The Weekly Parsha: A New Dimension

by Rabbi Heshy Grossman

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"And what is Tshuvah? That the sinner abandon his sin, removing it from his thoughts, resolving in his heart never to do it again.........and He who knows all that is hidden will testify that he will not return to this sin forever... (Rambam, Hilchos Tshuvah, 2, 2)

Consider the following. A man repents from his deeds, fully regretting his past and committing himself to improvement. Yet, after Yom Kippur he slips once again into his familiar pattern. Is his Tshuvah meaningless?


Rabbeinu Yonah, in Sha'arei Tshuvah, lists the twenty fundamental elements of repentance.

"And the second, abandoning the sin. He should abandon his evil ways, and commit with all his heart not to go back on that path again."

The resolve to never again commit the sin, seems, at first glance, to parallel the Rambam's requirement. G-d, Himself, must bear witness to an improved future before repentance is accepted.

However, in his discussion of Fundamental 19, Rabbeinu Yonah writes as follows: "The nineteeenth, abandoning the sin when it occurs, while at the height of his desire. Our Sages, of blessed memory said: Who is the Ba'al Tshuvah whose repentance reaches the heavenly throne? When he is tested, and emerges unblemished, at the same time, the same place, the same woman."

If the basic principle of abandoning sin incorporates the promise to never again succumb, how can this same fundamental be listed again? Apparently, this guarantee of future compliance refers to a higher level of repentance, one that 'reaches the heavenly throne'. In order for this level to be achieved, one must be repair his sin, assuring that it never be repeated. But, there are many levels of Tshuvah. A commitment to repent one's ways is also meaningful, even if man subsequently stumbles before the temptations of the Yetzer.

In fact, a careful reading of the Rambam will show that he describes the same varied levels. In the Halacha cited above, he refers to the testimony of G-d as 'He who knows all that is hidden', not as 'He who knows the future'. G-d, who knows the hidden recesses of man's heart, is aware if the sinner's resolve to change his ways is truly sincere.

A guarantee of future obedience is mentioned separately: "What is complete repentance? He who has the opportunity to commit the sin he once violated, and refrains, as a result of his Tshuvah, not from fear, or lack of ability...." (Rambam, ibid., 2,1)

The Rambam, as well, therefore, is referring to two differing levels of Tshuvah. 'Tshuvah Gemurah' - 'Complete repentance', is the nineteenth fundamental of Rabbeinu Yonah, assurance that the sin will never be repeated. Resolve and contrition are also meaningful, in and of themselves. Although man has not been transformed, his sincere desire to change fulfills Tshuvah's basic requirement.

In this shiur we will try to explain why this is so, demonstrating how sincerity and commitment are the tools with which to approach the Day of Atonement.


Sin can be committed in two ways.

There are those who who see clearly the value of Torah and Mitzvos, but falter when confronted by the powerful physical drives invoked by the Yetzer HaRa. Though fully aware of the futility of sin, they have discovered that righteousness is not automatic. It can be achieved only through the lifelong process of harnessing one's body to the dictates of his soul.

He sins often, but his sins are all circumstantial, not reflective of the inner self that yearns for perfection.

Another man stands comfortably on the path of iniquity. He has no second thoughts in his pursuit of the materialistic pleasures that are his aim and desire.

He is not overcome by his inclinations. On the contrary, the Yetzer HaRa is his friend. He invites him in, hoping to enhance the pleasure of sin that is the Yetzer's promise.

These two types of sin require different methods of repentance.

For the first, a resolution to change is nearly meaningless. He is already committed to a life of observance. Just as he was previously unable to stave off sin's powerful urge, so too, he will succumb once again when similarly confronted. His only option is to work towards self-improvement, strengthening the Yiras Shamayim that is man's only weapon in the constant battle against evil. This is the higher level of Tshuvah, reached only after years of struggle.

The man who enjoys sin, however, needs Tshuvah of a different sort. As per the principles of Rabbeinu Yonah, he must first resolve to change his ways. For him, regret is meaningful only after the sin has been abandoned. Otherwise, he is comparable to a man who immerses in the Mikvah with impurity on his hands. He remains impure despite his contrition.

We have uncovered two different types of 'Azivas HaChet' - abandoning sin.

The first, a basic commitment to change, is appropriate for the man who identifies with sin. He relates to his desires as second nature. The second, for the man who sins by chance, involves a permanent elevation of charachter, a 'Tshuvah Gemurah'. Once he has done so, he can guarantee that the sin will never recur.

The key distinction between these two individuals is this: Is the sin a chance occurrence, or is it viewed as natural and acceptable behavior?

Let us now explain.


The Rambam enumerates twenty four obstacles to repentance. (Hilchos Tshuvah, 4, 1) The man who is guilty of these particular sins will find Tshuvah nearly impossible.

Have we not been taught though, that Tshuvah is always acceptable, even to man's dying day?

The Maharal (Nesiv HaTeshuvah, 8) explains that if not careful, sin becomes an essential part of one's self. Certain actions reflect an attachment from which man is not easily weaned.

Why should this stand in the way of repentance? Is it not possible for man to feel remorse for everything he has done?

Let us analyze the scales of judgment.

"Every human being has merits and sins. He whose merits outnumber his sins is a Tzaddik, and he whose sins outnumber his merits is a Rasha. Half and half is a 'Beinoni'."

"This measure is not according to the number of merits and sins, but according to their weight. There are merits that equal numerous sins......and there are sins that equal numerous merits....The measure is only according to the insight of 'E-l Dayos', and He knows how merits are measured against sins."

