The Power of Teshuvah – Day 7
The estranged best friends hadn’t spoken to each other in over a decade. The insult that caused the rift seemed insignificant in retrospect, and yet too many years had gone by, too many life events not shared, for either to make the first move.
Then, one day, they found themselves seated side by side in the waiting room of a doctor’s office. The doctor, a specialist, dealt with serious diseases. Each realized that the other was facing great difficulty.
“So … Ben,” Mordy said, as if he were resuming an interrupted conversation. “I guess we can skip the ‘how are you?’ part, huh?”
It was the same wry sense of humor the two had always shared together, and Mordy hoped it would hit the mark.
“Yeah, skip that,” Ben replied with a familiar chuckle. “It’s good to see you again.”
In the scene above, we would not say that Ben and Mordy have brought their friendship back to its original state of closeness. We would, however, say that they had taken a crucial step, and that the relationship between them was improved because of that step. In the same way, small steps of teshuvah have a value in and of themselves, regardless of whether they lead to complete teshuvah.
The root meaning of teshuvah is shuv — return. Teshuvah means returning to God, bridging the distance caused by our sins. The essence of teshuvah is derived from the verse, “It is our sins that divide between Me and you.” Because teshuvah’s essence is expressed primarily by becoming closer to God, any small step that we take in that direction, even one that is incomplete, is a giant stride in the right direction and is pleasing to Him.
While other mitzvos must be performed in their entirety to accomplish their particular spiritual function, teshuvah is different. That is because it is, at its core, a healing process. When a person suffers from a disease, each improvement is valuable. Even if he never recovers completely, the progress he does make is precious to him.
In fact, incremental progress in teshuvah is an important source of motivation for further advances. Once we begin to feel an increased sense of God’s closeness, our desire to sin becomes commensurately weaker. We do not want to forfeit the new sense of closeness we have just attained, and so we are more resistant to flouting Hashem’s commandments.
Hashem’s concealment, which we are still experiencing during these days leading into the times of Mashiach, tends to cloud our sense of His nearness. However, there is a way to uncover His hidden “face,” and that is by doing teshuvah. This is the foundation upon which everything depends, since teshuvah’s power heals all the ills of our soul and of the world.
The gift of teshuvah lies in its ability to nullify our past and to dissolve our prior stains. But the undeniable message of teshuvah is that Hashem desires a loving relationship with us, and as long as we live, and whoever we may be, it is never too late to reestablish the connection. In the words of the Rambam: “How great is teshuvah that it brings man close to the Shechinah …”
Yesterday he was hateful in the sight of Hashem — despised, forsaken, and repulsive — and today he is beloved, desirable, near, and befriended.
Points to Ponder:
- The essence of teshuvah is to come closer to God. Any incremental step in that direction is of significant value.
- Teshuvah proves that despite our imperfections, God desires to be close to us.