2018-09-12 / Editorial

Teshuva: The blessing of Yom Kippur

RABBI SHIMON MAX
Rosh Yeshiva & Dean Foxman Torah Institute- Mesivta Bais Dovid

For there is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not. (Ecclesiastes 7:20)

We all have faults and have made mistakes over which we experience pain and remorse. While such rumination sometimes makes us feel unworthy of G-d’s love and compassion, our Creator, in His infinite kindness, gave us a process of teshuva (repentance). While teshuva can be done anytime, Yom Kippur, along with all of the days of repentance, is a special time when Hashem’s kindness is more easily accessible. Repenting allows us to reconnect to our innate purity and holiness as a human being and as a Jew in order to free us from the weight of our sins and misdeeds, so we can become “light” enough to “fly” spiritually. It is in this way that we can be released from the barriers that prevent us from connecting to G-d and to our true selves, and that we can feel safe and protected by G-d once again.

Regret is referred to in Jewish literature as “charata” and is an important component of teshuva. However, to experience regret can create devastating consequences if not done properly, i.e., according to the Torah.

In Exodus, Chapter 13, Verse 17, it says, G-d took the Jews out of Egypt via the long route of the Red Sea and not on the straight path to Israel lest they see the wars and then regret leaving Egypt. This sounds almost ridiculous; why would they regret leaving Egypt? First of all, they had no choice—it was all G-d’s doing, and anyone familiar with the story of the exile knows that what the Jews experienced while in slavery under the Egyptians was truly bitter, to say the least. But it seems that the fright of war that the Jews would have experienced on the way to Israel would create a momentary feeling of remorse for having left Egypt— no matter how foolish it might be. Those feelings of regret could capture the hearts and minds of the Jewish people and cause them to want to return to Egypt—to the very place of backbreaking labor and bondage of 210 years—a place where the persecution even led them to use their own babies as mortar for laying bricks. We see from here that regret can destroy a person’s faith and courage, and even cause someone to have delusional thoughts, just as the Jewish people convinced themselves that they left Egypt on their own and that that they desired to return to their unhappy existence.

Yes, remorse and regret, can lead a person to have delusional thoughts and feel despondent, perhaps even leading to a state of clinical depression. However, if understood through the prism of Torah, while the process may be painful, the regret should simultaneously be a source of growth and happiness, since we know that we are reconnecting to ourselves and to our G-d.

The Aruch Hashulchon, a highly regarded and accepted code of Jewish law, explains in the very first chapter that a basic tenet of Jewish belief is that a Jew must believe that our G-d does not punish in the conventional sense as a type of revenge, but rather to bring full atonement to us and to return our essence (which is our soul) to its pristine beauty and perfection.

Somehow the punishment, whether influencing us to correct our ways or invoking a mystical purification process, will lead us to a spiritual cleansing. It is also possible that what seems like a punishment is not a punishment at all, and the pain we experience is for reasons beyond our understanding. Regardless of the reason for our pain, we must trust and believe that our loving G-d is causing the pain in order to help us in some way, and to make us worthy of receiving blessings in ways unimaginable. It is blasphemous to think otherwise.

When I explain to my students that occasionally our minds can cause us to deny the basic Jewish principle that G-d only acts in our very best interest, I describe any negative thoughts as “our mind’s trash talking to us” and oh how our minds love to cause these irrational thoughts, of course influenced by the evil inclination. As Rabbi Yisrael Salanter, the holy founder of the mussar movement from the 19th Century taught, causing us to give up hope is the strongest ammunition of the evil inclination. You see, when we throw in the towel spiritually, life loses its vitality— we lose our purpose and self-worth, and there is certainly no energy left for making a connection to Hashem.

Understanding all the above, we are now prepared to own our wrongdoings and look to Hashem in His infinite kindness and say, “G-d, we have sinned” and then we can start to take small steps to mend our ways. We can trust that G-d will forgive us because He loves us like a loving Father.

In the merit of our teshuva, may we and the entire Jewish nation be blessed for a sweet new year. s

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