Repentence from Love and Awe- excerpt from Water from the Well
Repentence from Love and Awe
excerpt from Water from the Well
Teshuva from Love, Teshuva from Awe
The Teshuva season begins on Rosh Chodesh Elul and continues through the last day of Sukkos. The link between the month of Elul, Yom Kippor and Sukkos is reflected in our history and in halacha.
Rosh Chodesh Elul was the day Moshe Rabbeinu ascended the mount of Sinai for a second time. It was a fresh start for the Jewish people, after having sinned with the Golden Calf. Moshe ascended in purity and prayer to bring down the second set of luchos, tablets and affirm the eternal relationship between God and His people.
For forty days and nights, Moshe received the Torah anew. The people waited anxiously at the foot of the mountain, eager to receive the Torah. They knew that this was a second chance, different than the last chance, but nevertheless, an opportunity to connect with God and to be His chosen people. Having sinned, they waited in trepidation and awe for a sign of total forgiveness
Moshe returned on Yom Kippor with the Ten Commandments. Not only does this gift represent our relationship with God, but the forgiveness He afforded us after our sin. Kapara means atonement, the erasing of the negative effect of our sin in this world. Yom Kippor is a day of reparation.
A new mitzvah was given as a sign of complete reconciliation – the mitzvah to build a Mishkan, a sanctuary for the Divine Presence. It is as if God had not only forgiven His people, but had agreed to dwell among them. Not only did He forgive the negative, but joyously affirmed the positive. The building of this Mishkan began on the first day of Sukkos.
The mitzvah to dwell in sukkos for seven days reminds us of the Divine Presence that was with us in the desert and remains with us today. It is a symbol of God’s protection and Divine guidance.
This historical connection is reflected in halacha, as well. Starting on Rosh Chodesh Elul through the last day of Sukkos, we recite L’Dovid Ori, a psalm that expresses our desire to dwell in the house of God.
The history teaches us something about Teshuva. It starts with reflection, repentance and prayer. We examine our actions and ask God for a second chance. If we are sincere, He acquiesces not only to forgiveness for our sin but to dwelling in our midst and, being a presence in our lives.
The process of moving from Rosh Chodesh Elul to Sukkos teaches us not only to do Teshuva, but how to do Teshuva.
Resh Lakish said: Great is repentance, for because of it premeditated sins are accounted as errors, as it says, “Return, Israel, unto the Lord your God, for you have stumbled in your iniquity (avonos)” (Hoshea 14:2). “Iniquity” [connotes] premeditation, and yet he [the prophet] calls it “stumbling.” Resh Lakish said that repentance is so great that premeditated sins are accounted as though they were merits, as it says, “When the wicked turns from his wickedness, and does that which is lawful and right, he shall live thereby” (Yechezkel 33:19). That is no contradiction: one refers to a case [of repentance] from love, the other to [repentance] from awe. (Yoma 86b)
The Talmud tells us two contradictory things and then tries to resolve them. The first thing we are told is that repentance changes the status of a sin. A person who sins in an intentional manner, conscious of what he does and even rebellious against God, can repent. In so doing, he downgrades the sin to the level of an accidental sin, one that was not pre-meditated, but the result of error (or “stumbling”). In this case, he will, of course, be judged and punished
much less severely than he would have been.
The second thing the Talmud teaches is that when a person repents, his intentional sins actually become merits! No longer is there any minus in the account, but rather a plus. The sinner lives by his former iniquity. The Talmud resolves the seeming contradiction by that there are two different kinds of repentance. The first kind is repentance done out of fear of
God. The second kind emanates from love of God. Repentance from fear enables a person to downgrade his sins, but repentance from love overturns the sin completely, transforming them to actual merits.
Why the difference?
Awe of God expresses itself in introspection and self-control. It is as if a person is sayinig to himself: “I do not want to do anything to hurt my Master, so I will refrain from any action that might offend Him.” In this relationship, God is King, and we are His servants. By definition, there is distance in the relationship.
