I am constantly inspired by seeing how others have reached their own success in life. To be sure, success does not equal the dollar amount showing in a bank account. Success can be anything one aspires to in one’s life. Sometimes – for me, success is completing studying a Torah book. When I manage to work through a volume of hundreds of pages in length, it brings me a great sense of satisfaction. I’ve done it! One day – I am at the beginning of the book, unable to imagine ever getting through such a thick work! Weeks or months later – I turn around and say that I have actually done it! Now… I must find the means and time to learn it a second time!
Rabbi Abahu in Masechet Berachot 34b teaches that, “In a place that Baalei Teshuvah (those who repent) stand, Tzaddikim (righteous people) do not stand.” Such does the Rambam (1135-1204) rule in the Laws of Repentance 7:4.
The righteous individual is one who never sins. He is a master of his evil inclination in every sense of the word. The Baal Teshuvah, however, is one who stumbles through life. His life is filled with highs and lows. One moment he finds himself praying to God with fiery flames of emotion, and the next moment he finds himself in a web of misconduct. One moment he feels he can do everything for the sake of God – and the next, he finds himself in a place rebelling against everything good! He can barely imagine how he ever got there! Who would we ever imagine to be the greater of the two? Yet clearly, the law states that the righteous person – the Tzaddik – cannot stand in the place where the Baal Teshuvah stands. Apparently the Baal Teshuvah’s level is higher. He reaches to places where the Tzaddik will never reach. As the day of Yom Kippur – the Day of Atonement – approaches, how best can we understand this powerful teaching of Rabbi Abahu?