Joyful Accountability

Friday, 3 June, 2022 - 1:32 pm

Serendipity is a wonderful thing, but Judaism maintains that it doesn’t happen by chance rather by divine providence. The convergence of seemingly diverse events is orchestrated by G-d and provides the opportunity for meaningful discovery and growth.

In a letter to a Bar Mitzvah boy the Rebbe notes the correlation between the Giving of the Torah (the content of his Bar Mitzvah parsha “Yisro”) and the young lad’s Bar Mitzvah. At Sinai the Jews first committed to learning the Torah and observing all 613 of its Mitzvot, and every Jewish boy at age 13 and girl at 12 does the same. Just as Pesach is celebrated as the birth of the Jewish nation, Shavuot commemorates our national Bar Mitzvah.

In light of this, the Rebbe asks a simple question. Every weekday following the Amidah prayer there is a section in the prayer book called “Tachnun” containing various confessional prayers. These prayers are part of the overall concept of “Teshuvah” which means repentance or return. It’s not about feeling sorry for yourself and becoming dpressed, but rather the golden opportunity G-d gives us to wipe the slate clean and renew our divine relationship in a stronger and more powerful way than before. Nevertheless, the actual process of Teshuva involves remorse and should be avoided at joyful times.

According to Jewish law, confessional prayers are never recited on Shabbat, Rosh Chodesh and Jewish festivals (aside for Yom Kippur, of course). This restriction also applies to anyone experiencing a truly joyous occasion in their lives such as a wedding, a son’s bris, the completion of a Torah scroll and other similar occasions. The reasoning is straightforward: during a time of joy one should not focus on personal insufficiencies warranting confession.

Curiously enough, the day one becomes Bar or Bat Mitzvah does not make the cut. The newly minted Jewish adult recites the confessional prayers on his or her special day, which begs the question, why? Is the day one commits to a life of divine service guided by the teachings of the Torah not an occasion joyous enough to make the recitation of the confessional prayer inappropriate?

Torah is infinite. True, there are a defined amount of mitzvot and laws governing Jewish life, but our relationship with G-d must constantly grow and evolve. Even if yesterday was perfect, today is expected to be better, since you’ve matured and wisened over the past 24 hours. The daily confessional prayers are about the awareness of the fact that if I’m not living up to G-d’s expectations, I have the opportunity to fix it.

Young Jewish adults recite the confessional prayer on their big day because the initiation into Jewish adulthood is about appreciating our obligation to constantly grow in our Jewishness and if yesterday we did not live up to expectations, Teshuvah reminds us of the ability to fix it. Don’t allow yesterday’s failures to dictate today’s behavior.

This year the Jewish world will study Maimonides’ laws of Teshuvah during the holiday of Shavuot. The annual Maimonides’ study cycle has been running its course for close to forty years now, but the convergence of the Teshuvah study with Shavuot is certainly not incidental. While we certainly don’t recite the confessional prayers on Shavuot and are expected to celebrate with unmitigated joy, I can’t help but note the connection the mitzvah of Teshuvah has with the commemoration of our national Bar Mitzvah on Shavuot. Mazel Tov!

May we merit to receive the Torah anew with joy and inwardness.

Best wishes for a Good Shabbos and Chag Sameach!


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