"The Duties of the Heart"
Gate Seven: "The Gate of Teshuva"
In an age of "absolutely no absolutes!" it's comforting to know that there
are out-and-out right's and wrong's, good and bad deeds. But don't
me, for there are certainly instances in which "wrong" is "right" and vice
versa -- as when we're bidden to cut someone (which is, of course,
"bad") if we're a surgeon; or when we're told not to eat fruits and
(which is ordinarily "good") if we're ill and have to fast. But suffice it
say that people of faith are blessed with ethical parameters within which
live an ethical and spiritually full life.
Now, it's axiomatic to the Torah that we're "wrong" when we either do
something that the Torah warns us *not* to, or when we don't something it
*to* do. In any event, if we were guilty of either, we'd have to repent
And we'd do that by rectifying our misdeeds in the ways we'll detail in
chapters to come.
Ibn Pakudah refers to teshuvah, then, as "the act of reworking your
to G-d" after having sinned, "and of restoring what was missing from it";
is to say, of beginning anew and doing it right this time.
But, what has us sin? There are a number of things, we're told. First is
not knowing what's right and wrong in the first place. And interestingly
enough just as in the secular realm, "ignorance of the law isn't an
excuse" when it
comes to our Torah obligations (much the way not knowing how dangerous it
to eat fatty, high-cholesterol food doesn't "excuse" you from heart
Or we might sin for more arcane reasons. Either because our "yetzer harah"
(the base instinct in every human heart to settle for spiritual
the better of us and we became negligent; because we'd befriended people
encouraged spiritual mediocrity and we wanted nothing better than to
them; or because we were "ignorant of G-d", as Ibn Pakudah terms it. What
comes to is this.
Most of us have a rather childish view of G-d Almighty at best. Now, while
that's a full and broad-ranging subject unto itself, for our goals now
vital to understand that G-d Almighty is purposeful, that He has laid out
spiritual and ethical expectations for us, and He has thus presented us
with a series
of choices in order to test our mettle in that sphere. Should we fail in
aspect or another, we're expected to dust ourselves off, own up to our
and go onward. Since that enables us to achieve what G-d wants us to.
Thus Ibn Pakudah's point seems to be that once we know all that about G-d
His expectations of us, we can more readily accept our mission in this
and strive for true spiritual excellence.
Text Copyright © 2004 by Rabbi Yaakov Feldman and Torah.org