The Gates of Repentance
Nineteenth Principle of Teshuva: SHUNNING A SIN WHEN FACED WITH IT AND STILL
FULLY CRAVING IT.
At bottom, Rabbeinu Yonah's point is this: if you come upon an opportunity to
make the same mistake you'd made once before and you don't, then you would
have shown that you have truly worked on yourself, and have proved to have
mastered teshuva on one level. And he acknowledges how difficult that had to
have been (as we'd all have to). But there's far more to it than that.
Nothing stirs the heart more than the future and the past. The future because
it's full of promise and hope; the past because it's full of ourselves. While
teshuva (returning to G-d) doesn't touch upon the future-- though it
certainly affects it-- it surely touches upon the past, so we'll concentrate
To the mind's eye, as well as somewhere deep in the heart of most people, the
past is a miscellany of personal victories and defeats. To the soul in search
of spiritual excellence, though, the past is a miscellany of *spiritual*
victories and defeats-- a whirlwind of moments of growth and of regression.
When such souls recall their spiritual victories they sit satisfied for a
while and thank G-d for their accomplishments. But when they recall their
regressions they blush, engage in the several principles of teshuva we've
cited already, and set out to never lapse again.
Sometimes, though, moments from the past simply reappear serendipitously. The
same people emerge again somehow, the same opportunities avail themselves,
and the same urges press upon us. And we’re given the chance to start all
over, from that moment on. Many simply wonder at the "deja vu" of it all and
miss the chance to rewrite the script. Others, unfortunately, either repeat
their errors or even compound them. But more sensitive souls would "seize the
moment" and undo any errors they might have succumbed to the first time.
If they’d sinned that first time by embarrassing a friend in front of others,
for example, simply because she was soft-hearted and too easily took barbs
directed at her, the natural inclination would be to disparage her again.
After all, if you seemed clever and bold the first time, you’d likely seem so
You'd have been thrust into a moment of existential reflection and possible
metamorphoses. Should you relive the moment, and recapture the feeling of
victory you'd experienced the first time? Or should you reshape the moment,
abide by the realization of how insensitive you'd been, and accede to what's
The sensitive soul would accede, thanks to the mining of his heart he’d gone
through the first time, and his subsequent teshuva. His success then, the
second time around, would go to prove the depth of his teshuva, and would be
a great, great spiritual triumph.
Suppose, though, the situation *never* arose again, and you could never be
sure you wouldn't lapse again under those same circumstances?
Rabbeinu Yonah tells us that if you'd deepened your relationship to G-d on a
level referred to as "Fearing G-d"-- likened to an intense and awesome r
ealization of the closeness of G-d each and every moment-- you'd be assumed
in Heaven to be virtually *incapable* of committing that sin again; and you'd
be credited with having faced the moment a second time, and having grown past
the temptation to belittle your friend again.
You'd have proven yourself to be the true spiritual warrior who’d faced
temptation, battled hard, and proved himself victorious. Which is to say,
you'd have proven yourself to have been the sort of person who’d no longer
lapse into spiritual mediocrity.
Subscribe to Spiritual Excellence and receive the class via e-mail.