The Gates of Repentance
The First Principle of Teshuva: EXPRESSING REMORSE
Remorse is a very deep and all-encompassing series of realizations and
reactions. It begins with your suddenly catching yourself doing something
untoward. It goes from there to your being stunned by the fact that you'd
actually done what you thought you'd never do. And it ends in a whirlwind of
dissonance and sorrow, often culminating in the cry, "What have I done?"
Many a sensitive soul has suffered the pangs of remorse. But Rabbeinu Yonah
asks us to go a step further, and to consider what our misdeed has done to
our search for spiritual excellence, and most especially, how it has affected
our relationship to G-d.
His first point is that "What have I done?" should mean, "What have I done to
my relationship to G-d?"
He writes that we're to realize just how "bitterly wrong it was to have
abandoned G-d"-- to have caused a rift in our relationship with Him, to
whatever degree. And to know as well that there are "consequences to be paid"
for that. Which is to say that not only would we have caused a rift, we'd
*know* it too. We'd soon sense a certain chill in the relationship, in that
we'd find it harder to address Him, and He'd find it harder looking at us
full-face (so to speak).
But while Rabbeinu Yonah's first concern is that relationship, and
justifiably so; our first concern is usually our own personal standing. So
Rabbeinu Yonah addresses that, too.
In that light "What have I done?" takes on a whole other perspective. It
suddenly metamorphises into, "What have I done to *myself*?"
Everyone knows the price to pay for having eaten that too-large piece of
cake, for example. Not only is there a sense of remorse, but there are
actually chemical, biological consequences to our having eaten it. As we all
know, there are a lot of calories to contend with, all that fat and sugar,
Fewer realize the price to pay for having lied to someone who then discovered
the truth, for example. Our word is tainted, our reputation is besmirched,
our motivations are thrown into a bad light, our actions are watched closely,
our sincerity is questioned, etc.
And fewer yet realize the existential and personal price to pay for lapsing
into spiritual mediocrity. The steam goes out of our spiritual practise, we
become blase about our beings, we settle for rationalization and
In order to re-inspire us toward spiritual excellence Rabbeinu Yonah points
out that we have a lofty, a veritable *Divine* mission in life; a "career
goal" of the highest magnitude, if you will. And that it's cheapened and
compromised when we settled for spiritual mediocrity.
For that goal is "to be conscious of G-d", which is to say, to realize
viscerally and deeply that G-d is present all the time, right before our
eyes, so to speak. We're to "fear" Him, a highly misunderstood term, which
means to say that we're to react in the very core of our beings to the
reality of G-d's presence all around us. And we're to "reign over our
bodies", which is to say, to know our being and its expected reactions well
enough to do everything we could to avoid harming it either physically and
And though Rabbeinu Yonah doesn't say as much, its seems logical to assume
that doing teshuva after our realizations and remorse would then allow us to
say, "Look what I've done!"
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