AMIDA, FIFTH BERAKHA: Coming back to You

 השיבנו אבינו לתורתך
וקרבנו מלכנו לעבודתך
והחזירנו בתשובה שלמה לפניך
ברוך אתה ה ‘, הרוצה בתשובה
Bring us back, our Father, to your Tora; bring us closer, our King, to Your service;
And make us [help us] return to You, in complete repentance.

Blessed are You, HaShem, who desires [our] repentance.”

We are in the section called in Hebrew, baqashot (requests). In this section, we beg HaShem to grant us our requests. In the previous blessing, we asked for wisdom. But what are we exactly asking for in this singular berakha that is about repentance? What do we expect HaShem to do here for us? After all, if it is a matter of repentance, is something we have to do ourselves… not God!

1. Let us first look at the order of this blessing. Is there any connection between this Berakha and the previous blessing, where we have asked God to grant us wisdom? The Rabbis define sin as a temporary state of insanity … אין אדם בא לידי חטא, “a person would not sin unless he is possessed by a [temporal] spirit of dementia.” To sin, to disobey God, is not a logical thing, it is not a wise decision. Quite the opposite. We are only capable of disobeying God when we are psychologically “possessed” by ambition, anger, lust, passion, etc. In these scenarios, our mind is clouded and we lose our common sense. The wisdom and intelligence that we have asked for in the previous Berakha, is the best guarantee to avoid impulsivity. Animals are carried away by their instincts, but we humans are able to dominate our passions with our intelligence. In the previous blessing, we have asked for wisdom. In this blessing, we realize that the less wisdom we have, the more exposed we are to sinning, and vice versa.

2. “Bring us back, our Father, to your Tora; and bring us closer, our King, to Your service.”

Now, once we acknowledge our wrongdoing and we repent, we want to repair our mistakes. But the transgression we committed left sequels. It affected nothing less than our relationship with God. This connection develops on two different planes: First, HaShem is our Creator, He gave us life. He is our “Father”. Secondly, He gave us laws and we are His subjects. Thus, HaShem is also our King. By violating His commandments we have broken our relationship with our Father and with our King. That is why in this Berakha we appeal to HaShem as Father and King. Something else: coming back to HaShem begins by returning to the observance of His Tora. We serve HaShem by applying the teachings of the Tora in our lives, and by not deviating from them. That is why we first mention studying Tora, which will lead us to serve HaShem properly.

3. “And make us return to You”

When we say, “Make us return to you,” we do not mean literally that we expect God to “make us repent”, while we remain passive. We, human beings, were granted freedom of choice, and we are completely responsible for our moral actions. What we are asking HaShem here is His help and His inspiration to return to Him and His Torah. We are encouraged to ask for His help because the Sages taught us הבא להיטהר מסייעין אותו, when a Yehudi wants to purify himself, repent of his or her transgressions, HaShem helps him, assists him to make his way back easier and to find the least amount of moral challenges (נסיונות) in his path.

4. Barukh Ata HaShem, haRotse bitshuba. “Blessed are you, HaShem, who desires (our) repentance.”
We affirm now that HaShem “wants” us to return to Him; He “desires” us to repair our bond. And since this relationship is personal, it can not be repaired by our unilateral decision to repent. As in every other relationship, here too it is necessary that the other party, in this case HaShem, accepts our apologies. How do we know that HaShem will accept our repentance? One of the most important principles of Judaism is knowing that HaShem loves us as a parent loves his children. There is no greater desire for a parent than feeling his or her children close to him. As a good father, HaShem does not take pleasure in punishing His children when they misbehave. All HaShem wants from us, His children, is to return to the right path, “for our own good.” Therefore, knowing that He also wants our closeness, we dare to ask Him to help us finding our way back. HaShem “desires” our repentance because He loves us, and because He wants what is good for us.