The Gates of Repentance
Let's begin with a review. As you may recall, we contend that the first 9
paragraphs of "The Gates of Repentance" serve as the book's introduction, and
we've thus far gone through nearly half of them.
What we've come to understand is that teshuva is a fundamental, G-d-given
means of drawing closer and closer to G-d after having overlooked His
presence by sinning, rather than mere "penitence" as it's usually understood.
We've seen that teshuva enables us to achieve our potential for spiritual
excellence and to transcend ourselves (1:1); that it provides a sort of
metaphysical "escape hatch" we'd be foolish not to take advantage of (1:2);
that only an emotionally oblivious and alienated soul would overlook the
great opportunity to draw close to G-d that teshuva is (1:3); and that a
sensitive soul would be so moved to regret and sorrow after realizing he or
she'd lapsed into spiritual mediocrity, that he or she would sit stunned, and
would expend a lot of time and energy on reviewing errors of judgement, as w
ell as at finding ways to draw closer to G-d right there and then, rather
than later (1:4).
Our paragraph now touches upon a second reason not to delay in our quest for
It's based on this. Everyone remembers being a small child with a sense of
honesty, fairness, and decency, and doing everything "right". For one reason
or another, though, there came a point when we decided to take a friend's
treat from him, to cheat at a game, to lie to a teacher, etc. and we somehow
"got away with it". We either didn't get caught, or no one reported us. And
we felt powerful. "This is great!" we probably thought, "Why didn't anybody
think of this before?", we said in all naivete.
We continued being good people otherwise, all in all, and maintained a sense
of honesty, fairness and decency. But somehow or another, we kept on cheating
in little ways (and getting away with it).
Suppose there came a point when we were caught on tape doing wrong, the tape
was then shown to us and we thus came face to face with our cheating, and it
proved not to be a pretty sight.
We'd be humbled, shocked. "Is that me?" we'd ask. "Do I do that?"
After a while, a healing sense of remorse would arise, and we'd take
ourselves aside to ask how we'd ever come to that.
"It just seemed OK" we might say. "It just seemed perfectly acceptable--
something I just kind of do."
What it comes down to, at bottom, is an insight our sages offered which
Rabbeinu Yonah cites at this point in our text. That once you repeat an
untoward act once or twice it starts to seem "alright" to you, and you do it
again and again with aplomb (see Kiddushin 40A).
You develop a harmful pattern, as so many of us do.
But a person striving for personal excellence would want to avoid that for
any number of reasons, not the least of which is because it's simply wrong.
But also because of the following principle cited by Rabbeinu Yonah as well,
which is rather shocking to a sensitive soul.
It's that when you develop such a pattern and do the same wrongful thing
again and again without giving a thought, the next time you start to do it,
but you get waylaid and don't do it-- you're nonetheless considered guilty of
Why? Because a pattern's been established, that's become the way you do
things, and that's that. And even if you don't manage to do it, you might as
Rabbeinu Yonah's point is, then, that the sort of person who'd strive for
spiritual excellence would want to avoid such a moral rut. He or she would
thus do everything to not repeat a misdeed, and would try as soon as possible
to do teshuva for the first incidence.
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