Seven Levels of Teshuvah: Yaakov Part One
Teshuva Goes Against a Negative Commandment
God instructs Jeremiah to go and say the following to the Jews1: If a man were to divorce his wife and she went
a married another, Jewish law prohibits the first husband from ever taking her back as a wife. I divorced you, the Jewish people. You went and “married” other gods. If you repent I am willing to take you back despite your having married someone else. I will ignore the Torah law in this case!
God is willing to go against the system of His Torah and accept the Teshuva of the Jews. The system doesn’t matter.
This level of Teshuva is a symbol of our ability to bypass all the systems of creation, including the angels, and reach directly to God. The Midrash teaches that God will rip the heavens to shreds in order to show the Jews His Throne so that they will pray for forgiveness2. God opens the heavens to make way for the prayers of penitents, even if they are completely undeserving.
Menashe was among the most destructive of all the kings of Israel. He worshipped idols in the Beit Hamikdash. He murdered the righteous, including his grandfather, the prophet Isaiah. When he repented the heavens attempted to block all his prayers. God dug a hole underneath His Throne to make way for Menashe’s prayers to reach Him.3 Menashe’s prayer and repentance do not seem to fit in the system at all. The Talmud teaches that when Menashe was thrown into prison by the Assyrians he first prayed to all his gods for salvation. When they didn’t save him, he turned to God and said “If You save me I will know that you are indeed more powerful than all other gods. If You do not save me I will think that You have no more power than they do!” It was this prayer and repentance that God accepted and dug a hole in the heavens for it to reach Him! This is definitely outside the bounds of any and all systems.
Teshuva can overcome any barriers as if they do not exist. Teshuva has unlimited power. It is not bound by the rules of nature or even the rules of the spiritual worlds. It can cross the universe in order to reach God.4
There is a verse in Ezekiel5 that says, “Under the wings of the angels there was a human hand.” The Talmud asks, “What is the need for this hand?” The Gemara answers that “God keeps an extra hand there so that when the system won’t allow someone to do Teshuva God will sneak it through the wings of the angels a He rips a hole through the heaven and grabs the Teshuva of the person who doesn’t deserve for his Teshuva to be accepted. God brings it up to heaven and it is effective.”6
The Jerusalem Talmud says that they asked Wisdom, “What should happen to someone who sins?” “He should be destroyed by his evil.” They asked Prophecy the same question. “He should die!” They then asked God the question. “Let him do Teshuva and he will be forgiven.”7
There are no boundaries to the power of Teshuva. It goes above and beyond all systems, even the Torah.
There was a Tanna whose name was Elisha ben Avuyah. We refer to him as Acher, “Someone else.” The Talmud says that Acher went up to heaven and saw n angel sitting. “I thought there was no sitting in heaven. Perhaps there is more than one power.” At that moment a heavenly voice proclaimed, “All can do Teshuva except for Elisha ben Avuyah.” He decided that since he could never do Teshuva and would never receive reward, he might as well enjoy this world.8 The Shelah Hakodesh explains that Acher’s mistake was to forget that there are no rules for Teshuva. Even if they proclaim in heaven that you cannot do Teshuva, you still can.9 There are no rules or limitations to the power of Teshuva. This is why Teshuva was created 2,000 years before the world.10 It is not limited by any of the rules of creation. There is absolutely nothing that can stand in the way of one who does Teshuva.11
Teshuva will work even if a person feels totally estranged from the system, “I am not observant. I am not even a believer.”
- It is essential to combine Teshuva with prayer.
- Do not think of Teshuva as being limited by reality. You should not ask, “How can I undo what I have done?” Remember that the power of Teshuva overcomes any and all systems.
- Shabbat observance is a key to boundless possibilities. Shabbat itself is beyond time, a taste of the Infinite World to Come. Figure out ways to take pleasure in Shabbat as according to the Talmud this is the key to its promise.12
- When possible bench as part of a mizuman or minyan over wine. The Talmud says that this too is a key to blessings without boundaries.13
1 Jeremiah, Chapter 3
2 Midrash Zuta, Shir Hashirim, Chapter 5
3 Devarim Rabbah 2:20
4 Pesikta Rabbati, Chapter 44
5 1:86 Pesachim 119a
7 JT Makot 7a
8 Chagigah 15a
9 Shenai Luchot Habrit, Masechet Rosh Hashanah, Strategies for Teshuva #5
10 Bereishit Rabbah 8:2
11 JT Sanhedrin 49a
12 Shabbat 118b
13 Berachot 51a