Some thoughts about Tsheuvah.
Chazal tell us עיין ברכות ה. אמר רבא ואיתימא רב חסדא אם רואה אדם וכוי)) that when yissurim come upon us we should search our deeds to repent upon our sins, for it is likely that our yissurim are a result of sins that we have not corrected. As Chazal say in another place: אין יסורים בלא עון (שבת נ”ה.).
As we are in a period in which it can be fairly stated that almost everyone, if not every single one of us, is laden with many yissurim in our lives, therefore we certainly owe it to ourselves and to the world and to Hashem, Yisborach, to find out the reason for them, in order that we can become healed of them and that Hashem, Yisborach can bring us the Geula that He so desires to bring. For certainly only Hashem can bring the Geula and He can do it in a moment if He so desires; rather He stipulated that the Geula is dependent on our tsheuvah. When we make tsheuvah we will immediately be redeemed. (עיין רמב”ם הלי תשובה פ”ז, ה”ה)
Since the yissurim are the symptoms if our disease, let’s look at them in order to discover the cure. How do we react to them? Do we understand that they are coming as a result of our sins, or do we feel as if we are being mercilessly tortured? If we are praying for their removal—good; but is our prayer also coupled with complaint: What haven’t I been answered yet? Why do I have to continue to suffer?
It seems that there could be cases where tefilla that is merely an expression of the pain of the suffering is what Hashemwants from us, and that it will be answered. Perhaps a person hasn’t recognized Hashem nearly at all, and for him to start to scream out to Hashem: Save me!—this is already a big advancement for him. It is written that we were rescued from our oppressive Exile in Mitzraim: (שמות ב’:כ”ד) וישמע א-קים את נאקתם Hashem heard our cries. It is possible to understand the simple meaning is that He heard the cries of our suffering alone, and this was enough. Crying out to Hashem amidst suffering is a very important Avodah and I don’t want to minimize it, but I want to talk about a different Avodah that seems particularly important in the case of extended difficulties, Avodah which involves reflection, התבוננות, thinking about our relationship with Hashem and returning to Him out of understanding. As the prophet, Y’shayahu says in his opening words concerning the ensuing destruction of the Bais HaMaikdash and the Exile: (ישעיה א’:ג’) ישראל לא ידע עמי לא התבונן. Yisrael does not know, My nation does not consider.
If one reflects upon what was going on with him when he came to make a sin, he might come to find that there was inside of his mind at the time some kind of thought like this: ‘I know, Hashem, that you write in Your Torah that what I want to do right know is forbidden and that You don’t like this kind of thing, but I know also that you understand how I feel right now and how this action that I want to do seems so desirable to me, and since I am Your son and You love me so much and You also understand me so completely and understand that at this moment there is nothing more that I want except to do this action, and also, behold You are so unfathomably great and beyond everything, certainly it is in Your ability to overlook in this instance what You have written in Your Torah and to let me do this action, and certainly it doesn’t hurt You at all, because You are far beyond feeling hurt, for You are G-d and not man, and this would give me so much pleasure…’
Chazal say that a person doesn’t sin except if a spirit of folly enters into him, and the above thought is absolute folly from the beginning to the end. I have not come to point out the foolishness of any of the points (except one) expressed in this thought. If the fallacy of any point is not fully clear to the reader he should spend time considering it until it becomes clear.
The point I wish to discuss is that “G-d is not man that He has feelings.” One can postulate that the error contained in this thought has its source in truth (as in the case of all folly—if there is not some small point of truth no falsehood will be accepted by a rational creature, man) The truth is that of course Hashem is above human feelings, however; although it is beyond our rational mind to grasp, we must understand that Hashem relates to us with the utmost sensitivity truly as ifHe has the most sensitive human feelings. He calls Himself our father, and us His children, and many other names of endearment; He writes in His Torah that He has naches from our good actions, and anger from our sins, that He desires our closeness, etc. etc. Even though it is understood that He is certainly above all these human attributes, nevertheless it is also clear beyond any place of doubt that He desires us to understand that we are to think of His “feelings” about what we do , at least as much as we would think about how another human feels about what we do.
