Thursday, May 5, 2011


Sefer HaChaim - Chapter Three

Teshuvah has the power to enliven the inner essence of a person, purify his character, and transform the evil within him into pure goodness. Teshuvah is not merely the correction of a person’s deeds, but the correction of man himself, with all his traits and mannerisms. The extent of such a transformation, of course, depends upon the sincerity of his teshuvah.

For example, the Gemara distinguishes between teshuvah m’ahavah – returning to Hashem out of love for Him, and teshuvah m’yirah – returning for fear of punishment. When one does teshuvah due out of fear, his sins are forgiven. When he returns with love, his sins are actually transformed into merits. We see that even the evil that has been wrought upon the world can be corrected and made into good. All the more so can the evil within one’s self be corrected. From the foundation and the root of his being, he can rectify and uplift his evil character traits, purifying them and transforming them into perfect goodness.

However, in order to merit this perfect transformation, one must utterly nullify himself before Hashem, becoming like dust and like nothingness. This is the essence of teshuvah: utter nullification before Hashem. Hashem is the Source of goodness and loving-kindness. When one humbles himself before his Maker, new life-force is poured upon him, recreating him as an entirely new being. He becomes a new man; straightforward, kindly, and with positive character traits – most notably the trait of appreciation.

It is no wonder that a person can attain such a fundamental renewal of self, since teshuvah means return – a return to one’s spiritual roots. When the selfish ego is nullified, the evil within man is returned to its original state of good. This is as my grandfather the Divrei Binah writes:

Teshuvah is nothing other than a cleaving of the soul to Hashem Yisborach. When a person makes himself as nothing before Hashem, then Hashem can recreate him, as R’ Chanina ben Dosa said, “He who commanded oil to burn, can also command vinegar to burn.”

Once man has wrought ruin upon his soul, and affronted the honour of Heaven, he can no longer reach perfection in his present form. Yet with teshuvah he returns to the Source of his soul, and there he is recreated as an entirely new being, aligned with the will of His creator.

As Asaf said, “For I am a fool who does not comprehend. As an animal, so have I been with You.” One recognises his own foolishness, and concedes that he has no case to argue on his own behalf. For this very realisation, he merits the continuation of the possuk, “I am always with You; You have taken hold of my right hand.”

Even a person who has been as sour as vinegar, can be transformed into the purest olive oil and shine forth with the light of precious holiness, the glorious light that was drawn from HaKadosh Baruch Hu Himself through the merit of teshuvah.

A person who relinquishes hope for his betterment has fallen prey to a baseless illusion. In truth, Hashem never abandons any Jew. Hashem is always with him. Through teshuvah, and through nullifying one’s self before Hashem, one can receive a new life for himself.

He Who commanded precious olive oil to burn and emit light, can just as easily make sour vinegar shine with holy illumination.
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