Two Forms of Teshuva; Part One
From an unedited transcript of a shiur: There’s a beautiful Midrash that’s quoted in a Sefer called Shibolei Haleket and the Midrash explains how each one of the 19 berachos of Shemoneh Esrei are related to a specific story in Tanach. And that’s a really beautiful bottle of water you put in front of the camera. No, that’s okay, I was thirsty. And by the way, this is the basis for Rabbi Kirzner zatzal’s and Lisa Aiken’s book on Tefillah which is fantastic.
I want to focus on two of those blessings today. The Midrash says that the beracha of teshuvah, Baruch Ata Hashem Harotzei Bi’shuva, was first recited by the Malachim after the teshuvah of Reuven, which we will discuss. And that the beracha, Baruch Ata Hashem Chanun – The Gracious One, Hamarbeh lisloach – Who is abundant in forgiveness, was recited at the point when Yehuda did his teshuvah. So obviously if the Malachim responded in two different ways to the teshuvah of Reuven and the teshuvah of Yehuda, it’s worthwhile to examine both acts of teshuvah and understand why the response to Reuven’s was Harotzeh Bi’shuva – Who desires teshuvah. This is the Malachim’s way of saying that when G-d, so to speak, witnessed the teshuvah of Reuven, He said, ah, this is the kind of teshuvah I desire. And if you think about it, this is the only beracha when we speak of G-d desiring something. There are other berachos in which we requests that G-d desire but a beracha that describes Hashem as One who desires, is when Hashem responded to the teshuvah of Reuven, He said, this is the kind of teshuvah I want. Whereas His response to the teshuvah of Yehuda was one of Chanun – it was gracious, Hamarbeh lisloach – it was abundant in His forgiveness, but that’s a different response than saying, ah this is what I want, this is one that says wow, you did this, I’m going to forgive you.
So I would like to examine both acts of teshuvah which obviously would have to include the mistakes that necessitated the teshuvah and to see if we can understand why there was a difference in response to the teshuvah of Reuven and the teshuvah of Yehudah. So let’s go to the story.
The sin of Reuven that led him to do teshuvah occurred after the death of Rachel. And Reuven said, well as long as Rachel was alive, I could begrudgingly agree that Rachel was akeres habayis – she was the mainstay of the house, she was the one. And so my mother was second. It was something that always bothered him, he always resented Rachel, which we know; but alright he accepted Ya’akov’s decision that Rachel would be akeres habayis, but he fully expected that once Rachel, died that Leah being the other wife, not a concubine she would then become the akeres habayis on day 1, and that would be symbolized by Ya’akov moving his bed into Leah’s tent, from where it had been in Rachel’s tent. Ya’akov’s bed’s primary location would be in the tent of Leah, but that is not what Ya’akov did. Instead of Reuven’s father moving his bed into the tent of Leah saying, now that Rachel is no longer alive, Leah is akeres habayis, the mainstay of the house. Ya’akov in order to maintain a connection with Rachel, his beloved, moved his bed into the tent of Bilah, the concubine, the one who was given as a gift by Lavan after he married Rachel, to maintain this connection with Rachel, and Reuven was furious. It’s one thing to choose Rachel over Leah, but to choose Bilah over Leah, to choose a concubine over Leah, that he would not accept.