The Ramban teaches that the source of all negative precepts is awe of God. All the mitzvos that tell us what not to do are rooted in our desire to refrain from displeasing God.
Rav Goldvicht explains how this awe manifests itself in the baal teshuvah, the one who repents of his sin. The repentant says to himself, “I failed. I do not want to repeat this failure, and so I must hold back, stay away from my own lusts that caused me to offend my Creator.” Sin activates within him dormant forces and powers that come alive at the moment of the sin. Therefore, the goal of the baal teshuvah is to control these forces by withdrawing from the
physical world that brought him to sin.
Love of God functions differently. Love is the desire to bestow goodness on the other. In this relationship, we are the children and God is the parent. We say to our God, “What can we do for You? What can we give You?”
The Ramban teaches that all positive mitzvos are expressions of our love of God. These mitzvos tell us what we can give our Creator, how to bestow upon Him that which will please Him.
How does this love manifest itself in the baal teshuvah? Again Rav Goldvicht explains that the repentant says to himself, “I failed. In that failure is a dormant power, a koach, that can bring pleasure to the very One before Whom I have sinned. I will discard the sin, but keep that power and use it to serve Him.”
Every sin has a koach (power), an energy that motivates it. That energy is a neutral force that can be used positively or negatively. Using it negatively is called sin. Using it positively is called mitzvah.
When we sin, we discover a latent energy that perhaps we were unaware of, and that discovery reveals potential for good. When acting on that potential, we are repenting from love.
For instance, a person who speaks lashon hara, negative speech, sins gravely before God. A baal teshuvah who repents from awe will realize how destructive his words are and will stop speaking them. He may even withdraw from people altogether, knowing that being in their company leads him astray. This is repentance from awe.
On the other hand, the repentant might ask himself: What is the energy behind my sin? Why do I speak these inappropriate words? He may come to realize that it is his love of people and desire for closeness to them that brings him to speak, even words he shouldn’t. Silence does not bring intimacy nor does it express love, so in an effort to bond with his friend, he spoke improperly.
Having discovered the energy of his sin, he might now be able to use it differently. Perhaps he will learn with his friend, or teach, or work with others on a community project. The sin becomes the vehicle for holiness, since it allows him to harness an energy, previously abused, and use it for good.
Now we can understand the different approaches in our Gemara. When a person repents from awe, he downgrades his intentional sin to one that is “stumbling,” error. However, when he repents from love, he discovers and uses the energy of the sin in a positive way. Hence his sin has actually brought merit to him.
Of course, no one would want to sin just to make that discovery. However, sometimes there are things about ourselves we only discover through our mistakes.
Rav Goldvicht compares this to a car accident. No one intentionally has an accident, but if insurance money arrives, sometimes even an accident has happy consequences!
It is a two-step process. First, a person must repent from awe. He must stop the sin. Only then can he repent from love and use the energy of the sin in a holy way.
Depart from evil, and do good. (Tehillim 34:15)
Depart from evil — this is repentance from awe. Do good — this is repentance
from love. Turn the evil into a vessel for good.
Every koach or quality in a person is, by definition, neutral. There are no bad or good qualities. Rather, how a person uses a quality determines its value. A good metaphor for this principle is water. Water is a tremendous source of energy. We cannot live without water—it is a basis of life. Water is a power source, and provides great pleasure to bathers and swimmers. Yet water can be extremely destructive. It can cause floods, drown people, and bring colossal destruction.
