Beit Midrash

  • The Art of T'shuva
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Chapter Seven

The Joy Of T'shuva


Rabbi David Samson

Av 5768
Jews who have become religious, Baal tshuva, describe tshuva as the most joyous experience in their lives. Very often,a gleam of happiness shines in their eyes. Their speech is filled with an excited ring, as if they have discovered a secret treasure. Even people who have tasted all of life's secular pleasures insist that the experience of tshuva is the worlds greatest joy.

What is the reason for this? What is the source of this joy?

Tshuva is the healthiest feeling possible. A healthy soul in a healthy body must necessarily bring about the great joy oftshuva, and the soul consequently feels the greatest natural pleasure.

First, it is important to note the connection which Rabbi Kook makes between tshuva and health. As we learned in Chapter Two, a healthy body is an important foundation of tshuva.Contrary to the picture of the penitent as a gloomy, frail,bent-over recluse who shuns the world, the true Baal tshuva is healthy, happy, robust, and bursting with life.

When a person rids himself of bad habits, like overeating and cigarette smoking, his health is improved. Without these harming elements, he is stronger and more vibrant. So too,when one rids oneself of bad moral habits and base character traits, his spiritual health is improved. Without these negative influences, his soul is free to receive the flow of Divine light which fills the universe. When he is both physically and spiritually healthy, his capability to experience the Divine is enhanced. It is this meeting with G-d that brings the influx of joy that every Baal tshuva feels. When the unhealthy walls which had separated him from G-d are eliminated from his life, he stands ready for liefs greatest discovery the discovery that G-d and the spiritual world are real. Suddenly, G-ds love and kindness surround him. All his sins are forgiven. Instead of darkness, there is light all around him and a pool of endless love.

Rabbi Kook writes:
In measure with every ugly thing which a person eliminates from his soul when he inwardly longs for the light of tshuva, he discovers worlds filled with exalted illumination inside his soul. Every transgression removed is like the removal of a blindfold from the eye, and an entire horizon of vision is revealed, the light of unending expanses of heaven and earth,and all that they contain.

Rabbi Yaacov Filber, in his Commentary on Orot HaTshuva,points out that these new worlds are revealed at the very moment when a person inwardly longs for the light of tshuva,even before a person has been able to amend his wrongdoings.

The new spiritual horizons which the Baal tshuva discovers give him a feeling of freedom, as if he were soaring through air.This new-found freedom comes when the walls blocking G-delight have been razed. The Baal tshuva is freed from the bad habits and passions which had enslaved him in the past. He escapes from a web of wrongdoing. The lack of godliness which had pervaded his actions, his thoughts, and his being, is erased. Freed from his darkness, he can experience G-d.

The steadfast will to always remain with the same beliefs to support the vanities of transgression into which a person has fallen, whether in deeds or in thoughts, is a sickness caused by an oppressive slavery that does not allow tshuvas light of freedom to shine in its full strength. For it is tshuva which aspires to the original, true freedom Divine freedom, which is free of all bondage.

Once again, we may be startled. People often think that in discovering G-d, one is restricting ones freedom, not expanding it. If one recognizes his Creator, he also has to recognize His laws. For a person who thinks this way, religion is perceived as a yoke of responsibility and bondage. But Rabbi Kook tells us the opposite. The discovery of G-d is the ultimate freedom.Finally, a person is liberated from beliefs that he held on to in order to justify his errant lifestyle. Finally, he is freed from cycles of behavior which he could not control. Like a criminal who decides to go straight, he can now put his life in line with G-ds will for the world. This is the greatest freedom!

Often people are afraid to set out on a course of tshuva because they associate repentance with pain. While pain is apart of the tshuva process, the hardships of tshuva are quickly erased by the joy which the Baal tshuva discovers.

Tshuva does not come to make life bitter, but to make it more pleasant. The happy satisfaction with life that comes with tshuva is derived from the waves of bitterness which cling to a person during the initial stages of tshuva. However, this is the highest, creative valor, to recognize and understand that pleasantness evolves out of bitterness, life out of the clutches of death, eternal pleasures out of sickness and pain. As this everlasting knowledge grows and becomes more clear in the mind,in the emotions, in the persons physical and spiritual natures,the person becomes a new being. With a courageous spirit, he transmits a new life force to all of his surroundings. He spreads the good news to all of his generation, and to all generations to be, that there is joy for the righteous, and that a joyous salvation is certain to come. The humble also shall increase their joy in the L-rd, and the poorest among men shall rejoice in the Holy One of Israel.

We will explore the connection between tshuva and pain in more detail in Chapter Eleven. Here, it is important to note that the pain a person feels when he confronts his sins and his unholy past, is only a temporary phase of tshuva. It resembles the pain of surgery, when a cancer must be cut out of the body.The uprooting of sin brings healing and joy in its wake, but the initial amputation is painful. It is difficult to give up the familiar, even if it be an evil habit. When a person understands this and opens himself up to change, he comes to be filled with a courageous new spirit and joy. His sins are forgiven. His life is renewed, and the world seems to be renewed with him. Immediately, he wants to share his good fortune with everyone.He tells his parents with a gleam in his eyes, as if he has met the right girl. With unbounded enthusiasm, he phones his brother long distance to turn him on to the great secret which he has discovered. He is so hopped up on tshuva, he wants the whole world to know. Hey everybody, listen to me. You want to be happy? You want to be high? Get with it. Don't do drugs.Do tshuva!