So the way the pasuk describes what happens is that Reuven slept with Bilah, but Chazal say no, no, he did not do it, it’s not exactly what he did, and the Ha’amak Davar, which is the commentary written by the Netziv of Volozhin, the last Rosh Yeshiva of the Volozhin Yeshiva, explains that Reuven took his own bed and placed it directly in front of the entrance to the tent of Bilah, and he lay down and he went to sleep. Which made it impossible for Ya’akov or more accurately to say, made it very difficult and uncomfortable for Ya’akov to enter Bilha’s tent because the only way he could enter the tent was to climb over his son or to wake his son up and now obviously it’s not appropriate or certainly not comfortable to wake up your son and say well, I need to sleep with Bilha tonight, please move your bed. So by Reuven placing his bed right in front of the tent of Bilha, he confused so to speak, he switched the beds of his father and he basically forced his father to go into Leah’s tent that night. And Ya’akov, when reflecting back on this story at the end of Ya’akov’s life. He describes Reuven as pachas kamayim – as impetuous. Reuven didn’t consider whether it was appropriate. Reuven didn’t come to speak to me, he acted impulsively. He just went, he put his bed there, this was something he was not going to allow to happen, pachas kamayim, he was just like water, like the movement of rushing water he went, he just did it without thinking and that was his sin. And then he sinned, Ya’akov was devastated that he had a son that did such a terrible thing and obviously what really bothers Ya’akov, we know from the way he describes the sin, it was the impulsiveness of the act that bothered Ya’akov, more than the act itself. Ya’akov is devastated and so Hashem comes and He tells Ya’akov I promise you that Reuven will do teshuvah, and teshuvah he does. And we find this in the portion of Vayeshev, the next parsha after the sin of Reuven, when Yosef meets the brothers which leads to throwing Yosef into the pit and the eventual sale of Yosef.
Reuven is the one who talks the brothers into not killing Yosef and he is the one who convinces them to throw Yosef in the pit and the Torah testifies, that his reason for throwing Yosef into the pit was so that he could return later when the other brothers were no longer around and he could take Yosef and return him to his father. That was Reuven’s intention. Why does he want to save Yosef? Because Yosef is the son who represents Rachel, and the fact that Yosef is the favorite son is also a reflection of the fact that Rachel was the favorite wife. So this is the son of the wife, and he understands that in order to repair his attitude toward Ya’akov, his resentment to Ya’akov for placing Leah second, that he must do something to express his respect and his commitment to Ya’akov’s choice of Rachel, and he wants to do that by saving Yosef, the one who represents that special relationship that Ya’akov had with Rachel.
But then the story goes on and the brothers decide to sell Yosef. Reuven is not there when the brothers sell Yosef and we know that because it says that Reuven comes back and Yosef’s not in the pit, and he says to the brothers, where is he? Where’s Yosef? Where’s Yosef? And the brothers tell Reuven, oh we sold him. And he’s devastated. So the Targum Yonasan said, where was Reuven? Where was he when the other brothers sold Yosef? And the Targum answers that when Reuven understood that by saving Yosef he was expressing or acknowledging Ya’akov’s choice of Rachel and therefore Yosef, that this was his opportunity to do teshuvah for his sin against Ya’akov, for forcing Ya’akov to move his bed into the tent of Leah, and this was his opportunity to fix that so therefore he went out into the fields, away from Yosef in the pit, away from the other brothers. He dressed himself in sackcloth and ashes and began to daven and cry that this act of saving Yosef so that he could return Yosef to Ya’akov would be accepted as a full teshuvah. So there we have Reuven. Reuven is going out of his way to save Yosef. Good. He’s going out of his way to save Yosef to fix his sin of rejecting his father’s decision of Rachel being the akeres habayis, he’s fixing that by saving Yosef. He’s going out and doing teshuvah to enhance his intention of saving Yosef and because he goes to cry, because he goes to sit in sackcloth and ashes to complete his teshuvah in this act so that it’s a, he’s fully aware and conscious of what he’s doing when he saves Yosef. It is his very act of teshuvah which prevents him from actually saving Yosef, because while he is away davening, completing his teshuvah, the brothers sell Yosef, making it impossible for Reuven to actually free him. So his act of teshuvah itself is what prevents him from completing his teshuvah as he should. And how often does that happen? That somebody wants to do teshuvah and the teshuvah process itself interferes with itself by making life more complicated. For example, someone wants to do teshuvah and in that act of teshuvah, they have to reevaluate the relationships they have and in that process of re-evaluation they realize that there are some relationships that are destructive, some relationships that are not going to be conducive to this act of teshuvah and they have to withdraw. And the very act of withdrawing from those relationships complicates the teshuvha because those others do not understand why are you withdrawing from our relationship? Why are you rejecting us? Why are you saying you will no longer eat in our home? Why are you saying you will no longer speak to me, because of lashon hora? Are you judging me? Are you doing this? Are you doing that? And it makes life more complicated, it often brings about a great deal of personal emotional pain and the act of teshuvah itself can make life more complicated just as it did for Reuven.
