Shabbos Shuva – Hashem’s Currency: Speech

The Shabbos in between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur is called Shabbos Shuva because of the opening line of the haftorah, which states (Hoshea 14:2,3):

2: Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God, for you have stumbled in your iniquity. ב:שׁוּבָה יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל עַ֖ד יְהֹוָ֣ה אֱלֹהֶ֑יךָ כִּ֥י כָשַׁ֖לְתָּ בַּֽעֲו‍ֹנֶֽךָ:
3:Take words with yourselves and return to the Lord. Say, “You shall forgive all iniquity and teach us [the] good [way],and let us render [for] bulls [the offering of] our lips. ג:קְח֚וּ עִמָּכֶם֙ דְּבָרִ֔ים וְשׁ֖וּבוּ אֶל־יְהֹוָ֑ה אִמְר֣וּ אֵלָ֗יו כָּל־תִּשָּׂ֚א עָו‍ֹן֙ וְקַח־ט֔וֹב וּנְשַׁלְּמָ֥ה פָרִ֖ים שְׂפָתֵֽינוּ:

The Radak says these pesukim refer to repentance, teshuva. Hashem is telling the
Jews, through the Prophet Hoshea, that they should return to Hashem “because you have stumbled in your sin. For you have seen that you have stumbled in your sin therefore it is befitting of you to return to Hashem the Blessed One, for nothing will get you up from your stumbling besides your repentance…” Then in the next pasuk it says “Take words with yourselves” which the Radak says means that Hashem is not asking them to repent through giving silver, gold or burnt offerings, rather with good words, that they admit their wrong doings and return to Hashem with all their heart, and not just lip service. (Click here for Hebrew text.)

It would seem from the Radak that Hashem doesn’t care for tzedakah or sacrifices; He desires our vidui, our verbal confession of sins, as well as a heartfelt commitment to distance oneself from the sin and regret it, in order to try never to do it again, which are the 3 main components of teshuva.

Yet we say in the Yomim Noraim tefilos, High Holiday prayers, “But repentance, prayer, and charity remove the evil of the decree!” This seems to indicate that tzedakah, charity, is expected by Hashem to be given. Also, part of the atonement process in the times of the Beis HaMikdash was bringing sin- or guilt-offerings, etc. So what does it mean that Hashem is not asking for the silver, gold and burnt offerings of the Jewish people?

We must say that the main part of repentance is the verbal repentance and regret, plus commitment in our hearts to not commit the sin again. The tzedaka and sacrifices are mearly a means of atonement, which help us on a physical, worldly level to understand the severity of our sins.

Why is our speech and heartfelt commitment more valuable to Hashem then our sacrifice of wealth and property? It is because in truth it is more valuable. Human beings were created in “the image of Hashem,” and our “G-dly essence” is our soul. The Orchos Tzadikim in his last chapter mentions that “Animals, too, possess nefesh and ruach, for lust and anger are found in them as they are in men, but a human being possesses a neshama in addition, which speaks and which distinguishes between truth and falsity.” The Chofetz Chaim takes this concept a step further in his Shmiras HaLashon chapter 30, “And now we should speak about the power of speech, which Hashem naturally endowed within the soul of a person, which make him different than other living creatures. He gave us the power of speech so we can speak to the Holy One Blessed Be He and to delve into His Torah, which is the purpose of creation.”

We see from here that speech is a heavenly and spiritual gift from Hashem to mankind, which means it is infinitely valuable and priceless since it is divine. It is in fact more precious than all the physical silver, gold, and sacrifices that come from the physical world.

This should be a lesson to us in valuing what we say and how we say it. May we merit eloquent speech to come out of our mouths before Hashem this coming Yom Kippur.