"Therefore, each man should see himself as if, for all year, he is half meritorious and half guilty. And so too, the entire world is half meritorious and half guilty. If he sins one time, he will tip his scale, and all the world's, to the side of guilt, causing destruction. If he performs one Mitzva, he will tip himself and all the world to the side of merit, bringing salvation to himself and them, as it says, 'V'Tzaddik Yesod Olam' - 'the righteous man is the world's foundation' " (Rambam, Hilchos Tshuvah, 3, 1-4)

Is this a reasonable assumption?

Every day we perform thousands of deeds for which we are judged. Multiply that by three hundred and fifty, and man must account for, at the very least, a million particular actions each year. What are the chances that any person will stand before G-d on Yom Kippur at precisely fifty-fifty? And the Rambam tells us that each and every individual should imagine himself a Beinoni?

The key phrase of the Rambam is 'the measure is only according to the insight of E-l Dayos, and He knows how merits are measured against sins'. This parallels a statement that we quoted earlier, 'and He who knows all that is hidden will testify that he will not return to this sin forever'.

As we stated above, G-d referred to as 'knowing all that is hidden' and not 'knowing all the future'.

Let us rid ourselves of the notion that man is judged on a point system, as if life is a complicated football game. It is man that is being judged, not his deeds. Who is this man that comes before G-d, Tzaddik or Rasha? Where does he stand, and with whom does he identify? Most important, on whose side is he on?

Looked at in this way, it's clear why we are all 'Beinoni'. We may identify with Torah, but, unfortunately, sin is no stranger. Though sometimes enjoying a 'blatt gemara', we are also attracted to life's temptations. We stand on the threshold, planted in two worlds.

On Yom Kippur, it's time to choose.

G-d, 'E-l Dayos', who 'knows all that is hidden', testifies to our true desire.

What do we really want?

What is it that occupies our thoughts? What do we look forward to? Mitzva? Or Aveira?

As we said, there are two types of sinners. The man who sins consistently cannot guarantee that he will never repeat his sin. But that is not what is expected.

He merely needs to say that he doesn't WANT to travel that road again.

The essence of man is his 'Ratzon', his will and desire. If he can disassociate himself from sin, even for one day, he plants himself in the world of good that G-d wishes to maintain.

But, if he identifies with the twenty-four sins of the Rambam, he will find it exceedingly difficult to separate himself from actions that now reflect his deepest desires. This explains the idea of an obstacle to Tshuvah. Though still theoretically possible, he is more like Rebbi Elazar ben Durdaya, the man who returned from the dregs. He will discover that for him, true repentance can be achieved only by renouncing every filthy fiber of his being.

If instead, he learns to distinguish between the light of his soul and the deep, dark chasm of the evil that beckons, he can stand before G-d and say: 'It's not me! Help me, G-d, I don't want to sin again!'.

Hashem, 'who knows all that is hidden', will 'testify that he will never return to this sin'. Not that he will never again succumb. It is enough that his sincerity and commitment are real. At this moment, with the clarity he now possesses, he cannot sin. True, he may slip from this point once Yom Kippur is gone. Only the angels lead lives that are purely static and consistent. The consciousness of man is always changing. But, where does he stand today? If, at the present moment, there is room for favorable judgment, he has weighed in on the side of good. G-d knows that his merits outnumber his sins.


The Alter of Kelm cites a parable to describe a futile repentance.

A father, hoping to eliminate his son's fascinaton with sweets, asks him to spit out the candy he has been chewing. The obedient son accedes to his father's command, and disposes of his candy. He fulfills his father's request, but it has no effect.

He still loves candy.

If we truly endeavor to repent, we must learn that sin is distasteful, not merely forbidden.

The Midrash describes the man who wastes the opportunity to repent during the Days of Awe.

"A group of gangsters are imprisoned by the king. They dig a tunnel, break out and escape. One prisoner remains behind. When the warden comes and sees the tunnel, and this prisoner still locked up, he hits him, saying, 'You idiot, the tunnel is open before you, why didn't you hurry and escape with your life !?!' " (Koheles Rabbah, 7, 15)

The parable is clear. On Yom Kippur, man has refuge, ready and available. By failing to take advantage of the opportunity to flee, he sentences himself to a life of hardship and suffering.

Yet, there is one strange element in this story.

Why does the prison warden punish the criminal for choosing to remain in his cell? What has he done wrong?

If he doesn't run when he has the chance, it's not because he is trying to be honest.

He remains behind because he doesn't think he's in prison.

He likes it here.

Our Sages teach us that 'HaSatan', by measure of Gimatria, equals three-hundred and sixty-four. The forces of evil have strength and control for most of the calendar year. On one special day,'Yoma', they are completely powerless. On Yom Kippur, the Satan will not tempt man with the varied weapons at his disposal.

Man will sin only if he wants to.

We come before G-d on Yom Kippur with sincerity and commitment, saying, 'Yes, I have sinned, Chatasi, Avisi, Pashati. But, I am not happy about it. I have a Yetzer HaRa, and I fell victim to its wiles'. We disengage ourselves from sin and hope for a better future.

But, if we fail to take advantage of a day with no Satan, what are we saying?

I like it here. This world is not a prison. It's a first-class hotel.

And, like every good hotel, the bill will be presented at check-out time.

Hashem has opened up the backdoor.

Let's run while we have the chance.

G'mar Chasima Tova.

Have a good Shabbos!

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