The Power of Teshuvah – Day 17
Strategy 1: Going the Right Way
A fire broke out in a high-rise building.
“Take the escape route, now!” an office worker called as he ran past a confused man wandering in the smoke-filled corridor. “There’s only one way to get out alive!”
But where was the escape route? Left or right? Which stairwell? Without knowing precisely what he had to do to escape the fire, the man could not benefit from the office worker’s advice.
Do teshuvah? Indeed, it is the only way to escape from the spiritual conflagration ignited by sin. On the spiritual level, teshuvah is as urgent as an escape from a blazing building, whose success we would want to ensure to the highest possible degree. Teshuvah is not a place for random efforts in different directions; it is a place for precise, knowledgeable action. A person who wants to do teshuvah must learn the specific “escape route” that God prepared at the very inception of the world. Only by following that route can we arrive safely at forgiveness and renewal.
The Torah puts forth the commandment of teshuvah with the following words:
For this mitzvah that I command you today — it is not hidden from you and it is not distant. It is not in heaven, [for you] to say, “Who will ascend to heaven for us and take it for us, so that we can listen to it and perform it?” Nor is it across the sea, [for you] to say, “Who can cross to the other side of the sea for us and take it for us, so that we can listen to it and perform it?” Rather, the matter is very near to you — in your mouth and in your heart — to perform it.
The words “this mitzvah” in the above verse refer to teshuvah. For anyone who sins, teshuvah is an obligation akin to other positive mitzvos, such as donning tefillin. Teshuvah is defined by specific laws which are as imperative as, for example, the laws of chametz. We cannot fulfill the mitzvah unless we act in accordance with our learning.
To engage in proper teshuvah we must apply our time and effort to study the laws and effectively eradicate the sin. It is not enough to simply “feel badly” and go on with life. Even if we cannot tackle all of our deficiencies at once, Hashem accepts the teshuvah we are able to do and considers it worthy of merit.
It is worthwhile to note that although “Charity saves from death,” it does not substitute for teshuvah. Attempting to achieve the benefit of teshuvah through charity is compared to trying to “bribe” God. This is not effective, because “God … does not show favor and … does not accept a bribe.” Therefore, even if a person tries to counterbalance his sins by performing other outstanding mitzvos, such as charity, he has not mitigated the sin that distances him from God.
Like a powerful medicine capable of defeating a devastating disease, teshuvah must contain the right measure of the precise ingredients. These are contained in the essential halachos of teshuvah which appear in the section at the end of the book Halachos — The Laws of Teshuvah.
We urge the reader to review one of these extremely important halachos each day for 12 days. In doing so, we are doing our utmost to ensure that the life-saving medicine for curing our spiritual ills is authentic and full strength.
Points to Ponder:
- Teshuvah offers a priceless benefit, and therefore, there are criteria that must be met.
- There is no way — not even through giving charity — to bypass the requirements of teshuvah.