The Duties of the Heart
Gate Seven: "The Gate of Teshuva"
We now come upon a vexing problem. Is it better to have sinned and to then
heartfelt teshuva, or better to have not sinned at all? The short answer
it depends. So let's explore the particulars.
First off, suppose you'd neglected to fulfill a relatively minor
(e.g., you didn't wear tzitzit that day). While that isn't the worst thing
it doesn't at all compare to actually doing something you shouldn't do,
still and all a significant-enough breach. But you'd only need to engage
heartfelt teshuva and to try to never neglect that imperative again and G-
indeed forgive you. And we're taught that you'd then be on par with
who'd never neglected it.
Now, if you'd done something relatively minor that you *shouldn't* have
(e.g., you turned off a light on Shabbat) and you then engage in full,
heartfelt teshuva; and as Ibn Pakudah puts it, you become someone
who's "always aware
of his sin, constantly asks to be forgiven for it, is embarrassed before
Creator, fears punishment, is broken≠hearted, surrenders and humbles
to G≠d because of the sin and tries to repay his debt to the Creator
becoming arrogant in any way for his deeds, and does that all without
(other, good) actions as more than they are, without taking credit for
and is careful not to stumble the rest of his life" -- then you'd in fact
*greater yet* than someone who never sinned that way.
Why? Because "there's no guarantee that the (otherwise) righteous person
won't become conceited, or that his heart won't be pleased with (the
things) he'd done". And since there's nothing worse, Ibn Pakudah says
than arrogance and hypocrisy, we'd rank the otherwise-righteous person
one who'd sinned but then truly and *humbly* repented.
But if you'd done something *seriously wrong* that you shouldn't have done
(e.g., you profaned G-d's name), then even if you did heartfelt teshuva
through all the stages we'd cited before, you wouldn't be absolved of your
sin right away. You'd have to withstand some sorts of exculpating trials
tribulations at some point to utterly purge your being of that grave
you'd be inferior to anyone who'd never done such a thing, despite your
Text Copyright © 2004 by Rabbi Yaakov Feldman and Torah.org