In parsha Nitzavim, we come across a theme of teshuvah to prepare us for Rosh Hoshanah and Yom Kippur. In fact, Nitzavim always precedes Rosh Hoshanah, so it seems quite timely that Ribono Shel Olam would give us this lesson.
There are a few things we need to unpack to better appreciate the lesson.
So if Torah is not in chronological order, what’s going on here? This passage, since it’s really the beginning, shouldn’t be in the spot. However, HaShem gives us the pasuk here. The Divrei Chaim on Parshas Ve’eschanan says that Teshuva m’ahava transforms an aveira into a zechus.
Teshuvah not only erases the sin, but it compensates for the failed positive mitzvah. Teshuvah makes it so that the person completed the mitzvah. It’s as if the teshuvah process goes outside of time and changes what actually happened.
HaShem built a failsafe into the foundation of creation. Engaging in teshuvah allows the yid to step outside the time limitations of creation and cause an amazing result outside the limitations of nature or time.
HaShem created the world using the aleph bet. Rashi brings that olam hazeh is created with the letter ה. Chazal write that the ה has a detached leg on purpose, teaching teshuvah. If someone were to fall through the bottom of the letter in sin, the gap at the top of the leg permits them to re-enter, at an earlier spot.
Teshuvah not only precedes the world, but its very invention is designed to override the timeline as far as HaShem is concerned. From HaShem’s perspective, there is no time. Everything just is. No past. No present. No future. No chronological order.
Now we get to a fascinated notion, which Rebbe Benzion Twerski, shlita, shared with me as a prelude to selichos. The Be’er Mayim Chaim on Parshas Ha’azinu says that when Chazal say “there is no earlier and later,” it means that we can move earlier letters to later and later letters to earlier via the observance of Torah. One can take נגע (plague) and change it to ענג (pleasure).
Which brings us back to the seemingly-misplaced pasuk. It did happen in the middle, so to say, as it teaches that through Teshuvah, the middle of the story can change the beginning. This parsha, in history, occured before Parshas Devarim. But it’s placed here to show our teshuvah is not limited by time.
There’s one last consideration to bring up. The Sfas Emes comments on a Rashi in Ki Savo, on the word hayom – this word at the beginning of our parsha shows that Torah should be accepted every day with hischadshus, which translates to a feeling of freshness. We should not let Torah, nor mitzvos, grow stale.
This is really a beautiful concept when paired with what we’ve just learned. By doing teshuvah, one can rewind and experience Torah and mitzvos anew for the first time. It is through this vitality that we can truly foster and engage our relationship with Ribono Shel Olam. Our Avodas HaShem is new and fresh, and this can only truly achieved by becoming a master of repentance.