Most often, we start to think about teshuvah, repentance, in the days and weeks leading up to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. We spend the ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur focused on active repentance. Once the shofar has sounded at the end of Yom Kippur and the fast is over, we quickly revert back to our normal lives. We go about our activities, business, leisure, and family without giving repentance much thought.
This week’s Torah portion, usually read some time in December or January, thrusts our minds to thoughts of teshuvah as we read the story of the reunification of Joseph and his brothers. Weeks ago, we read of the enmity and jealousy between Joseph and his brothers. We learn how they act on that hatred by throwing Joseph into a pit and then selling him into servitude. We read of the lie they tell to their father to protect themselves. This week we read of a whole new attitude of the brothers. In the years since they last saw their brother and humiliated him, they have grown and repented their actions. Our tradition holds that true repentance comes when one is put in a similar situation to the one that caused the original transgression, yet one refrains from repeating it.
In this week’s Torah portion, we witness Judah illustrating this full repentance. After Joseph traps Benjamin into committing a crime and has him arrested, Judah, the very brother that had suggested selling Joseph into slavery, steps forward to rescue Benjamin, prepared to trade his own life for that of his brother. When he could have discarded Benjamin the way he did Joseph, Judah instead goes so far as to offer himself in Benjamin’s stead.
It is an important lesson for us both about repentance, and about the timing of repentance. We need not put off asking forgiveness for our actions until the high holidays. Repentance and forgiveness are available all year long.
Rabbi Bradley Tecktiel has been Midbar Kodesh Temple's spiritual leader since August 2008. Rabbi Tecktiel was ordained at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in May of 1996. He holds two Bachelor of Arts degrees, one from List College and one from Columbia University. He also holds a Masters of Arts from the Jewish Theological Seminary.
You can follow him on Twitter @RabbiMKT.