Seven Levels of Teshuva: Yosef Part One
Teshuva Can Speed and Even Bring the Redemption
This fourth stage corresponds to the first. We demonstrated that the first level, healing, is future oriented. Therefore this fourth stage must also be focused on the future. Teshuva is so powerful that it can bring the Redemption is obviously speaking of the impact of Teshuva on to what it can lead.
The Jews were redeemed from the Babylonian exile after the destruction of the first Beit Hamikdash when they were led back to Israel by Nechemiah. He was also called Zerubavel ben She’altiel1. He was given this name because nizra b’Bavel, he was conceived in Babylon. His father Yochiniah was the last remaining link to the Davidic dynasty and was exiled together with the Sanhedrin to Bavel where he was imprisoned by Nebuchadnezzar. The Sanhedrin deliberated and said, “In our days the kingdom of the House of David will cease sine Yochoniah is childless. Let us go appease the nurse, who will appease the queen, who in turn will appease the king.” When Nebuchadnezzar was about to have relations with the queen, she said to him, “You are king; is Yochoniah not? You seek to fulfill your needs; does Yochoniah not seek to fulfill his?” Nebuchanezzer decreed that Yochoniah’s wife be sent to her husband in the prison pit. They opened the ceiling and lowered her down. When Yochoniah was about to be with her, she said, “I have become menstrually unclean.” He immediately separated from her despite his desperate needs and drives. She went and counted the required days, purified herself and immersed in the mikvah. The Holy, One Blessed is He, said to Yochoniah, “In Jerusalem you did not keep the laws of family purity, and now you keep them?” At that moment, The Holy One, Blessed is He, forgave him for all his sins.2 Nechemiah, or Zerubavel, was conceived at this time.3
Yochoniah was renamed She’altiel because God, el, annulled, sha’al, His vow not to grant Yochoniah offspring. Zerubavel, the redeemer of Israel, was conceived in the Teshuva of his father. This is Teshuva that leads to redemption.
When Zerubavel led the Jews back to Israel the people were undeserving of redemption. A high proportion was intermarried4. Zerubavel did not fix their mistakes before leading them back to Jerusalem. He led them to a fresh start without fixing their past just as we explained about the first level of Teshuva that brings healing.
It is one thing to say that the Teshuva of an individual can allow him to start fresh without necessarily fixing his past. How can the Teshuva of an individual bring redemption for the entire nation?
The Shem Mishmuel5 explains the power and impact of even a small act of Teshuva. The Talmud6 explains the following phrase that describes God’s forgiveness, “Ma’avir rishon, rishon” “God overlooks the first, the first.” God overlooks the first time that someone commits a sin, saying, “It’s his first time. It was a mistake. He wasn’t aware of what he was doing. I will overlook this sin.” The sin hasn’t been forgiven, it has been disregarded. The second time that he sins is considered the first time since the first sin was overlooked. God is once again willing to allow the sin to go unnoticed. “Just because he has repeated this sin once doesn’t mean that he is attached to this sin. I will allow this one too to be ignored.” However, if the man commits the sin a third time, God will hold him responsible for all three since he is retroactively revealing that he has made this sin a part of him. God disregards the first so that the second time is also considered the first. Therefore the verse says, “…first, first.”
The Gemara then adds an obscure statement, “vechein hi hamidah,” “And that is the system.” The Shem Mishmuel explains that this means that the same system is applied to Teshuva. The first time a person does Teshuva he is not skilled at Teshuva. He is unaware of how it works and of its power. He may simply feel guilty and is not fulfilling all the requirements of Teshuva. The Teshuva is lacking and weak. So it is put aside and overlooked. When he does Teshuva again he is still unskilled at Teshuva and is not connected to it as he should be. The second time is also put aside until later in order to see what will happen. When he does Teshuva a third time, God says, “He is obviously committed to Teshuva. I will now consider all three acts of Teshuva.” The Shem Mishmuel explains that this shows that acts of Teshuva build on each other. Even if the first two were lacking in sincerity and were ineffectual, if a person does Teshuva a third time all the Teshuva build on each other and become more and more powerful. They accumulate, becoming more and more effective.
The Shem Mishmuel continues and posits that all the acts of Teshuva in the world work in the same system. They all build on each other. Thousands of small acts of Teshuva have enormous power. In fact, The Messiah can come for our Teshuva even though he didn’t come for Rashi or the Rambam because our Teshuva is building on theirs. The thousands of small acts of Teshuva since their time have all accumulated. The Talmud says that this is the system. The Shem Mishmuel says that this is the system for an individual and for the entire nation.
This is how one act of Teshuva by an individual can bring the Redemption. God does not view it as one simple act of Teshuva. It is combined with all the Teshuva of that individual and all the Teshuva of the Jew over the generations. My insignificant Teshuva become a powerful force. It becomes powerful enough to bring the redemption.
The individual must understand that his Teshuva does not stand alone. It acquires tremendous power as God combines it with all the Teshuva of the generations.
There are numerous examples of prayers that we recite on Yom Kippur that have a history of being ineffective. Yirmeyahu cried, Aseh l’ma’an shemecha” “Do it (Save us) for the sake of Your name!”7 as the Babylonians were approaching to destroy Jerusalem. His prayer didn’t work. Yet, we recite those words over and over in our daily prayers8 and especially on Yom Kippur. David cried, “Al tashlicheinu milfanecha,” “Please, don’t send us out from in front of You,” when he was confronted over his sin with Batsheva and their baby was dying. The baby died. It certainly seems as if the prayer wasn’t effective, yet we recite it repeatedly over Yom Kippur.
Why do we use prayers that were ineffective? Because the system says that the prayers accumulate power and effectiveness. These prayers may not have worked the first time but they acquire more power as they are recited again and again. I heard someone refer to this as “Second chance prayers.”9 Even if we don’t immediately see the full power of our prayers or Teshuva they build on each other and accumulate force and will eventually have a marked impact. They may eventually bring the Redemption for the entire nation.
- Identify areas of growth over the past year and build on them. Realize that your actions accumulate.
- Think of your Teshuva as building on the Teshuva of previous year. Don’t be critical of yourself if your Teshuva now does not feel powerful. It will acquire power from your Teshuva of previous years.
- Think of this concept whenever the prayers refer to the merit of our ancestors. Remember; our merit develops from theirs.
- When you recite in the Vidui, “Elokai, boshti v’nichlamti” “My Lord, I am ashamed to raise my head in front of You,”10 keep in mind that Ezra said this when he confronted the fact that Zerubavel had returned the Jews to Jerusalem despite the fact that they were still sinners. The redemption came despite their sins. Ezra was ashamed.
1 Sanhedrin 38a
2 Vayikrah Rabbah 19:6
3 Sanhedrin 37b
4 Ezra, chapter 9:1-2
6 Rosh Hashanah 17a
7 Jeremiah 14:7
8 “Hashem, sefatai tiftach ”in the meditation concluding the Amidah.
9 Rabbi Barry Fruendel
10 Ezra 9:6