The Gates of Repentance
Tenth Principle of Teshuva: CORRECTING YOUR ACTIONS THROUGH THE AGENT USED TO
There's a phenomenon known as "the ugly duckling" syndrome. A young girl, for
example, might be scrawny and short, she might have ears far too large for
her face, and her glasses might be a little too thick and awkward. And she
might be poked fun of throughout her school years.
Then, seemingly "out of the blue", she starts to blossom. She fills out and
grows, takes more care of herself, invests in contact lenses, and becomes a
Such a scenario often ends with an old friend running into the now lovely
young woman and being thunderstruck. For *the very same features* that had
made the young woman such an "ugly duckling" proved to be her best points.
The same phenomenon happens on a spiritual level, as well. Someone known, for
example, for being heartless perhaps, or cynical and aloof might take it upon
himself to better himself. And so with the help of others and a lot of
introspection and determination, this individual comes to be warm, accepting,
and loving, and thus do a complete turnaround, measure for measure, point for
That's what Rabbeinu Yonah is referring to here, where he cites comments by
our sages to the effect that, "The righteous become pleasing through the very
thing they sinned with" (Shemot Rabbah 23:3), and "If you committed bunches
of sins, then fulfill bunches and bunches of corresponding mitzvot" (Vayikrah
The point is we'd do well to "turn over a new leaf" *of the same book* we'd
soiled if we're ever to achieve true spiritual excellence. Which is to say
that the very area in which we'd been wrongful should be the one in which we
Rabbeinu Yonah offers the follow examples. If you tend to boldly glare at the
opposite sex in untoward ways, for example, you'd do well to learn to humbly
and modestly avert your glance. If you tend to spend the better part of your
time speaking ill of others, you'd be far better off speaking to others about
the Torah concepts you'd been struck by. If you're known to lie and accept
things at face value, then be honest instead, delve into wisdom and be kindly
from the depths of your being. And if you're aggressive and too bold, try as
much as you can to be peaceable and acquiescent.
At bottom, again, the process comes to no longer settling for personal
mediocrity or worse, but striving for personal and spiritual excellence
instead. By "catching yourself in the mirror", noticing where this is wrong,
or that's off, and bettering yourself in just those areas. To the point where
they become your strong points rather than your faults.
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