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This is the way the Rambam (Maimonides) puts it (Hilchot Teshuva 2:6):

“Even though teshuva (return to the One Above) and crying out to the One Above are always good, during the ten days between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur they are especially efficacious and immediately accepted Above, as it says, ‘Look for G-d when He is to be found, call Him when He is near.”

The Talmudic source for the Rambam’s statement is in Tractate Rosh Hashana (18A). Interestingly, though, the Talmud applies the verse (“Look for G-dŔ) to a situation when the Jewish public needs to pray to G-d to nullify an evil decree, as well as to the individual who desires to approach G-d during the Ten days of Return. The Rambam, though, applies the entire verse only to the individual and his spiritual process. And if that’s the case, then we need to analyze the two different parts of the verse and what they mean to the individual who wants to do “teshuva” and return to G-d.

The full verse (from Isaiah 55:6) reads, “Look for G-d when He is to be found, call to Him when He is near.” The basic question that arises is; proximity to G-d should have a positive influence on all of our spiritual service, especially upon prayer. But, what is the special connection between G-dly proximity and teshuva, or return to Him?

In analyzing the verse, we see that it breaks down into two human activities, and two categories of spiritual revelation. The two human activities are: 1) looking for Him, and 2) calling Him, and the two categories of revelation are: 1) G-d being found and 2) G-d being close. “Looking for Him” takes place when He is around (“found”), and “calling Him” takes place when he is close-by. Moreover, our activity is a result, not a cause, of G-dly revelation. It isn’t our looking for Him that brings Him “around,” nor is it our calling out to Him that draws Him close, but the opposite. Because He is near during the ten days of Return, we call to Him, and because He is to be found, we look for Him.

The “finding” that the verse is referring to here is very specific. Although in English, one can find something whether searching for it or not, here the Hebrew verse refers to G-dly revelation that occurs precisely when one is not looking for it. It happens when one is not thinking about G-d at all, and may be focused on another topic altogether. Therefore, it can also occur to someone who is completely divorced from G-d, from Torah and mitzvoth.

When we start to think about our spiritual situations during this period, and we realize how far we are from G-d, and how we have failed to live up to even our own expectations, it’s possible to fall into depression. We might think of “giving up” and not working any more on getting closer to the One Above. That’s why the verse tells us to look for Him when He is to be “found.” When He is “found,” during the ten days of return, our personal spiritual status doesn’t matter. He is equally accessible to everyone, even to the one whose own spiritual accounting brings him to the conclusion that he is incorrigibly low on the spiritual ladder. The reason for this is that we are like children to G-d. A child can occasionally behave poorly, and yet his parents neither disown nor give up on him; they simply realize that as a child he has moments of failure and needs to grow up. So, G-d relates to us as children who sometimes fail to live up to our potential, and with infinite patience He continues to give us opportunities to correct ourselves. That’s how G-d is to be found, even to one whose ways need rectification during the ten days of return.

But, that’s not enough. We don’t want Him just to be found, to just “be there” for us. We also want to feel and experience His presence. And that’s why the verse continues and says, Ӆcall out to Him when He is close.” We might think that even if He is there when we’re not deserving and not looking for Him, that doesn’t yet mean that He is close-by. To experience closeness, we should at least have to work for it and transform ourselves into deserving vessels that are appropriate for G-dly revelation. In the example above, even though a doting father doesn’t abandon his child when the child misbehaves, you wouldn’t expect the father to demonstrate his love for his child at that moment. Yet, the verse tells us that in the relationship between man and G-d during the ten days of Return, that is exactly what He does for us. He is not only there for us, but He actively reveals His love and attention.

It is precisely these two levels of spiritual revelation of G-d – being “found” and being “close” - that arouse the appropriate human responses from below. Once we discover that He is “around,” that awareness induces us to look for Him. We don’t just look for Him tentatively and passively. We go about it actively and energetically, like a child looking for his father. We demand His presence and search actively for Him. And when we discover that He is close-by, we call His name. We don’t just search, we call out for Him, and hope to feel and experience His presence. The two modes refer to the ten days of return; when we know that He’s here even if we don’t feel His presence, and when we seek to feel close to Him.

Even though this week’s Torah portion, “Hoazinu,” is read this year after Yom Kippur, and therefore after the ten days of return, it nevertheless alludes to the period. The opening verse (Deut. 32:1) reads, “Listen, heavens, and I will speak, and let the earth hear my words.” Similar to the verse quoted above by the Rambam (from Isaiah), our Torah portion refers to two situations; one of proximity to G-d (“heavens”) and the other of distance (“earth”). The “heavens” represents the feeling of uplifted spirituality, which elevates us during the ten days of return, while the “earth” alludes to our physical, “earthy” characteristics, from which we feel correspondingly distant during this period. While we are distant and looking for Him (in the mode of “earth”), we experience G-d as He is found during the ten days. And when we are close to Him and experience His presence (the mode of “heaven”), we call out to Him, during the ten days, as well.

But, there is a deeper way of understanding the verse, and that’s when we realize that we can serve G-d both ways, either while in the mode of “heaven” (feeling close to Him), or “earth” (feeling distant). The Ba’al HaTanya (in Likutei Torah, parshat Hoazinu) says that “heaven” refers to learning Torah, while “earth” refers to fulfillment of mitzvoth. We perform mitzvoth not because we feel spiritual elevation (even though that may occur as well), but simply because we were commanded to do them. This is called “kabbalat ohl malchut shamayim,” or acceptance of the yoke of heaven. He wants us to make a connection with Him by doing physical mitzvoth, so we do them. What’s important is not our “cavana,” or intention, but our “ma’aseh,” or action. Even though we don’t feel close to Him, we do what He says. This corresponds to the first part of the verse describing the ten days of return, telling us to “look for Him when he is foundŔ

But, we must also call out to Him when He is close, by learning the Torah. The Midrash, mentioned in Tanya, tells us that all of the Torah is the names of G-d. When we learn Torah, uplifting our minds and unifying our intellect with Him in a supernatural, amazing fashion, we are literally calling out to Him. As such, we fulfill the second part of the verse; “Call out to Him when He is close.” During the ten days of return, He is close and accessible to us no matter what mode we are in, whether we feel far or close, whether we do mitzvoth or learn Torah. All we have to do is throw ourselves into it, and He is there.

From Likutei Sichot of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, ztz’l, volume 34, page 200.

Rabbi David Sterne, Jerusalem Connection in the old city of Jerusalem