The Gates of Repentance
This week's paragraph of "The Gates of Repentance" cites a fascinating
parable which reiterates just how great teshuva (returning to G-d) really is.
After all, it serves as an *escape hatch* of sorts. Let's see how.
Our sages tell of a band of robbers who were thrown in prison by the king
where they languished for a while till they dug an escape hatch and fled. One
of them, though, decided not to escape. And when the jail keeper arrived and
turned one way and caught sight of the escape hatch, then the other way and
noticed the remaining prisoner, he said to him, "Fool! There's an escape
hatch right before your eyes and you're not using it?" (Kohelet Rabbah 7:15)
Rabbeinu Yonah uses that story to make the point that we'd be fools not to
take advantage of the "escape hatch" that teshuva is.
But let's examine this story a little more deeply.
Perhaps there's something to be said for the one remaining prisoner. After
all, wasn't his an act of conscience? Isn't it likely to assume that he said
to himself, "Sure I could escape with my friends, see my wife and kids again,
and be a free man. But that would be wrong. After all, I stole, I was caught
red-handed, I was wrong, and I deserve to be here! In fact, when the king
himself hears of my altruism, he's bound to be pleased."
Rabbeinu Yonah's point, though, is apparently this.
When we're "spiritually mediocre" and we sin, we harm our own beings and
others', and besmirch our reputations before G-d. Our own beings are harmed
because we belittle our potential, others are harmed by what we've said or
done to hurt or damage them, and our reputations are besmirched before G-d
because He knows our spiritual potential and expects the very best of us.
Now, doing that sort of harm would seem to be a mortal error. It would only
be logical to assume that anyone guilty of that would be landed into on the
spot, excoriated, and left undone.
But no. There's always an "escape hatch". There's always the great and
magnanimous second chance that is teshuva.
In fact, how many of us get a second chance in life, after all? Who wouldn't
simply love to go back to the past to take back harmful words, to take an
exam over again, to buy a certain stock, to ask an important question of
someone we trusted, etc., etc.? And yet G-d Almighty gives us all second
chances *on a very deep and holy level that's far removed from time and
space* to undo errors and make right what had been wrong. That metaphysical,
transcendent escape hatch or second chance, which allows us to redo the past
and alter the future, is teshuva.
With this all in mind we can better understand Rabbeinu Yonah's remarks that
you'd pay a higher emotional, spiritual price by *continuing* to harm
yourself and others, and *not* doing teshuva when you knew it was available
After all, is there anything more audacious and mean-spirited than hurting
someone, knowing you could easily make amends-- and not doing so?
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