Another reason why the joy of tshuva is so great is because the happiness of tshuva is felt in the soul. Until a person discovers tshuva, he experiences the pleasures of the world on the physical, emotional, or intellectual levels alone. He enjoys good foods, stimulating books, new clothes and the like. But Arman has a deeper, spiritual level of being, his soul, which derives no satisfaction from earthly pleasures.

To what is this analogous? To the case of a city dweller who marries a princess. If he brought her all that the world possessed, it would mean nothing to her, by virtue of her being a kings daughter. So it is with the soul. If it were brought all the delights of the world, they would be nothing to it, in view of its pertaining to the higher elements.

When a person does tshuva, he opens his soul to a river of spiritual delight. The joy he discovers is like nothing which he has ever experienced. Not only are his senses affected,tshuva touches his soul. Just as his soul is deeper than his other levels of being, the happiness he discovers is deeper. Just as his soul is eternal, his joy is eternal. Unlike the transitory pleasures of the physical world, the joy of tshuva is everlasting.A jacuzzi feels good, but when it is over, the pleasure soon fades away. But in the heavenly jacuzzi of tshuva, you don't just get wet you get cleansed and transformed.

When the light of tshuva appears and the desire for goodness beats purely in the heart, a channel of happiness and joy is opened, and the soul is nurtured from a river of delights.

This river of delight is the river of tshuva. Rabbi Kooks use of this expression is not metaphorical alone. In the spiritual world, there actually exists a river of tshuva. This is the constant flow of tshuva which, though invisible, is always present and active. It is our channel to true joy and happiness because it is our channel to G-d. Nothing in the world can compare to its pleasures.

Great and exalted is the pleasure of tshuva. The searing flame of the pain caused by sin9 purifies the will and refines the character of a person to an exalted, sparkling purity until the great joy of the life of tshuva is opened for him. Tshuva raises the person higher and higher through its stages of bitterness, pleasantness, grieving, and joy. Nothing purges and purifies a person, raises him to the stature of being truly a man, like the profound process of tshuva. In the place where the Baal tshuva stand, even the completely righteous cannot stand.

The real hero is not the Hollywood tough guy. It isn't the man who smokes Marlboro cigarettes. It isn't the corporate president who owns a Lear jet and three yachts. The true man is the person involved in tshuva. He is the person who is always seeking to better himself; the person who is always trying to come closer to G-d. He is the man who is open to self-assessment and change; the man who has the courage to confront his souls inner pain and to transform its bitterness into joy.

Tshuva elevates a person above all of the baseness of the world. Notwithstanding, it does not alienate the person from the world. Rather, the Baal tshuva elevates life and the world with him.

Sometimes, people have a misunderstanding of tshuva.They think that tshuva comes to separate a person from the world. While some Baal tshuva make a point of isolating themselves completely from secular society, this is not the ideal. During the early stages of tshuva, a person should certainly avoid situations which are antithetical to his new found goals, in order to rebuild his life on purer foundations, but a Baal tshuva is not a recluse. He should not cut himself off from the world. The opposite. By participating in the life around him, he elevates, not only himself, but also the world. After returning to G-d, he must return to the world. G-d created the heavens for the angels. Our lives are to be lived down on earth. It is our task to bring healing and perfection to this world, not to the next.When the powerful life-force which went into sin is redirected toward good, life is uplifted. A Baal tshuva who returns to a former situation in which he sinned, and now conducts himself in a righteous, holy manner, affects a great Tikun. For instance, if a man had sinful relations with a woman, and after a time was alone with her, his passion for her persisting, and his physical powers unabated, while he continued to live in the same district where he had sinned, and yet he refrains and does not transgress, he is a Baal tshuva. He is like a gunslinger who mends his ways and comes back to town to do away with the bad guys. Because of his tshuva, Dodge City is a better, safer, more wholesome place.

The inner forces which led him to sin are transformed. The powerful desire which smashes all borders and brought the person to sin, itself becomes a great, exalted life-force which acts to bring goodness and blessing. The greatness of life which emanates from the highest holy source constantly hovers over tshuva and its heroes, for they are the champions of life, who call for its perfection. They demand the victory of good over evil, and the return to liefs true goodness and happiness, to the true, exalted freedom, which suits the man who ascends to his spiritual source and essential Divine image.

It is time to take tshuva out of the closet. The true champions of life are not the basketball players, not the Hollywood stars, not even the Presidents. The real heroes are the masters of tshuva. They are the Supermen who battle the forces of darkness in order to fill the world with goodness and blessing.Teenagers! Tear down your wall posters of wrestlers and rock stars! The people to be admired are the masters of tshuva! You can be one too!
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