The Power of Teshuvah – Day 13
First, Wake Up
A talmid chacham once came to the Chazon Ish and lamented, “Every year, I prepare to do teshuvah. But what is all this worth if right after Yom Kippur I revert to my old habits? The Chazon Ish replied, “Hirhur teshuvah (thoughts of teshuvah) are also very precious to Hashem!
Does teshuvah actually have a shortcut, as the concept of hirhur teshuvah seems to imply? Does a simple awakening of the heart satisfy the requirements of complete teshuvah, including regret, forsaking one’s sin, and verbal confession?
Every day, a heavenly voice cries out “Return, children, return.” Although we cannot hear the heavenly voice, our neshamah, the spiritual spark within us that emanates from God, “hears” the voice that awakens our heart, causing the hirhur teshuvah that we experience. Thus, hirhur teshuvah represents an awakening from spiritual slumber, without which teshuvah cannot occur. It is a beginning, and a valid one, for it sets in motion a cycle of heightening spiritual awareness. The awakening leads to a small elevation: a crack in the armor of defilement that surrounds the heart, which in turn leads to the potential for complete teshuvah.
Each year, the Jewish calendar features one Yom Tov devoted to hirhur teshuvah. Even though Rosh Hashanah is a Day of Judgment, and the first of the Ten Days of Repentance, there is no Viduy nor any mention of specific sins in the prayers. Before teshuvah can occur, there must be a spontaneous, heartfelt awakening. The shofar is the “alarm clock,” which calls out, “Awake, sleepers from your sleep, and slumberers, from your slumber …”
One such instance was recounted regarding the tzaddik Reb Leib Sarah, a disciple of the Baal Shem Tov. He had arrived in a village shortly before Yom Kippur to find that there were only eight Jews, not enough for a minyan. “Perhaps we could find a Jew who left the fold,” suggested the tzaddik. “The doors of repentance are not locked, even for an apostate.”
One villager spoke up. “There is an apostate here: the squire who owns the village. But he has been mired in sin for 40 years.”
The tzaddik approached the squire and pleaded, “Tonight is Yom Kippur. Please be the tenth man of the minyan.”
The squire acquiesced. Throughout Yom Kippur, the squire stood in shul, humbled and contrite. At the climax of Ne’ilah, when the minyan recited in unison, “Hashem Hu HaElokim, Hashem only He is God,” for the seventh time, the squire sighed deeply and his soul departed.
The tzaddik said, “There are those who in one hour earn their portion in the World to Come.”
No matter what one’s situation, there is no point in standing still, wondering what to do. One must take the first step and the rest will follow.
Points to Ponder:
- Hirhur teshuvah is the first crucial step, in which a person’s soul hears heaven’s call to awaken.
- Even when it causes only a slight shift away from sin, hirhur teshuvah can have a powerful impact on a person’s soul.