Baal Shem Tov TeachingsTeshuvah (Repentance)

Teachings of Rav Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk

The Latent Power of Teshuvah Within Ourselves

Our Sages taught (Kiddushin 49b, according to the Rif) that if someone betroths a woman on the condition that he is a complete Tzaddik, and they find he is wicked, the agreement stands because perhaps he had thoughts of teshuvah at the moment he was betrothed. In that case, he wasn’t wicked when they made the agreement.
The Vitebsker asks the obvious question: how can it be that teshuvah, which must be done wholeheartedly and consists of remorse over past misdeeds, be done so instantaneously? How is it possible to make such a dramatic about-face in a single moment, to now regard previously cherished misdeeds as hateful and disgusting actions and previously discarded mitzvos as desirable deeds?… How can such a transformation take place naturally?
The Vitebsker also asks why Hashem is so willing to accept the ba’al teshuvah the instant he disassociates from his past sinful behaviors. Most people are not so forgiving if someone wrongs them just because the person desisted from the negative behavior. They require the person to repeatedly ask for forgiveness before they even consider granting it. The Torah, however, teaches that for Hashem it is sufficient for the penitent to simply regret his sin and desist from it. How can this be?
The Vitebsker answers that according to our Sages’ teachings, the creation of teshuvah preceded the creation of the world (Pesachim 54a; Zohar, Vayikra 69b). The world was created after the attribute of teshuvah already existed to silence the angelic prosecutors. When Hashem wanted to create the world, the angels argued against the creation of man. One of their arguments was that man was destined to anger Hashem and sin against Him, and so he should not be created. But since the possibility for teshuvah already existed, allowing man to transform his sins and return to Hashem, his creation is justified.
Man is a microcosm of the world (Tikunei Zohar 130b). It follows that just as teshuvah already existed in the world when the world was created, man also was created with the attribute of teshuvah within him. Therefore no matter where a person finds himself, even in the lowliest state, in the realm of the husks and shells of impurity known as the klippos, he need only remind himself of the primal power of teshuvah inherent in creation, and that this same powerful attribute is found within himself. Then all he needs is to awaken this latent power of teshuvah from within himself (by going through the teshuvah process, confession and so on), and he can completely transform his habits and nature and raise himself to the highest heights above nature to the supernatural state of pre-Creation…
In this state, the ba’al teshuvah is like a newborn child, pure and innocent, without sin, as he was when Hashem first created him. This is why Hashem can so readily accept his teshuvah — he is no longer the person he was when he sinned.
Pri Ha’aretz, Re’eh


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