzvah which didn’t apply to them. The gemarra itself lists two positive mitzvos that Moshe mentioned: אנכי ה’ אלקיך אשר הוצאתיך מארץ מצרים, and the Angels didn’t leave Egypt. As well, Angels don’t have parents with which to honor

[13] Deuteronomy 30:14