Rebbe Nachman of Breslov taught that you must hold on to the attribute of teshuvah at all times. Even when a person is reciting the vidui, confession, and saying, “I have sinned, I have transgressed,” even then it’s not possible that he said it sincerely the first time. Therefore he must repent for the first time that he did teshuvah, which was not completely sincere. He even has to repent for the confession he said.
Even if he is certain that he did fully and sincerely repent, he must still repent the first teshuvah that he ever did. That first teshuvah that he did was based on his previous level of understanding. Later, when he repented again, there is no doubt that his understanding of Hashem’s greatness (and of the magnitude of his misdeeds) has changed. Now that he has greater clarity and a better understanding than he did previously, he must do teshuvah for the way he did teshuvah previously. Happy is he who merits to do such teshuvah!
Meshivas Nefesh — Restoring the Soul
If you wish to repent and return to Hashem, you must be well versed in walking down the path of Jewish law — “halachah” (which literally means “walkway” or “path”). This will prevent anything in this world from distancing you from Hashem or from causing you to stray, whether you are on your way up or down the path to spirituality.
No matter what happens to you and no matter what you experience, still you must strengthen yourself and “hold yourself up” (in Yiddish, “der halten zich”) by adhering to the halachah. Then you can fulfill the words of Tehillim (139:8): “If I travel to the heavens You [Hashem] are there, and if I make my bed in the pits of Gehinnom, You are there beside me as well.”
Even in the deepest darkest recesses of Gehinnom, you can come close to Hashem because He is found also there, for “if I make my bed in the pits of Gehinnom, You are there beside me.”
Hishtapchus HaNefesh — An Outpouring of the Soul
If you want to merit to do teshuvah, take on the habit of reciting Tehillim, which is a segulah for teshuvah. Why?
There are fifty gates of repentance; forty-nine of them we are capable of opening and entering. These forty-nine gates of teshuvah correspond to the forty-nine letters that spell out the names of the twelve tribes of Israel — each and every gate corresponds to one letter from the names of the tribes. But the fiftieth gate belongs to Hashem’s own teshuvah, so to speak, because even regarding Hashem we find the concept of teshuvah, as it says, “Return to Me [says Hashem] and I will return to you” (Malachi 3:7).
Everyone wants to be on the level where he fears Hashem, but not everyone merits to do teshuvah. Perhaps some people lack the awakening to do teshuvah; others, though they have been awakened to repent, fail to reach their personal gate to teshuvah and complete the process. Even those who manage to reach the gate may find it shut and locked due to their sins and they may need to redouble their efforts of teshuvah. This is why they fail in their efforts to do teshuvah fully.
By reciting Tehillim, however, even those who initially lacked any enthusiasm to repent are moved to do so, and they begin to feel an awakening to repent and return. This awakening is enough for them to reach the gate that corresponds to their letter and to open that gate.
This is the concept conveyed by the verse “These are the last words of David…the words of the man [i.e., King David] who was established on High…” (Shmuel II 23:1). Our Sages explain, “This teaches that King David established the yoke of teshuvah [that is, he showed us the way to repent after he repented of his sin with Batsheva]” (Mo’ed Katan 16b). In the same verse, King David is called the “sweet singer of Israel,” alluding to fact that he composed the book of Tehillim. Since he merited to “establish the yoke of teshuvah,” he infused this power of teshuvah into his Tehillim. This is why we are awakened to repent through Tehillim.
This is also what our Sages (Avodah Zarah 4b) meant when they said that King David was much greater and worthier than that action that is ascribed to him (the sin with Batsheva) — it only happened to him to teach individuals about the power of repentance. Thus we find that King David was the prime example of a ba’al teshuvah, and his book of Psalms is a path to teshuvah. He sang his psalms with such a great feeling of awakening and ruach hakodesh (divine intuition) that each and every individual can find their personal circumstances in the book of Tehillim on their own personal level, and through its power merit to repent.
The primary refinement of the twelve tribes, whose names comprise the forty-nine letters that correspond to the forty-nine gates of teshuvah, occurred in Egypt… Therefore, after the tribes were refined through their experience in Egypt and merited to leave, they counted forty-nine days of the Omer, which correspond to the aforementioned forty-nine letters that represent the forty-nine gates of repentance. On the fiftieth day, Hashem descended to Har Sinai (Shemos 19:20). This is what is meant by the idea we explained above, that Hashem’s teshuvah of “I will return to you,” is the fiftieth gate, since that is the day that Hashem, so to speak, “returned” or came close to us.
Therefore the final letters of the verse “V’eileh shemos Bnei Yisrael haba’im — These are the names of the children of Israel who were coming” (Shemos 1:1) spell the word tehillim, and the final letters of the second part of this verse, “Mitzraymah eis Yaakov ish u’veiso — to Egypt with Yaakov, each man and his household” spell the word teshuvah. This is because through saying Tehillim, we merit to do teshuvah.
This, too, is the concept behind the verse listing the names of Yaakov’s children who entered Egypt. The forty-nine letters that spell their names correspond to the forty-nine gates of repentance, showing that they went down into Egypt to be refined there, as just mentioned. We can see for ourselves that during days of repentance — the month of Elul and the ensuing Ten Days of Repentance between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur — all of Bnei Yisrael take upon themselves to recite Tehillim, because saying Tehillim is a segulah for teshuvah. Saying Tehillim is a great and important thing, a way to rouse feelings of awakening toward Hashem. Happy is he who grasps this!
