Seven Levels of Teshuva: Avraham Part Three
The verse is Deuteronomy1 says, “And you shall know that day, and return to your heart, that God is the Lord…” The Ramchal has a different approach to the phrase “vahasheivota el levovecha” which we translated as return, or Teshuva. He says that it means you should search for answers to your questions2. Questions, especially those pertaining to faith can cause pain. They cause doubt and they can trigger discomfort with one’s observance. They make someone uneasy with his choices in life. It is a terrible thing to pray, study and observe Mitzvot while consumed by doubt and questions of faith. Questions can cause spiritual illness. Part of the process of Teshuva is to search for answers to all questions pertaining to faith. The proper answers are healing.
- Make a list of all your questions pertaining to faith and search for answers.
“One who sins has a terrible illness in their soul”3
All of our actions have powerful implications for us, our immediate environment and possibly the world4. We will deal with this in more detail when we discuss the seventh level of Teshuva. However, at this point we must understand that the Mitzvot can empower our soul, and if broken, can weaken our soul. My mistakes limit my spiritual life. They make it more difficult to attach to God. They are a barrier between God and me and between my soul and me.
We are often frustrated by an inability to connect with the Mitzvot we observe. All too often we cannot pray well, Shabbat observance is more a burden than a blessing and there is no clarity in our Torah study. These frustrations may be caused by limitations I have imposed on my soul with destructive actions. I have limited my spiritual life.
If I do Teshuva I will no longer be burdened by my destructive actions. My soul will no longer be limited by my mistakes. This is one of the steps of healing of Teshuva. It is abstract. This level demands an awareness of my spiritual life and the spiritual implications of all my actions. It is also necessary for the healing process to function.
Use the first sentence of Shema to remember the implications of our actions: Hashem Elokeinu, God is our Lord, means that all our actions matter to the One Who is Infinite and Perfect in every way.
Identify which Mitzvot have been more difficult lately and determine if my actions may have created a barrier with those observances. For example, if Shabbat has lost its flavor it is possible that there are weaknesses in my Shabbat observance that are limiting my appreciation of the Mitzvah.
Include a specific prayer for healing the damage of my sins in the eighth blessing of the Amidah, Rifaeinu, Heal us. The Talmud5 teaches that the healing in the healing that comes from forgiveness, which is the previous blessing.
Choose a Mitzvah that you want to intensify your attachment. Develop ways to improve your observance of that Mitzvah and see if you can overcome barriers that have risen.
Reb Tzadok HaCohen of Lublin says that if you see a pattern of sins in your life you have a very good indication of your mission in life6. A person’s primary weakness is an clue of what he was put in this world to fix. He quotes a Midrash7 that says if you find yourself sinning with one part of your body, use that part to do Mitzvot. If you are sinning with your hand, fix it by doing Mitzvot with your hand. If you are sinning with your mouth, repair it by using your mouth for good. Reb Tzadok explains that this is not simply a repair of the sin, this is fixing your soul. If you return an object that you stole you have fixed your sin, but not your soul. The Midrash is teaching how to repai a damaged soul.
The Talmud8 says that Rav Yosef once asked Rav Yosef bar Abba, “Avuch bema zavhr t’fei?” Was there a Mitzvah about which your father was stricter than others?” It is an unusual question. However this question reflects the same idea of a person being aware of his mission in life and knowing which part of his soul he must repair. This is similar to another Talmudic statement, “ain adam omeid al tivrei Torah elah im kein nichshal bahen.” A person cannot fully understand a Mitzvah until he has failed in it. Having failed he knows what he must fix.
This concept too is part of the healing of Teshuva. When a person is ready to do Teshuva he will look at what he is doing wrong and know not only what he must fix in action but he will know how to repair his soul on the deepest levels. He will be fulfilling the mission of his life. He will repair what he was created to do.
Rabbi Yaacov Lowberbaum9 teaches that a person is born with specific evil inclinations with which he will have more difficulty confronting than others. If a person does Teshuva on one of those drives God will heal his nature. It will no longer be as difficult to deal with those drives. His Teshuva will actually heal him from parts of his evil inclination.
Reb Tzadok teaches that when a person experiences pain over his mistakes, he has tasted gehhinom, hell10. Hell is not the picture of a devil with a forked tail and horns. When you undergo real pain over your sins you go through hell and you will be purified of those sins.
Teshuva can heal someone’s soul. It can actually repair parts of his Evil Inclination. It will help him identify his mission in life. The pain of the Teshuva process is healing to the soul.
- Identify your most obvious areas of weakness.
- Choose Mitzvot that correspond to those weaknesses.
- Identify destructive drives that are the most difficult to control.
- It is essential to be aware that Teshuva is actually a tool to repair the roots of your soul. Add this idea to the fifth blessing of the Amidah. When the text asks God to “bring us close to Your service” following the request of “Help us return to Your Torah” it means that if we do Teshuva we will have fixed our souls and have restored our connection to divine service.
- Appreciate that the pain of Teshuva is healing.
2 The Knowing Heart, Paragraph 1
3 Gates of Teshuva, First Gate #8
4 Ramchal, The Way of God, Section 1, chapter 5
5 Megillah 17b
6 Tzidkat Hatzadik 124
7 Vayikra Rabbah 21:5
8 Shabbat 118b
9 Emes L’Yaacov Yoma 86b
10 Tzidkat Hatzadik #57