So let’s picture this. The sin is an impetuous sin. What, you’re moving your bed into a concubine’s tent? You’re again rejecting my mother Leah, instead of finally acknowledging who she is, she is the one who provided you with six of the twelve tribes, she should be the akeres habayis. He just goes without thinking impulsively, pachas kamayim, quite impetuous as water, he goes, he moves his tent in front of Bilha’s tent and he says as if to say to Ya’akov – you’re going to my mother’s tent, you are not going to reject her anymore. So he is impetuous and impulsive, but if there is one thing about his act of teshuvah, it is not an impetuous teshuvah, because he calculates that this sin was against Rachel and what she represented about the choices of Ya’akov and therefore he goes out of his way to save Yosef, the son of Rachel. So while the sin itself was impetuous, the teshuvah is considered a stop-through, is deliberate and every detail is intentionally addressed. He was forced into a circumstance where the act of teshuvah, the saving of Yosef was not what was important. He’s out doing teshuvah, he’s out crying, sackcloth and ashes asking Hashem to forgive him for what he had done but he’s unable to save Yosef, because that’s not the important part of his teshuvah. In his teshuvah, he acknowledged that what led to the sin is impetuousness, his impulsiveness. He understood that what was leading him into mistakes was his not thinking and being deliberate and considering his actions before taking those actions. Therefore the teshuvah is diametrically opposed to the action, whereas the sin is impetuous, the teshuvah is deliberate, whereas the sin is impulsive, the teshuvah is well considered and deliberate, everything is thought through. And therefore if the act of teshuvah is no longer important, the actual saving of Yosef, but the change in his internal process is what really is the most important part of the teshuvah. He acknowledged what led to the mistake, his impetuousness as Ya’akov describes, pachas kamayim, impetuous as water; and his teshuvah is the opposite, it’s thoughtful, it’s deliberate, it’s well considered and it is well planned. That teshuvah, that part of the teshuvah, going against his impulsive nature and learning to do something in the well thought out way, that is the essence of his teshuvah and the act of saving Yosef is nowhere near as important as his ability to acknowledge what led him to make the mistake and to fix that, to go against his very nature, or the part of his nature that was leading him into error and to repair that. Of that kind of teshuvah, when the Malachim – the angels of G-d see a human being who understands that it’s not the action itself that matters but to think what led me into the mistake, and to reverse the whole psychology that went into the error so that I will no longer make that mistake or similar mistakes, understanding what was lacking in him as a person and going to the core of himself rather than just this specific action, that teshuvah is so magnificent and so powerful that the angels say, Harotzei Bis’shuva, this is the kind of teshuvah G-d wants, look how beautiful it is. He’s not repairing an action, he’s repairing himself in order to have a better relationship with G-d – Harotzei Bis’shuva. This is the kind of teshuvah his Creator desired, wants. And who would not want to know something that Hashem wants, and saying here, I’ll do what You want – Harotzei Bis’shuva. A teshuvah that is not focused on a specific action but rather is focused on what led me into making the mistake originally, that is the kind of teshuvah G-d wants and that is what He wants us to look at during the month of Elul, not the specific actions. Of course they have to be repaired but if I am not able to determine what led me into making those mistakes, I will be unable to do the kind of teshuvah that makes G-d say Harotzei Bis’shuva – I am One who desires that kind of teshuvah. And this is important to keep in mind on Yom Kippur when we say Oshamnu, Bogadnu, Gozalnu, the viduy, because whereas the al chet’s that we say at the end for the sin of this, for the sin of that are specific sins; Oshamnu, Bogadnu, Gozalnu are not focused on specific sins but rather they’re focused on things we do, on behavioral patterns we have, on emotional responses we have that lead us into making mistakes and therefore as we’re saying the Oshamnu, we’re focused on what is the internal process that misleads us and causes us to stray from fulfilling G-d’s will, and that’s what Harotzei Bis’shuva – the G-d Who desires teshuvah is focused on the Oshamnu, Bogadnu. It’s at that moment when we’re looking deep inside of ourselves and examining what is leading us to make those mistakes, how can we fix ourselves in the core level and that’s when G-d says that’s the kind of teshuvah I desire.