kosher bookworm

Opening the gates of teshuva as Elul arrives


With the onset of Elul, the prelude to the upcoming High Holiday season, it is my sacred honor to bring to your attention the publication of a new English translation and commentary of Rabbeinu Yonah’s classic commentary, Shaarei Teshuva, by Rabbi Asher Baruch Wegbreit (Adir Press).

Rabbi Wegbreit was born in New York and was raised both there and in Atlanta, Georgia and Memphis, Tennessee. He attended Pomona College for his undergraduate studies and later earned a Ph.D in Organizational Psychology from Claremont Graduate School. He worked as a management consultant in the area of organizational development with prominent companies in both the United States and Europe.

Rabbi Wegbreit received rabbinic ordination from Rabbi Shimon Green and Rabbi Shlomo Zafrani.

In addition to teaching Talmud at Yeshivas Bircas HaTorah in Jerusalem to a broad range of students from beginner to advanced, the rabbi serves as the mashgiach ruchani of the yeshiva. Using classic and beloved texts such as Proverbs and Pirkei Avos, he tries to reveal to his students the tremendous insight of the Torah Sages’ approach to an inspired and growth-oriented life.

His previous literary works are two classic commentaries on the Psalm of Ashrei and the liturgical prayer Aleinu. Both deserve your attention, especially at this season.

Rabbi Wegbreit lives in the Old City of Jerusalem with his wife Ayelet and their children.

In his introduction to this timely work on the deeper meaning of spiritual repentance, Rabbi Wegbreit teaches us the following:

“No one can deny that Shaarei Teshuvah is one of the most important texts in Jewish history. Other than the Rambam’s Hilchos Teshuva, Shaarei Teshuva arguably stands alone as a guide of inspiration for the profoundly important mitzvah of teshuvah.

“However, due to the depth and subtlety contained in any text of the Rishonim, and in particular, the great genius Rabbeinu Yonah, the insightful observations of later commentators are indispensible to understanding this work … I resolved to provide an English commentary that is based on some of the highly regarded commentaries available in Hebrew … These will bring out myriad deep and masterful insights in Rabbeinu Yonah’s work.

“In addition, I felt that there was another compelling reason to attempt a contemporary version of this classic work: I was concerned that the relevance of this text to our lives — and our obligation of yiras Hashem, the mitzvah to fear G-d — can be lost in a mere translation into English. This is due to the perceived fragility of our generation. Many great rabbis have cautioned against placing too much emphasis on the topic of ‘fear of punishment.’ Therefore, a modern-day reader who reads Shaarei Teshuvah may be afraid to focus on what appears to be a great deal of ‘fire and brimstone.’

“Admittedly, it is true that our generation is less likely to be receptive to the heavy standard of rebuke and its focus on fear of punishment that was presented by earlier mussar works. This is because the spiritual strength and stamina of previous generations made them far more capable of such focus. However, in my opinion, believing that we are incapable of gaining at all from such works is a treacherous misconception, promulgated by the yetzer hara in order to keep us away from the life-saving and enhancing ideas contained in this work.”

It was from these concerns and misapprehensions that Rabbi Wegbreit devoted his time to bring to us this major commentary that will serve as a valuable companion to the High Holiday machzor.

The rabbi concludes his introductory teaching with the following invitation: “Let us immerse in the waters of purification and embrace the life-giving qualities of fear of Hashem which was made available to us from the holy sefer, Shaarei Teshuvah.”

I personally endorse Rabbi Wegbreit’s efforts in this cause. His commentary will surely enrich your High Holiday journey toward meaningful repentance.