When David dug the Pits, the Deep rose up and threatened to submerge the world, whereupon David inscribed the [Ineffable] Name upon a [pottery] shard, and cast it into the Deep, and it subsided sixteen thousand cubits. When he saw that it had subsided to such a great extent, he said, “The nearer it is to the earth, the better the earth can be kept watered.” He uttered the fifteen Songs of Ascent and the Deep reascended fifteen thousand cubits and remained one thousand cubits [beneath the surface]. (Sukkah 53b)
Tunneling into the earth to secure the foundation of the Temple, David dug too deeply. Suddenly, water surged upward, threatening to flood the world. David used a pottery shard to tame the waters and make them recede, but the water retreated too far. The world would not survive with so dangerously little water. At that point, David had to do something to return the water to a healthy, sustainable level that would allow the world to endure. Too much water can flood the world. Too little can deprive it of all life. Either state is fatal; only a delicate balance of forces, not too much or too little, will sustain life.
Human appetites, like water, must be kept in balance. They are given to us to sustain us and to help us grow, but too much appetite can lead us astray. Without desire, the world would not progress. Technology would not be developed. Cities would not be built. Progress in society would not be made. On an individual level, we would not marry, work, discover, or learn new things. Yet there is appropriate use of desires, and inappropriate use. One must use
water and appetite for good, for holiness, and not for the opposite.
Yom Kippur and Sukkos
Both aspects of teshuvah, from awe and from love, are required of us in the months of Elul and Tishrei. From Rosh Chodesh Elul through Yom Kippor, we reflect on our actions, admit our sins, and move forward to separate from them. This process culminates on Yom Kippur, when we withdraw from the physical world and refrain from its pleasures, for it was the physical world that tempted us to act in inappropriate ways. Although Judaism is not an ascetic religion, on Yom Kippur, we remove ourselves from the lusts that saturate our lives. We stand before God as angels, as beings who are not tempted by physicality. It is a day to “depart from evil,” to do teshuva from awe.
Yet immediately after Yom Kippur, we go outside to begin building a sukkah. By doing this we assert that we will take the energy of sin and use it for the good. It is the aspect of “do good,” of teshuvah from love, which drives us to take what we learned about ourselves and elevate it for the service of God.
The sechach (organic material that forms the roof of the sukkah) symbolizes this idea. Instead of tossing our tree trimmings away as waste, we use them to complete our holy sukkahs. What seems unusable to others is employed in the service of God, just like the energy of sin when directed to perform a mitzvah. No lust or desire is negative in and of itself. Rather we must learn to take what appears to be useless and work with it to build our lives.
In ancient times, we performed a beautiful ceremony in the Beis HaMikdash called the nisuch hamayim. In this ceremony, water was drawn from the spring of Shiloach and transported to the Sanctuary, where it was poured on the altar. This water libation was a very joyful ritual, and it is said that whoever did not see the Simchas Beis HaSho’eivah, the celebration of the drawing of the waters, never saw true joy in his life.
What was the source of this joy? Rav Goldvicht explained that the happiness of the nisuch hamayim was coupled with the custom of tashlich, which we still do today. On Rosh HaShanah, we go to a body of flowing water, reach into our pockets, pull out crumbs of bread or dust or lint, and throw them into the water. The dust or crumbs we find represent our sins that we want to dispose of, so beginning the year in purity.
In ancient times, the nearest body of water to the Beis HaMikdash was the spring of Shiloach. Jews would descend to the spring from the city of Jerusalem and “discard” their sins there.
Later, however, at the celebration of the Simchas Beis HaSho’eivah, the Jews would descend to the same spring, collect the water, and pour it on the altar. As mentioned earlier, water symbolizes energy, energy that can be used for good or its opposite. On Rosh HaShanah, we discard our sins, but at the Simchas Beis HaSho’eivah, we retrieve the energy of those sins and use it as a “sacrifice” to God.
This is teshuvah from love.
Teshuva from Love, Teshuva from Awe
We all have the opportunity to repent and to reconnect with our Creator. The very force that led us astray can become the foundation of an even greater avodas Hashem, service of God. As we move from Elul through Sukkos, we must examine not only the sin, but the energy of the sin. When we locate the energy, and utilize it for good, we will be able to build a Mishkan, a dwelling place for God, in our hearts.