Death! A word that conjures up little feelings of excitement – for most. Life – on the other hand, is the very purpose of existence. That word – when expressed in its most fullest manner, takes on feelings of joy and blessing.
Perhaps, the best day of the year has just passed by… Yom Kippur. Coming with Yom Kippur is that feeling that the day is truly providing some sort of unique cleaning over the soul – that no other day can provide. Working through Elul, Rosh HaShanah and then the Ten Days of Repentance, keeps one in touch with just how much there still is to correct – to fix up! Then – Yom Kippur comes along. It’s an intense day. There’s fasting, standing for lengthy time periods, focusing on prayer and keeping one’s mind focused on the day itself and what it means.
As we make our way through the Ten Days of Repentance, it is delightful to see how many people want to repent of their wayward ways. It seems like everyone wants to jump on the bandwagon and join the team – so to speak – to be a part of what others are doing. With all this, however, what is real Teshuvah all about and are we going about things the right way after all?
The Rambam (1135-1204) discusses the laws of repentance in great detail through ten chapters of his main work the Yad HaChazakah. Many are of the opinion that one should study one chapter each day of the Ten Days of Repentance in order to get a full overview of everything involved. A short blog post does not do justice to the full importance of all the points involved. The Rambam details everything from what Teshuvah – repentance – is all about – to how to actually do it. He discusses the importance of understanding repentance as is applicable to mitzvot – commandments – between man and God, as well as those between man and man.
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?