It seems that by bringing up into our hearts and into the forefront of our minds consideration at all times of how Hashem“feels” about what we are doing—this can help us a great deal in our path of tsheuvah and in bring Hashem to be pleased with us. Hashem Yisborach writes for us in the Torah explicitly all the sins so that our minds can grasp clearly the boundaries, but the yetzer harah “comes from below” and steals its way into our hearts and works to cause us to stumble by inflaming our desires. If we have planted already in our hearts a sensitivity to the “feelings of Hashem”, this can serve, with Hashem’s help, to thwart the power of the yetzer.
A few points to consider concerning Hashem’s “feelings” about a sin:
- The sin itself is the opposite of all the good, all the blessing, everything that is precious and sweet, worthy, valuable and desirable in truth to the soul of a human. Sin’s fruit is only destruction, desolation, failure, despair, sadness, pain and all bad that can possibly be imagined and more than can be imagined. Our Father in Heaven warns us to avoid sin for he desires for us only good. When I sin, I cause Hashemmuch pain for
- a)I have missed the point of all His hard work in teaching me the correct path.
- b)I have failed to arouse myself to recognize that all that I enjoy in life is from Him, and that He deserves that I at least try to please Him by regarding seriously what He has taught me.
- c)I have failed to do what I am capable of doing.
- d)I exhibit that I don’t mind if the whole world must suffer (from the destruction that my sin will wreak), that the only thing that matters to me is that I receive what I desire at this moment.
- e)I exhibit that all the efforts I have made in the past to improve myself were not sincere since I am willing to abandon them so easily.
- f)I also exhibit that all my pleading for forgiveness in the past, begging for a chance to improve myself and prove myself before Him was also without full commitment and sincerity.
- g)The list goes on endlessly.
- As a result of my sin, which I haven’t repented, Hashemis, so to speak, forced to give me yissurimin order that my sin be atoned. This cause Him pain, as it says בכל צרתם לו צר (ישעיה ס”ג:ט’), Hashem suffers in all our suffering.
- Every moment that I put off repentance I cause Him further pain.
The question can be asked: Since I learn Torah and try to serve Hashem with I feel is the best of my ability; how can it be that I am insensitive to what Hashem wants of me? Or—what can I do to become sensitive to Hashem’s desire for me that I am not already doing?
The possuk says: (ויקרא י”ט:י”ח) ואהבת לרעך כמוך. You shall love your fellow as yourself. There are those that explain: “your fellow”; this refers to Hashem, Yisborach. (עיין גמרא שבת ל”א. פרש”י ד”ה דעלך סני לחברך לא תעביד) We can understand how Hashem feels about our deeds from recognizing how we ourselves feel when treated by others in certain ways. If we expend much energy to teach our child something that we know is important for him and we see he has taken our words lightly, how do we feel? If we “hear” the child saying to himself:
- “Abadidn’t really mean exactly what he said.”
- “Abadidn’t intend that I shouldn’t do this even one time.”
- “Abadidn’t really want me to have to try so hard just to do what he said.”
- “Okay, that is what Abasaid, but other people say differently.”
How do we feel?
If my child is asking me for something he needs from me but:
- he is not making an effort that I hear him clearly, or
- it is obvious that his mind is occupied with another matter, or
- while he is asking me I see him fidgeting to run outside to play with his friend, and it seems that he “ just wants to be done already with this burden having to ask Abaall the time every time he wants something.”
How do we feel?
By thinking in these ways we can start to become aware of how our actions are received above.
We can also see how Hashem is receiving us by the way others receive us. As the Mishnah (Avos 3:13) says [Rabbi Haninah ben Dosa] used to say: If the spirit of one’s fellows is pleased with him, the spirit of Hashem is pleased with him; but if the spirit of one’s fellows is not pleased with him, the spirit of Hashem is not pleased with him.
If we are not so interested in how others experience our behavior then it is not surprising that we have yissurim. And if we are interested, yet still it is hard for us to be completely interested, still, it is not surprising that we have yissurim. If we are completely interested in fixing our behavior so that others should have pleasure in us, then we can expect Hashem’s yeshuos!
והאמר ריש לקיש גדולה תשובה שזדונות נעשות לו כזכויות
(תלמוד בבלי מסכת יומא פ”ו:)
Reish Lachish said great is repentance for it transforms willful sins into merits.
(Talmud Bavli, Tractate Yuma 86b)
Oil on canvas
ציור שמן על קנבס
40 x 60 cm.