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?
Once, there was a king who owned a beautiful diamond. The king had an only son who he also wanted to give the greatest pleasure in the world. What did he do? He gave his son his beautiful diamond – the likes of which had no other comparison in all the world – to play with. The son would play with the beautiful diamond, enjoying its size, its colour, its shape and its light! One day, the son dropped the diamond from the palace of the king and upon striking the ground, it broke leaving it with a small crack visible on the inside. The king took a look at the diamond wondering if there was any way to fix it. He approach some of the best jewelers he knew, asking if they could fix the tiny crack – lending the diamond to a state of imperfection. None could advise the king, as it was impossible to repair the crack. All that could be done would be to cut the diamond at the point of the crack – dividing the diamond into two – with nobody ever knowing about the original broken diamond. This was not what the king had bargained for.
One day shortly thereafter, the king met a wise-man. The wise-man had an idea of how he could fix the diamond. After asking the king for his permission to take the diamond to fix it, the wise-man went to work. In no time at all, he brought the diamond back to the king. The wise-man was also a very great artist, and with his talent, he had taken the point of the crack, and cutting further around it – had created the most beautiful design within the diamond. The king was most impressed at the beautiful diamond that had been returned. Though it had once been totally clean – and thereafter had been destroyed “forever” – the wise-man had turned the diamond into something even more beautiful. The value of the diamond had increased – as the great artist had even designed a most intricate design within it – making it worth even more!
The Tzaddik is the clean diamond. He is certainly pure in every sense of the word, but the Baal Teshuvah is one who, though he had once had a clean slate – had come to situations in life that had broken him – leaving him a shattered vessel. It is his task to make a change for the good and to turn himself into something even greater now. Indeed, when he returns back to God in the way he should, then, as he works on himself correctly, he begins to change the crack of his shattered vessel into a most exquisite design – something complete unique – something that even the greatest Tzaddik lacks.
Says Rabbi Abahu – in the place where the Baal Teshuvah stands, even the Tzaddik cannot stand. There is no possibility for the Tzaddik to reach the potential levels of the Baal Teshuvah – because the Tzaddik is blessed with a natural goodness which never cracks. The Baal Teshuvah, however, will constantly find himself breaking. Now, it is his chance to change. He may well feel inferior and lacking, but if he will listen to the wise-man, he will be able to elevate himself over and beyond the levels of the Tzaddik – bringing him to places that even the most righteous of individuals will never come to. This is the power of teshuvah – repentance!
As we approach Yom Kippur – each of us has this opportunity to realise that life is far bigger than being polarised as righteous or wicked. Life gives us the opportunity to see the mistakes being made – but then to take those mistakes, work with them, develop them and re-design them so that the outcome from our efforts will turn us into greater people – even greater than those who seem never to fail.
Wishing everyone a Gmar Chatima Tovah! May all be sealed in the Book of Life – for every good thing!