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Sinning Against Hashem

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Rabbi David Sperling

Tishrei 27, 5782
Question
When I was an undergraduate student at Dickinson College, I abandoned Judaism almost entirely, and embraced an "all roads (i.e., all spiritual traditions) lead to the same mountaintop" ethos. In my mind, no spiritual tradition had a monopoly on divine truth, so therefore there was no harm in dabbling in Islam, Buddhism, Christianity, etc. After several years of religious experimentation (one year spent in the Catholic Church, another year spent in Buddhist meditation groups, and so on), I realized the mistake I had made, consulted al Chabad shaliach, and immersed myself in a mikvah. However, even though I am back in the Jewish fold, and learning more about Torah and mitzvot with each passing day, a part of me still feels stained and dirty--as though I committed some sort of unpardonable transgression. Do you know how I can overcome these feelings of guilt and remorse? Thanks, All the Best,
Answer
Shalom Matthew, Thank you for your question. First of all – welcome home. It’s wonderful to have you back! The feelings of pain you are experiencing come from two completely different sources, and understanding this is an important part of your future growth. Firstly, it is the true feeling of the soul as it awakens to express its real self. As you return to a truer path of service for a Jewish soul, your inner self begins to express itself, and part of that is an expression of pain and guilt at the spiritual mistakes you made over time. This can be compared to someone who neglected doing physical exercise. They feel fine and happy being overweight, lazy, and eating lots of chocolate ice cream. Then one day they wake up to an understanding that they need to do some serious exercise. They go for a jog. The first thing that will happen is that their body will express much pain (shortness of breath, sore muscles etc). Even though this hurts, one should not be discouraged. It is a great sign. You only feel the pain because you are now moving in a good direction. In our example, it would be a grave mistake to say “well that jogging was sooo painful, let’s go back to the couch and eat some more potato chips”. If one only keeps up the good work, soon the pain will go away. So, even though you are feeling some real spiritual pain, on a very deep level it is a good pain. You can (intellectually at least) experience it as a blessing (even though it might make you cry a bit – and that’s fine too). The second source of your suffering comes from an entirely different place. It comes from your “yetzer ha’rah”, your evil inclination. This is a part of you that works to hold you back from your true good abilities. It knows that feeling bad about yourself is a way to get you to hold back, and never reach your true growth protentional. It knows that in your present state it has no chance of convincing you to go back to a foreign religion. So, instead, it tries to convince you that you can never be a “true” Jew. You are to “tainted” and “stained” – so you may as well settle for mediocre, or less, in your service of Hashem. This is a clever and crafty trick that our inner voice plays on us (on nearly everyone in some form or other). Do not listen! Do not fall for it! The Torah tells us again and again that everyone can do Tshuvah. That no sin – no sin – is beyond repair. That when one dose true teshuva, they can arise to the greatest heights in their service of Hashem. Look at King Da’vid. As to overcoming these feelings, may I advise you to study Rav Kook’s classic book Orot HaTeshuva (Lights of Repentance) – which is also available in English. May you be blessed with ever success. Please feel free to be in touch with any more questions or comments. Blessings
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