The Blessings That Teshuvah Brings
When a person does teshuvah and repents wholeheartedly, Hashem grants him a heart that can know Him.
Sefer HaMiddos, Teshuvah
The moment that a person decides to repent and do teshuvah, his prayers are immediately accepted even before he has done teshuvah.
Sefer HaMiddos, Teshuvah
Teshuvah heals the world: when one does teshuvah out of fear, his intentional sins are transformed into mistakes; when he repents out of love they are transformed into merits. Thus teshuvah brings redemption closer and lengthens a man’s days and the years of his life. Through teshuvah, however, not only he but also the entire world is forgiven.
Sefer HaMiddos, Teshuvah
Through teshuvah, the spirit of Mashiach blows and whispers like the wind over any harsh governmental decrees and cancels them.
Sefer HaMiddos, Teshuvah
Through teshuvah, a person’s livelihood comes more easily.
Sefer HaMiddos, Teshuvah
Through Shabbos and teshuvah, one draws down upon himself the light of Mashiach.
Sefer HaMiddos, Teshuvah
Bringing the Wicked Back to the Fold
When a Jew is moved and awakened to do teshuvah because of a feeling of impurity he experiences when attempting to pray and serve Hashem, then by repenting he affects not only himself but even those who are truly wicked and left the fold of Klal Yisrael because of their wicked misdeeds. He causes them to repent and return, and they themselves are transformed into a vehicle for sanctity, even aiding those who serve Hashem to build holy edifices.
Likutei Eitzos, Teshuvah
There are three conditions to teshuvah: the eyes must see, the heart must understand, and the ears must hear. A person must look for and understand his ultimate purpose in life, and he must be prepared to fulfill it. He must also listen and pay close attention to the words of our Sages — then he will merit to really succeed in doing teshuvah fully.
Barriers and Obstacles at the Beginning of a Ba’al Teshuvah’s Journey
When the light of teshuvah begins to shine within and awaken the penitent who is distant from anything that is holy, he may find that his way is impeded by various obstacles. He must exert great effort to overcome these obstacles and divest himself of his soiled garments. These garments that have been soiled with previous sins and misdeeds act as a barrier, like a river intersecting a road so that one cannot cross.
Do not allow your thoughts to confuse you or frighten you away from drawing close to Hashem. If you see that seemingly insurmountable obstacles prevent you from returning to Him, know that these are formed from your garments soiled by sin. You must suffer this exertion and some bitterness until you can divest yourself of these garments. Then these obstacles will vanish, and any barriers between you and holiness will cease to be.
Guarding Your Thoughts for Repentance
The meaning of teshuvah is to return something to its origin. The origin, or beginning, of all things is wisdom. For this reason, everyone must guard their wisdom and intellect from foreign, external influences, and especially from negative, impure thoughts, because all sins are rooted in a blemished wisdom that is left unguarded. This is the primary form of teshuvah.
True teshuvah is dependent on your heart, especially those thoughts that lie deep within your heart. Therefore strengthen yourself to flee from negative thoughts and to always think positively. Focus on the goal of returning to Hashem and use your imagination to think up strategies and ways to help you repent. This will aid you in acquiring the secrets of Torah wisdom, and the Torah wisdom that you have acquired will be the primary delight that you will experience in the next world.
Teshuvah through Torah
Teshuvah is primarily dependent on Torah. If you study Torah and exert yourself in your studies, you will come to understand how one concept is derived from another. Then you will merit to originate novel ideas and new interpretations for the sake of Heaven. This is a form of true and complete teshuvah, because creating chiddushim means creating new ideas and teshuvah is a form of rebirth and renewal.
The Journey of Teshuvah
Each person has unique experiences based on whatever came to pass on the stations along his life’s journey. A truly complete teshuvah is defined by returning to the same places you previously traveled to and making different choices this time around. When you go through these situations again, and now you turn your back on them and prevail over your inclination — this is true teshuvah.
Teshuvah Above All
Teshuvah succeeds against any and all sins. Even the grave offense of intentionally wasting seed and any other forms of blemishes made on the bris — even these sins one can overcome with teshuvah.
Thus our Sages said, “There is truly nothing that stands in the way of teshuvah” (Yerushalmi, Pe’ah 1:1; Sanhedrin 103a).
Even Just One Day of Repentance is Very Precious
Once, Reb Noson of Nemirov overheard Rebbe Nachman reciting the mishnah “Repent one day before your death” (Avos 2:10). When he said the words and repeated them, Rebbe Nachman kept stressing “one day.”
What Rebbe Nachman meant to convey, taught Reb Noson, is the idea that repenting even one day during your lifetime before you leave this world is of the utmost significance.
So many people, Reb Noson explains, give up and are lost because although they awaken themselves to repent and return to Hashem, they are prevented from doing so by the day before and the day after — by their past and their future. The past holds them back because of the misdeeds it contains, and their future is impeded by similar personal obstacles.
Rebbe Nachman tells us, “Seize the moment and repent even just ‘one day’ before you die.” Repent even just one day of your life on this world, and don’t let yourself be discouraged, for this one day is as precious as any treasure. Seize the moment, because if you do not seize this day, you might miss the opportunity.