Two Forms of Teshuva Part Two
Continued from an edited transcript of a shiur: The Rambam is very careful with every word he uses and when he describes a mitzvah or a concept he usually quotes a pasuk as his source. There is one time and only one time that I am aware of in the Rambam when he quotes two verses to prove a point, and that is in the laws of teshuvah when he is speaking about free choice. He quotes two verses.
One verse says, Re’eh nosati lifneichem hayom es haberacha v’es hakellala – Behold I have placed in front of you today blessing and curses. That’s the Rambam’s first proof text of bechira – free choice, but then he quotes a second pasuk. It begins the same way, Re’eh nosati lifneichem hayom – Behold I have placed in front of you today, es hachaim v’es hatov – life and good, v’es hamoves v’es hara – and on the other hand, death and evil. Two different verses but for the same concept of bechira. And I believe that he is teaching us about two types of free choice which go to the definition of teshuvah, because Rambam also describes two processes of change.
In Hilchos Deios when he is speaking about change and working on our middos – our personal characteristics, he speaks about a process of change, of how you have to go, sometimes you have to go to an extreme, you have to examine what you’re doing, you have to go to a soul doctor, being a Rabbi. A Rabbi’s supposed to be a soul doctor, and you go through this process of change that’s a slow process.
But in the laws of teshuvah the Rambam describes another process of change. Yesterday the gates of heaven were closed to you, yesterday G-d was not interested in hearing anything you had to say and was not even interested in you, and today you are close to G-d and G-d cares about you and G-d is listening to all your prayers. It all changed in one second.
So you have two verses, you have two different descriptions of change. One is slow process and the other immediate and the two are related. When we see life as – Behold I have given in front of you today blessing and curses – that’s when we see that something can benefit us or it can hurt us and so we make a choice to go for the beracha, for the blessing, for the constructive and beneficial and we go through a slow process of change.
But then there’s another process of teshuvah, which is that I understand that in the light of the second verse. Life and death, I can no longer continue to exist the way I am existing, because no matter how often I do teshuvah, no matter how much I work on myself I find that I continue to confront the same issues on different levels and deeper levels, but I keep on confronting the same issues all the time. I can no longer exist and grow the way I need to grow. I want an entirely new existence.
That’s the second level of choice – life and good, death and evil.
When the choice we make is beracha and kellalah – blessing or curses, destructive or constructive, then it’s a process of teshuvah. But when I confront the fact I’m not changing, this is frustrating, it’s embarrassing almost that I continue to make the same mistakes on different levels and different ways but the essence is that they share the same identity, the same common denominator, I need an entirely new level of existence. Such a person, when they acknowledge that, they change in one second, and they’re an entirely new person, and that’s the teshuvah or the free choice of life and death. So whereas a second ago the gates of heaven were closed to my prayer, at this moment the gates of heaven are open.
If we’re always focused on small changes and we find that we fall into the same trap, it does become embarrassing and at times it’s almost humiliating because why is it so difficult to change. But that’s a process teshuvah. That’s not the teshuvah of Elul and Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
The teshuvah of this time of year is, I want an entirely new existence. I want to rise above all the patterns that I have in my life so that I no longer continue to confront the same issues over and over. I want to be recreated which is why Rosh Hashanah is also the birthday of the world, the creation of the world. I want to be recreated without these issues. I want to be a new person and I am focused not on what is holding me back, but I am focusing on possibilities. It’s similar to the teshuvah of a wedding which is by the way also Yom Kippur. A bridegroom will not say Tachanun – a supplication after getting married, and Tachanun – confession and supplication is an essential part of teshuvah but not on Yom Kippur.
In fact, even after Yom Kippur we don’t say Tachanun because there’s one teshuvah which comes from confronting my mistakes and my limitations and that’s the process of teshuvah. But then there’s that other teshuvah where the teshuvah is a response to – wow, this is what I am capable of being, this is what I’m capable of achieving, these are the possibilities of life. I have an entirely new opportunity at this moment. It’s a teshuvah, not of regret and undoing the past, it’s a teshuvah of seeing possibilities and hope and joy and excitement and potential and that type of teshuvah is the teshuvah of a wedding.
That’s why we make this big party. You think we’re really fooling these kids into thinking that you know, marriage is one big party. We’re not doing them a favor if we make them think that. But the idea is giving them a sense of – wow, look at the opportunity you have at this moment. Do teshuvah, have your Yom Kippur the way it is every year. Look at what is possible for a human being, look what I can have if I can have an entirely new level of existence. That level of teshuvah does not demand embarrassment and definitely not humiliation.