The Gates of Repentance
The Fifth Principle of Teshuva: WORRYING
This week we delve further into the psychology of the righteous. The
righteous are a "misunderstood minority" on many, many levels. For one thing,
they're taken to be mythical entities from the distant past, when they're not
(thank G-d). And for another, they're taken to live ever blissful and serene
lives, when they don't. What separates them from us, for the most part, is
that they worry and fret over things that truly matter, and then act
accordingly; while we worry and fret over *frivolous things*,... and then act
Picture a room full of sculptures at work, if you will. Imagine the rush and
tingle of creativity in the air, the cries of "Yes!" as each comes upon the
very form that best expresses an experience he or she wants to set in clay,
and the like. Imagine also, though, their gnarled brows, the odd and neurotic
way their toes tap, and the "harumphs" they make as they punch down their
clay in failure. Imagine, too, the rank and tangible air of *worry* in the
room when they determine that they simply can't sculpt.
They worry if they'll ever create again, if they'd ever actually created
anything of value in the past, if they'll ever want to create again, if
they'll ever be asked to create, and on and on. They worry *a lot*. Why?
Because sculpting matters to them, because it can be a noble act of
self-expression and self-fulfillment, and because the very thought that they
might never engage in it again *threatens* them.
Now, you and I wouldn't worry about that simply because we're not sculptors.
And, frankly, we'd think they were overreacting, since they're very likely to
create again. But all *they* can do is worry.
In a way, that's the lot of the righteous. They too worry about their
creative acts-- of righteousness and holiness. Will they ever be righteous
again? Were they ever truly, selflessly righteous in the past? Would they
have the courage to be righteous in a decidedly unrighteous world again? They
worry a lot.
You and I "know" a person really can't be righteous in this world, so we
wonder what they're worried about in the first place. And besides-- we say in
all naivete-- once you're righteous, you're always righteous, right? Wrong.
For if that were so, the opposite would be true as well: once you're sinful,
you're always sinful. And that would preclude teshuva (the act of returning
to G-d after having sinned) altogether.
So it seems the righteous have as much right to worry about their spiritual
stature as we do about ours. And they do, while we don’t.
Rabbeinu Yonah also cites a verse that subtly uncovers another difference
between the righteous and ourselves. It indicates that while the righteous
fret about their ways and judge themselves rather harshly in the process (in
that they worry about how they'd failed spiritually in the past, and how they
just might fail again in the future), they never do that when it comes to
others. They overlook others' faults, and always give the benefit of the
doubt. While we're guilty of quite the opposite. We're quite sure we're right
on target, and just as sure that everyone else is wrongful, mean, and of bad
intention. The contrast between those who have every right to criticize
others and to praise themselves, and ourselves, is quite stunning.
We're also informed about what moves the righteous to seek spiritual
excellence. It seems their primary impetus is the stark realization of just
how generous G-d has been to us all, and how indebted we all are to Him as a
consequence. The righteous dwell upon the reality of that in their lives, and
wish nothing more than to repay their Maker for all His graciousness.
And finally while they, like us, could very well settle for an "adequate"
degree of closeness to G-d by simply fulfilling the minimum requirements of
teshuva (returning to Him)-- which comes down to just expressing remorse,
admitting the harm you've done to other's directly to them, and getting rid
of the sin-- they prefer to delve deeper and in a more heartfelt way within
their beings, and to follow through on all 20 of the principles of teshuva
that Rabbeinu Yonah is laying out in this work.
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