Amidah: 5th Blessing: Teshuva: Dealing With The Past
Yehuda had a daughter-in-law named Tamar. Tamar married his first son. Of course, his son must be a Tzaddik, which he wasn’t. He was a bad guy. And, after his son spilled his seed, his son died. Yehuda didn’t realize that his son died because he was sinning. What’s the mitzvah? If a brother dies without children, his widow marries the next brother. In those days, it wasn’t only the brother it was any close relative. Yehuda tells Tamar that it is a mitzvah to marry his next son, Onah. She marries Onan, but Onan does the same thing, he spills his seed on the ground because he doesn’t want to have children with her. For whatever reason. Onan dies, too. Yehuda doesn’t know why this is. But he knows one thing. He had a gorgeous son named Eir, who married Tamar, and died. He had another gorgeous son named Onah, who also married Tamar, and he died. Do you begin to see a pattern here? “Do you think I’m going to let her marry my third son? She’s going to kill him, too!” He called in Tamar, and said to her, “You want to marry my third son?” “Of course,” she said, “that’s the mitzvah.” “I know,” says Judah, “but he’s young. Why don’t you go home to your father’s house, and I’ll call you when he’s old enough.”
She looks at Judah, the great leader. She wouldn’t mistrust him. She goes home. Years go by, but she doesn’t hear from him. She realizes that something is not right. Later, she learns that Judah’s wife died. If Judah’s wife died, then Judah is a little lonely, too. She decides to dress up like a prostitute, when she heard that Judah was passing through her area. She signals him. She looked attractive, and he went in. She says, “Wait a minute. Pay me some animals!” “I don’t carry animals around with me!” says Judah. “Then give me your signet ring and staff as security that you will send animals to me as payment.” He gives her his ring and staff, and they have relations.
She conceives. Judah did not realize that yet. He sends his best friend with payment for her to retrieve his ring and staff. The man walks all over the area saying, “Did you see that prostitute around? I have to pay her.” “No, we didn’t see any prostitutes around these parts!” You can imagine what it’s doing for this man’s reputation! He comes back to Judah and says to him that he really looked but there aren’t really any prostitutes there. Judah figures, “OK, a crazy woman. So I lost a ring and my staff. Big deal!”
Three months later he finds out Tamar’s pregnant. Judah thinks to himself, “This is great. She didn’t sleep with my son. I don’t remember sleeping with her. That means that she slept with someone else. She’s not allowed to. She’s a bad girl! And the punishment for that is death. Now we’ll finally be able to rid the family of her!” He has a trial and asks Tamar, “Are you pregnant?” “Yes.” “And isn’t it true that you weren’t allowed to have relations with anyone else?” “Yes, that’s true.” “You have humiliated the Jacob family! You cannot stay here. We must burn you to death. With your twins.”
“OK,” says Tamar. “Let me just empty my pockets. What have we here? A signet ring?” Judah looks at the ring and he has one second to thin. Can you imagine? If he stops her from going into the fire, then he has to explain who got her pregnant. Immediately, Judah reacts. “She is the righteous one. I am crooked.” But that wasn’t a change of his personality. That was an expression of that which was already inside of him. He didn’t have time to deliberate and change his personality. That was his natural response to the situation.
The Angels say, “It’s wonderful. God will forgive you. But the kind of Teshuva that God wants is when you are truly willing to redefine yourself. That can only come after the blessing of ata Chonein l’adom Da’at that we have awareness, a perception, an understanding, of what we are doing. That’s the only way to have a true Teshuva.
That’s those two blessings. But there is a progression of one blessing to the next. I don’t know if you’ve ever experienced this, but I have: when you do Teshuva for something, and you have mixed feelings whether you should have done something or not. Imagine a person who had a college guide in his college days, and got around. He becomes more observant, and he doesn’t get around as much anymore. He is happy married, and he wants to do Teshuva. But he is bothered about his past. The reason he is bothered is that he doesn’t really regret what he did. He enjoyed it. It’s a part of him. It’s not something he can erase. It’s literally a part of his personality. If fact, it enhances his religiosity because it was the ability to reject that way of life and to choose a new way of life. So he can’t really cut himself off from the past.
There was a man who came to me in one of the synagogues that I previously served who literally described this situation. He took his wife to an OB/GYN when he found out his wife was pregnant, and there sitting in the office, were three women who had had abortions of babies that were his. The day after telling me he said, “I can’t just walk away from my past like that.”
Can you relate to that? When you want to do Teshuva for things done in the past, but you can’t cut yourself off from the pleasure of the past. But even if you can cut yourself off from the pleasure of the past, if you grew from the experience, then you can’t just cut off from it because there was some good to it. But if I say that there was something good in it, does that mean that my Teshuva was incomplete? .
Therefore, after the blessing of Teshuva comes the blessing of ha’marbeh lisloach – “the One Who pardons.” That is, ‘the One Who removes the barriers.’ There is forgiveness even where the Teshuva is not yet complete. There is atonement. The evil that you did can be erased and even turned into a positive, which happens to be what the Gemara says. The blessing of s’lach lanu comes to teach us that someone who wants to do Teshuva feels barriers. (“How can I do Teshuva if I know that I will probably do it again?” “I would like to improve, but I’m doing it really slowly. Not everything is consistent.”) In this blessing, we ask God to remove the barriers that have been erected because of the sins that we have done.
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