The Gates of Repentance
Seventh Principle of Teshuva: SURRENDERING WHOLE HEARTEDLY AND BEING HUMBLE
Just as there's no surer, steadier free-fall into spiritual mediocrity than
arrogance, there's no surer, steadier ascent to spiritual excellence than
surrender and humility. And that's the thrust of this principle.
Rabbeinu Yonah says something astounding at the very outset. "Anyone aware of
his Creator" he says, would realize just how self-demeaning it is to sin. The
sensitive soul would be taken aback by that first phrase. For who among us
could be said to be "aware of his Creator"?
Few of us. There are a number of reasons for that, but at bottom it comes to
our being full of ourselves, and devoid of Him. After all, there are only so
many voices a person can listen to at any one time in the inner din and
clamor, before he or she has to decide which to focus on and which to ignore.
Sadly enough, the voice we choose to focus on is our own, and the voice we
choose to ignore is G-d's. Because we're full of and fully enamored with our
As such, it would do us well to learn how to surrender whole heartedly to G-d
and His voice in our being, and to be humble in His presence if we're ever to
be aware of that presence.
And so we're taught here that the best way to learn how to surrender to G-d's
voice and presence would be to do more in His service, and-- this is the hard
part-- to not take credit for it.
But how does one ever do that? By serving G-d demurely rather than
vaingloriously, from deep in the center-core of our beings.
Indeed, the righteous enjoy discreet and demure encounters with G-d in their
hearts all the time. For it's there that they can enunciate to Him in low,
hushed tones; where they can sigh, pray, or sit purposefully silent in His
presence. And where they can whisper to G-d, catch Him off to the side, so to
speak; and use private code words that only they and He know of.
They tell no one of these encounters, wouldn't dare brag of them, and await
each chance to once again speak low, almost conspiratorially with G-d. For
indeed, those moments are more precious to the righteous than all others.
They're the moments when they can fully be themselves in G-d’s presence.
Serving G-d in such a spirit is sure to foster whole hearted surrender, as
well as closeness. And to lead to a deep and intuitive understanding of G-d's
ways, as well as an incomparable knowledge of Him. It also allows you to rid
yourself of all the untoward traits you'd had that lead to spiritual
mediocrity. After all, who'd dare reject G-d's ways after having come to know
Him well, and after having shared his or her secrets with Him?
Rabbeinu Yonah refers to arrogance here as a "fertile field" of sin. He means
to say that arrogance presents us with a fecund lot of opportunities to sin.
After all, if I'm full of myself and awash in self-delight, as so many are,
I’m replete with fodder for every desire I have in the world, and every hope
of personal gain. But when I'm humble, there's nothing to nourish the deep
need to fulfill, fulfill, fulfill that so many of us have. And the year's
crop of sin comes up barren and dry.
His final point is that humility is best exhibited through deeds. And our
next principle will delve into that at greater length. For now, though, the
first thing to learn to do is to use our new-found humility (rooted in the
aforementioned closeness with G-d) toward the art of overcoming anger.
Anger, a trait not to be denied, often lunges forward in ugly strength, and
overtakes hearts, minds, and bodies. It sometimes seems a force within that
haunts the inner being, and will not forgive. It's not the only such trait--
there are at least four or five more. But it's the firebrand of all hot
Rabbeinu Yonah sees it as something else, though. He sees anger as a
miserable and horrid failure. And a challenge to foster a human strength not
often spoken of outside the tents of the righteous: the ability to transcend
In fact, the high and righteous skill of self-transcendence is utterly
pooh-poohed by those on the outside. For after all, if self-transcendence is
possible, baseness and sin wouldn't be all one could expect of a person. And
spiritual mediocrity wouldn't be the norm. A such, one who’s on the path
toward spiritual excellence would need to learn the art of self-transcendence
best exemplified by resisting anger if he or she is ever to engage in true
teshuva (to return to G-d).
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