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The Key to Repentance

Rav Reuven Leuchter

Between Elul and Yom Kippur, our thoughts are focused on repentance. We enter this period every year with the best of intentions, only to find our desire to change rapidly dissipates. Why does this happen? Is there a better way to translate our sincerest goals into something that lasts?

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

When Rav Shlomo Wolbe was leaving his position as menahel ruchani of Yeshivas Beer Yaakov to move to Jerusalem in 5742 (1981), a yungerman named Reuven Leuchter asked him if he would be willing to continue their rebbi-talmid relationship by chavrusa. “To my amazement, he said yes,” says Rav Leuchter. For the next 20 years, Rav Leuchter traveled to Rav Wolbe once a week, where among other works, they studied Nefesh HaChaim, the groundbreaking tome of Rav Chaim Volozhin. “I have no notes or recordings from those sessions,” said Rav Leuchter last week, as he sat in a modest storeroom that serves as his office in Jerusalem’s Sanhedria Murchevet neighborhood. “He forced me to concentrate and educated me to listen. Many times, I would daven to Hashem for help because my head was pounding, but Rav Wolbe was ‘merciless.’ He kept pushing things and I had to put them in my head. He also had a great memory. He would tell the same joke with the same words months later and he would check to see if I was making a face like ‘I heard that already.’ ” What was the Rav’s point? “If you make that face, then you’re not listening. If you’re listening to Beethoven, do you say you know the symphony already? If you do, then you’re not listening. Listening means that even when you’re hearing the same story, you might pick up a minute detail you never understood before.” Thanks to his tireless effort and dedication, Rav Leuchter became one of Rav Wolbe’s most prominent disciples and is considered a leading baal mussar of this generation. He runs numerous mussar vaadim in Israel, trains young rabbanim for careers in outreach with Ner LeElef, and has just finished his new sefer — Teshuva: Restoring Life — just in time for teshuvah season. Originally written in Hebrew, it was adapted into English by Rabbi Gideon Pogrund. Another common bond between the Swiss-born Rav Leuchter and his rav and mentor — a bond that has a bearing on his work — was the German language. Rabbi Leuchter assisted Rav Wolbe in translating one of his seforim into German, and watched as Rav Wolbe struggled for two weeks on how to translate the words v’yisangu mituvecha. “Normally you would translate that as ‘they delight in Your goodness.’” The Mashgiach wasn’t happy with that phrase, but he couldn’t find a word or phrase in use today that conveyed its true essence. Finally it came to him. The words oneg, nega, and nogei’a are all derived from the same root, to be “touched.” “It means internally touched, or moved, or to have a feeling of being stirred, like a mother who gazes intently at her child with delight,” said Rav Leuchter. The words v’yisangu mituvecha come from the Shabbos prayers, but whether the subject is the weekly Shabbos observance, our daily avodas Hashem, or even the seasonal teshuvah period, the same overriding concept must prevail, says Rabbi Leuchter. Somehow we must feel touched at the very roots of our souls to feel a deep connection to our Creator and desire to make His Will into our will. It’s a lofty concept, but what does it really mean? How does it apply to our hectic, stressed-out lives? 

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