T’shuva: Essence of Repentance

As we prepare for Yom Kippur, the main theme we are confronted with is t’shuva (return, repentance). The word brings to us thoughts of different types of mortifications, such as fasting and other forms of self-denial; or in many circles the acceptance of additional stringencies in halacha to “make-up” for perceived errors. The general feeling is one of fright for what could be in the next world, or even punishment in this world chas v’sholom, pleading before a judgemental and potentially cruel God. These ideas are all essentially incorrect.

The Zohar HaKadosh says that T’shuva shel Yirah, return done due to fear, will atone for many sins, but not all of them and it does not turn them into mitzvos. On the other hand, T’shuva shel Ahavah, return done from love, atones for all sins and even turns them into mitzvos, meaning that it is as if the error was commanded by Hashem and an inextricable part of the Divine plan.

To be short, T’shuva shel Ahava is repentance done due to feeling remorse over the distance we feel from God due to our errors, which is essentially a broken idea since God fills all the worlds and surrounds, as it is explicitly recorded in the Tikunei Zohar and expounded on by the Baal Shem Tov. To realize that our errors cannot possibly remove us from this Divinity in any way, but rather create barriers which prevent us from feeling this, and to repent and seek God anew, asking Him to remove these self-erected walls from our perception and to work to know Him.

The hailige Rizhiner zt”l said once on the opening verse of this last week’s haftorah “״שובה ישראל עד ה׳ אלקיך” (return Yisroel to Hashem your God) that this refers to returning to the indwelling Divine, the chelek Elokah mim’al mamesh (chunk of God from up above, literally), which is referred to as “your God,” in the singular rather than in the plural.

In other words, rather than t’shuva being about reaching upwards towards a distant, judgemental, alien God, t’shuva is instead a process of turning inward towards our personal Divine Spark and revealing that, living life with our minds and hearts directed towards seeing the world-filling God, and living in a state of clinging to Divine life.

גמר חתימה טובה

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