In our day, it would seem inconceivable to fully realize what precisely constitutes appropriate vs. inappropriate speech, were it not for the comprehensive works of the Chafetz Chaim, and the manner in which he analyzed and applied the fundamental Torah concepts of lashon hara and rechilus.
So too, it would appear equally inconceivable to comprehend what exactly constitutes a proper fulfillment of teshuvah, were it not for Rabbeinu Yonah’s thorough, detailed, and systematic approach to this essential concept, as presented in his classic mussar sefer, Sha’arei Teshuvah. In fact, the Chafetz Chaim, in composing his own works, relied heavily on the third sha’ar of Sha’arei Teshuvah, which discusses lashon hara and rechilus at length.
At the very outset of his sefer, Rabbeinu Yonah relates a potent parable found in Koheles Rabbah. To paraphrase that Midrash: A gang of thieves was thrown into prison by the king and there they remained until they started digging an underground tunnel through which they all escaped, except one prisoner. When the jail keeper arrived, he spotted the escape route and, seeing the one remaining prisoner, struck him. “Fool!” he said, “There’s a way to get out of here. Why didn’t you save yourself?”
Teshuvah, Rabbeinu Yonah points out, is the way we can save ourselves. When we transgress, we harm not only others, but ourselves, too, and we impede the precious relationship we have with our Creator. Proper teshuvah can make amends, bringing about healing on many levels; it can even transform transgression into a source of merit. We’d be fools to not take advantage.
But still, the question remains: How do you get from here to there? What does teshuvah consist of? What are the various considerations? Is there a procedure to follow? Sha’arei Teshuvah provides the map to this particular treasure. If you can access the map, pay attention to the path and its pitfalls, you can reach the exalted goal.
To help us all successfully take on this worthwhile journey, we can now gratefully turn to a magnificent new English translation of this classic work, from Feldheim Publishers.
A good translation walks a fine line, and a very good translation walks a very fine line. The expertise of Rabbi Yosef Leibler, together with the editorial skills of Rabbi David Kahn, have produced a remarkable work of clarity and readability, while faithfully adhering to the style and substance of the original text. An outstanding translation must not only use the right words, but the right combination of words, and maintain that level of consistency throughout the project at hand — and that is what you have here.
Sometimes a translation will strive for word-for-word equivalence. The outcome can be entirely accurate, but the reading will be stilted and cumbersome. On the other hand, if you stray from the literal course in an effort to make style your highest priority, you may attain the readability you desire, but you’ve sacrificed the integrity and sanctity of the text. Translation is therefore a grave responsibility, especially with time-honored, sacred texts such as Sha’arei Teshuvah.
Thankfully, this new translation combines the best of both worlds. When you pause to consider the Hebrew original alongside the English, you’ll discover how highly readable the English is as it captures the thought, spirit, and flavor of the original text. In addition, as the translator points out, for even smoother reading, extra words or phrases are occasionally added (in brackets) to bring out what is implicitly stated in the language of the Rabbeinu Yonah.
This new edition also offers other outstanding features: Copious footnotes appear throughout the book that elaborate upon the text, incorporate commentary from a variety of authoritative works, and analyze difficult words and phrases. Also included: a brief, biographical sketch of Rabbeinu Yonah, and a convenient, all-English glossary.
All things considered, this new edition of Sha’arei Teshuvah is an illuminating, groundbreaking work. Its appearance in the month of Elul is an auspicious event. May we merit to study and reflect upon its contents, and then take its directives to heart as we cross the sacred threshold into a New Year.