Teshuvah Every Day
There are two types of sinners. One is the sinner who has actually committed sinful acts. The other is in the category called ba’al teshuvah, literally, “master of return,” and he is considered holy. Regarding him the verse says, “Ohr zarua laTzaddik — There is a light planted for the righteous” (Tehillim 97:11), because he contemplates yesterday’s deeds and reexamines his behavior, and he concludes that he has sinned, though in actuality he is being critical of himself.
He comes to this conclusion because today the revelation of Hashem that he has experienced is greater and stronger than that of the previous day. Therefore he does teshuvah each day for yesterday’s actions and behavior. However, his sins are considered unintentional, because yesterday he lacked today’s revelation. This is what the Gemara means when it says, “Willful transgressions are transformed into unintentional ones” (Yoma 86b).
Kedushas Levi , Vayeira
Mattan Torah Every Day
An awakening to do teshuvah comes to us every day, originating in the voice of Hashem that we all heard on Mount Sinai. That voice declared, “I am Hashem, your G-d” (Shemos 20:2) and “You shall have no other gods before Me” (ibid. 20:3). This voice was inscribed on our hearts, and it brings about an awakening in us to repent on a daily basis.
Kedushas Levi , Chayei Sarah
Reborn through Teshuvah
Rav Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev taught that we should pay particular attention to the words “as of old,” in the pasuk “Return us to You, Hashem, and we will return; renew our days as of old” (Eichah 5:21–22). The Berditchever elucidated this verse with a midrash (Bereishis Rabbah
21:6) that cites another verse: “And now, Bnei Yisrael, what is it that Hashem asks of you but to fear Him?” (Devarim 10:12).
The Midrash teaches us that the words “and now” refer to repentance. The Berditchever explained that each and every person must believe with complete faith that the Creator renews our life at each and every moment, as our Sages taught, “Praise Hashem with each and every breath you take” (Bereishis Rabbah 14:9). At every moment our vitality tries to escape from us, and the Holy One sends a person new vitality to replace it. Therefore, at this very moment — or in the language of the Midrash, “and now” — we are reborn again.
In that case, at the same moment that a person repents, he is reborn and it is as if he is a new being. And so Hashem, in His great mercy, takes no notice of his previous sins. However, if he does not believe this — that he has been reborn, that the Creator gives him new life each and every moment — then his teshuvah will not succeed.
This is the meaning of the pasuk in Eichah: “Return us to You, Hashem, and we will return.” How will we return? If You “renew our days as of old” — by infusing us with vitality so that we are reborn and become new beings, clean of sin.
Kedushas Levi , Derushim
Jealous of a Sinner
Once, the Berditchever was walking down the street in Berditchev when he bumped into a well-known apostate. This was a man who was recognized for his many sins, and he had the reputation of a lowly good-for-nothing. To this man’s great astonishment, Rav Levi Yitzchak gave him a warm and hearty greeting. He grabbed the wicked man by the lapels of his coat and cried out, “I am so jealous of you!”
Nothing could have surprised the man more. “You, Rebbe?” he said, dumbfounded. “You are jealous of me?”
“Yes, I know you have sinned, but our Sages taught that when you repent out of love, your willful transgressions are transformed into merits (Yoma 86b). Just consider how many merits you will have when you repent!”
“Wait a few more days, and you will be even more jealous of me,” the wicked man retorted (intimating that he would sin some more). But the Rebbe’s sincere words and warm demeanor worked their magic, and the man repented. He eventually became one of the most pious, G-d-fearing Tzaddikim in Berditchev.
Know That You Have Not Even Begun
Our Sages taught, “In the place where ba’alei teshuvah stand, even the righteous cannot stand” (Berachos 34b). To understand just what the actual avodah of teshuvah is, we must explain that this gemara does not refer to a one-time repentance over past sins, but to being in a constant state of repentance, as our Sages taught elsewhere, “All the day’s of a person’s life should be spent in teshuvah” (Shabbos 153a).
This means that a person’s heart should always be broken; he should always feel empty and lacking and distant from Hashem. By contemplating Hashem’s vast greatness, a person will truly comprehend his own lowly insignificance, that he does not even take up any space in this world. He will come to understand that when taking into consideration Hashem’s greatness, it is as if he has not even begun serving Hashem! This is what it means to be in a state of teshuvah.
When you serve Hashem in a state of teshuvah so that your very existence is constantly nullified, you are a true ba’al teshuvah. Even if you are a complete Tzaddik, who fulfills all the mitzvos, but you lack this brokenhearted self-subjugation, you cannot stand in the place of such a ba’al teshuvah.
Kedushas Levi, Likutim
A Ba’al Teshuvah vs. a “Complete” Tzaddik
Once, taught Rav Yissachar Ber of Zlotchov, I heard my teacher and Rebbe, the pious chassid Rav Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, explain the Sages’ statement “In the place where ba’alei teshuvah stands, even the righteous cannot stand” (Berachos 34b). How can a ba’al teshuvah, who once rebelled against the King, be greater than a Tzaddik who never transgressed from infancy?
Who is considered a true ba’al teshuvah? He is a person who is enlightened on a daily basis with new insights about Hashem that he did not have the day before. He therefore rejects yesterday’s avodah, imagining that he did not serve Hashem sufficiently, because compared to today’s understanding of Hashem’s greatness and his own lowliness, yesterday’s avodah was lacking. So he does teshuvah for yesterday’s seeming lack of good deeds.
In his place a complete Tzaddik cannot stand. This refers to someone who sees himself as complete and finds no lack in himself. He does not see anything missing in his avodah and has no cause for regret. Such a person, who fails to see his own shortcomings and imagines he is a complete Tzaddik, cannot stand before a ba’al teshuvah who constantly tries to do better than he did the day before.
Mevaser Tzedek, Vayikra, Metzora
A Ba’al Teshuvah Is Called “Pesach”
Rav Yissachar Ber of Zlotchov taught that they say in the name of Rav Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev that once, while he was explaining the Pesach Haggadah, he commented that the term Pesach, which literally means “pass over,” refers to the ba’al teshuvah. While the Tzaddik rises continually from one level to the next, the ba’al teshuvah has the ability to pass over and skip several levels in one leap.
Mevaser Tzedek, Acharei Mos
What Is Hashem’s Teshuvah?
Once, when the Berditchever reached the words “Melech Rachaman shetashuv u’seracheim aleinu — Merciful King! We ask that You return once again, to have mercy upon us!” in the Mussaf prayers of yom tov, he went on to beseech Hashem on behalf of Bnei Yisrael, as was his custom. He said, “Shetashuv u’seracheim aleinu — Master of the world! You, too, need to do teshuvah ! What is Your teshuvah? How does G-d repent? By having mercy upon us!”
Yalkut Kedushas Levi