Written by: Rabbi Avrohom S. Moller
There are two interesting midrashim that discuss the history of teshuva, repentance. One (Tanchuma Nosso 11) says that the concept of teshuva predates the creation. The other (Braishis Rabba 22) relates that Adam encountered his son Cain after he had murdered his own brother, Hevel. Adam inquired what had occurred when he was judged by Hashem. Kayin answered, “I repented, and we worked it out.” When Adam heard this, he felt terrible that he had not utilized the tremendous power of teshuva after his own sin of the Tree of Wisdom. He then went on to compose the psalm of Mizmor Shir L’Yom HaSHabbos which is a psalm that describes the world in a perfect state after the coming of Moshaich which is called the state of “eternal Shabbos.”
These midrashim seem to indicate that teshuva is a concept that exists even in a perfect world where there is no sin and even in a world that hasn’t even been created yet. This is in contrast to the description which we find in this week’s parsha, ”…and when all of these events happen to you, the blessings and the curses, you take it to heart amongst the nations in which you dispersed and you will return to Hashem.” These words refer to the baal teshuva who returns as a response to suffering the consequences of bad choices.
The overall concept of teshuva, and indeed its name implies, is a return to a better relationship with our Maker. It happens when we evaluate how close we are to Hashem and what we are investing in that relationship. Are we focused on appreciating His greatness and kindness? Have we become unfocused and swept away in materialism or other distractions? Do we consider what we can do to be closer to Him and follow through on those thoughts? That is the essence of “returning” to Hashem.
The midrashim saying that teshuva exists in a perfect world are telling us that imperfection and mistakes are part of perfection. Teshuva is a journey in which we reflect on our behavior, and we endeavor to resolve the underlying causes for our failings. It is a ladder that we climb as we internalize our yearning for closeness to G-d, and we never arrive because it is all about the yearning and the journey.
There is a range in the motivation to repent. Some might do teshuva because they fear divine retribution (Teshuva M’Yirah, repentance out of fear), and some do teshuva because they have an enhanced awareness of Hashem and this leads to embarrassment of their misdeeds. The highest form of teshuva is that which is done out of love for Hashem where a person wants to draw closer to Hashem and feels that his shortcomings are in the way. This is called Teshuva M’Ahava, repentance out of love.
Of course, repentance involves the aspects of recognizing our mistakes and taking responsibility for them. However, it does not end there. It continues with our recognition that He awaits our return and that he is capable of a great deal of forgiveness. These are all components of teshuva and our goal is to rise to the highest level.
As we enter the awe inspiring Yamim Noraim, we begin by proclaiming Hashem as our King. A king must have a following and Hashem desires us to be His subjects. Once that is in place, we begin the process of cleansing our sins and failures during the Asres Y’mei Tesuvah. May we succeed to rise to the level of Teshuva M’Ahava, repentance out of love, and be blessed with a happy, healthy and fulfilling year!