The Power of Teshuvah – Day 32
Go With the Flow
Rationale: “Everyone in my community does it. How could it be so terrible if all these respectable people do it too?”
Reality: Countering this line of thought, the Torah warns, “Do not go after the majority to do evil.” From this verse, Rabbeinu Bachya draws the following vital lesson:
The plain meaning of this verse is that if you see many people doing something wrong, you should not follow their example. When many people do something wrong, it is easier for a person to think, “So many people are doing this, it can’t be so wrong if I do it also.” Conversely, the Torah teaches that each person is responsible for his own behavior.
It takes much strength of character to be different from others for [the sake of] one’s ideals. However, anyone who appreciates that the most important thing in the world is to do the will of the Almighty will weigh his own behavior against the Torah standards and not the standards of others, regardless of how numerous they are.
Rationale: Once a person has exhausted his list of people and circumstances to blame for his faults, he might look to himself. But here, too, he can erect an obstacle to undertaking teshuvah — “I’m too far gone to change!”
Reality: Rabbeinu Yonah explains that the power of teshuvah is boundless: “Even if they have offended and rebelled exceedingly, and been utterly faithless, He has not closed the doors of repentance to them…”
The Torah informs us that as long as we live, we can do teshuvah. As the Rambam paraphrases, “Even if he transgressed throughout his life but repented on the day of his death and died as a penitent, all his sins are forgiven.” Even a lifelong sinner can, and therefore must, repent.
In Yad HaChazakah, the laws of teshuvah directly follow the laws related to the cardinal sin of idol worship. This sequence teaches us that there is no sinner, nor any sin, which is beyond teshuvah.
The sense of hopelessness and futility arises from within ourselves. Often, a stumbling block familiar to dieters comes into play. The dieter loses his self-control for a few moments and grabs an extra portion. Rather than pulling himself back on track, he thinks, Well, that kills the diet for today. I might as well eat whatever I want now. From that reasoning, he turns a few hundred extra calories into a day devoid of all self-control.
Likewise, the person seeking to deal with an entrenched sin will usually suffer some cracks in his resolve. If he says to himself, That’s that. There’s no use going forward with teshuvah. Nothing is going to change, then his setback turns into a full-fledged defeat. Had he kept moving forward, the setback would have soon faded into the background.
When we embark on teshuvah and at times, disappointingly find ourselves back where we started, we can find strength in the image of the ladder our forefather Yaakov saw in his dream. It was “a ladder stationed on the ground with its head (the top rung) reaching the heavens,” and it represented Yaakov’s life’s task of rung-by-rung spiritual elevation.
A ladder can be used to go in either direction. If we should happen to step down, we must realize that we are still on the ladder. We have not been thrown to the ground. In fact, it may be that very downward motion that propels us upward, to heights that we never before attained.