The Power of Teshuvah – Day 24
In the early years of the Volozhiner Yeshivah, an outstanding student became very ill. Another student accompanied him home. En route, the boys spent a night at an inn. When the innkeeper presented the bill, they were 7 cents short. The ill student took responsibility for the balance. When he arrived home, he gave the other student 7 cents with instructions to pay the innkeeper. Shortly thereafter, the ill student passed away.
Several weeks later, the deceased boy appeared to Rav Chaim Volozhiner in a dream. He reported that he merited entry into Gan Eden; however, his friend had neglected to pay the innkeeper. Until the innkeeper received the 7 cents, the boy would not be allowed into Gan Eden. The deceased was allowed to request from his Rebbe that the bill be paid. Rav Chaim immediately directed the other student to pay the bill, which he did.
As the story conveys, everything we do in this world has our name on it. Our moral accounts must be balanced to the penny so that there will be no accusations to greet us in the Next World. The realization that every act has real spiritual consequences provides a sturdy counterbalance to the desires that tug at our hearts. Chovos HaLevavos explains:
Physical pleasures, as opposed to man’s intellect, are with him from his youth. His attachment to them is firm and it increases as these pleasures become necessary to him. Therefore … man requires external forces to help him stand firm …
Concretizing the destructive power of sin helps a person stand fast. In fact, throughout Torah, this approach is used to enable people to internalize that which they cannot fully comprehend. A visual image arms the intellect with ammunition against the passions of the heart, as we see from this story.
Rav Amram Chasida once felt himself being overcome by an intense passion to sin. He spaced his feet apart and dug in his heels to resist taking another step. He then shouted, “There is a fire in the house of Amram.” When the Sages who ran out to help him found out that there was no fire, they petulantly responded, “You have shamed us.”
Why did Rav Amram shout “fire” when there was no fire? To Rav Amram, the “fire” was real. The “fire” of the Evil Inclination was consuming him from within.
The visual image of “fire” has been used by our Sages to describe Gehinnom. They state that fire is one-sixtieth of Gehinnom, a description that enables anyone who has ever felt the singe of a flame to gain some grasp of a concept which is, in reality, indescribable.
By attaching a visual image to the outcome of sin, we can hope to satisfy the advice of Rabbeinu Yonah: “Make the words of yiras Shamayim fluent on your lips … Fear God and keep His commandments, for that is man’s whole duty.”
Points to Ponder:
- TSupport is necessary to strengthen one’s mind to control his heart.
- Knowing that every small act has eternal repercussions provides powerful support to resist urges that might harm someone else or lead to sin.