Thursday, September 2, 2021



Text by Rabbi Benjy Simons

A young man named George received a parrot as a gift. The parrot had a bad attitude and an even worse vocabulary. Every word out of the bird's' mouth was rude, obnoxious and laced with profanity. George tried and tried to change the bird's attitude by consistently saying only polite words, playing soft music and anything else he could think of to 'clean up' the bird's vocabulary. Finally, George was fed up and he yelled at the parrot. The parrot yelled back. George shook the parrot and the parrot got angrier and even more rude. George, in desperation, threw up his hand, grabbed the bird and put him in the freezer. For a few minutes the parrot squawked and kicked and screamed...then suddenly there was total quiet. Not a peep was heard for over a minute. 

Fearing that he'd hurt the parrot, George quickly opened the door to the freezer. The parrot calmly stepped out onto George's outstretched arms and said "I believe I may have offended you with my rude language and actions. I'm sincerely remorseful for my inappropriate transgressions and I fully intend to do everything I can to correct my rude and unforgivable behaviour. George was stunned at the change in the bird's attitude. As he was about to ask the parrot what had made such a dramatic change in his behaviour, the bird spoke-up, very softly, "May I ask what the turkey did?" 

As we approach the end of the Jewish year it seems quite apt that this Parsha contains the concept of Teshuva (Ramban, Baal HaTurim and Rabbeinu Yonah to Devarim 30:11) as we take a stocktake of our actions from the previous year and work to become better individuals. Unlike in other religions, Judaism finds greatness in people who despite making mistakes are constantly working on correcting them and thus we look to correct our misdeeds and resolve to not return to such behaviour. This is also reinforced by the Elul acrostic of אֶת לְבָבְךָ וְאֶת לְבַב (Devarim 30:6) which is connected to repentance (Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 128:1), as Elul is the time to be refining oneself and working to improve oneself for the coming year. 

The Rambam (Laws of Teshuva 1:1, 2:2) codifies that repentance involves confession before Hashem together with remorse of past misdeeds and resolutions for the future. Obviously, one must be sincere when mentioning one’s misdeeds, which involves recognising that the action was wrong, that one is entirely responsible and thus in theory deserving of punishment (Rabbeinu Bachya). To verbalise one’s misdeeds without a resolve to abandon such behaviour is akin to immersing in a Mikveh while holding a rodent (the source of impurity) (Rambam ibid. 2:1). 

Incidentally there is no blessing on the Mitzvah of Teshuva and Rabbi Aharon Lewin suggested this is because we may do it incorrectly and thus it may not be accepted (i.e., a blessing in vain). Yet at the same time we are told that repentance and resolve can be done in a moment (see Kiddushin 49b) if one comes before Hashem with sincerity and regret. 

Perhaps therefore Yom Kippur is called the day of Atonement, for it is a contraction of the word ‘at one moment’ which is all it takes to turn one’s life around.

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