THE INTEGRITY OF TESHUVA
Summary of a shiur given byHaRav Aharon Lichtenstein
The term "integrity" has two possible meanings. the first denotes wholeness as opposed to fragmentation; the second has moral overtones, portraying a sense of honesty and total opposition to any form of falsehood. Our goal here will be to see if these two definitions can be interrelated in the context of teshuva (repentance). Can teshuva be both true and limited, genuine yet partial? Can fragmented teshuva be subjectively sincere? In other words, can one repent for violating one commandment and not for another, yet still believe that both are the word of Hashem? On an objective level, can we speak of such a fragmented teshuva, i.e. does Hashem accept such repentance?
Our investigation begins in Devarim 10:12-13. There, Moshe tells the Jews; "And now, Yisrael, what does Hashem ask from you? Only to fear Hashem your God, to walk in His ways and to love Him and to serve Hashem your God, with all your heart and all your soul. To keep the mitzvot of Hashem and His ordinances that I am commanding you today to be good for you." The gemara in Brachot notes that at the outset, it seems that Moshe is telling the Jews that Hashem wants very little, "just" that they be God-fearing individuals. How can this be such a minor request? To Moshe, however, it was a relatively easy level to attain, and the two verses taken together demonstrate how this it was to be accomplished. The first verse speaks of major religious values - fearing God, loving Him, walking in His ways. the second verse is more particular, describing various categories of commandments that the Jews were to perform. Together, these two elements are characteristic of the ideal of Avodat Hashem (service to God) that Moshe wished to pass to the Jews for posterity. We are asked to move along a dual axis: A grand majestic approach to service of God, paralleled by a detailed, somewhat mundane form of service that is rife with rituals and procedures.
The world of halacha is both teleological and formal. It wants us to strive for the grand and the ultimate in dveikut bashem (attaching oneself to God), yet it does so by commanding us to involve ourselves in the minutiae of daily life, seemingly far removed from the grandiose view that one would envision. In a similar sense, the first two paragraphs of the Shema have the themes of accepting the yoke of mitzvot and accepting the yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven. While each theme is the focus of a separate paragraph,Rambam notes that they are actually two sides of the same coin, together making up the one obligation to recite the Shema. The both lead to the ultimate goal of following and pursuing Hashem and cleaving to Him.
Rambam's prime Biblical source for teshuva is the verse of "v'hitvadu" (Bamidbar 5:7) and they will confess, a verse that comes in the context of the laws of one who steals from a convert (gezel ha-ger). The second source comes from the laws concerning the Yom Kippur service - "for on this day you will be forgiven..." (Vayikra 16:30) While this latter verse is often read as a promise,Rabbeinu Yonah notes that it refers to a special mitzvah of repentance on Yom Kippur.
There is a marked contrast between these two sources. In Bamidbar, the focus is on a very specific act that may be very limited in import - a person atones for one instance of thievery. On the other hand, the verse in Vayikra, the word "titharu" - you will be purified - does not focus on any particular sin and there is no stated confession that is envisioned in the verse. Unlike the vidui (confession) that we say now, the gemara in Yoma lists several suggested forms of vidui, all of which are general in nature. In marked contrast to the Bamidbar approach, the gemara seems to focus on a general acknowledgment of sin as a sufficient form of confession. This contrast is reflected in Rambam as well. He begins his laws of Teshuva by saying that when a person transgresses "one" of the mitzvot in the Torah, he then has to recite vidui and thus fulfills a positive commandment. This vidui that is said over a specific commandment is described by Rambam as itself being specific, whereby one must refer to the sin that they had committed. However, in chapter two, Rambam speaks of teshuva and Yom Kippur, and there the focus is once again on the general - "aval anachnu chatanu" - however we have sinned. There is no mention of particulars, but rather a simple seeking out of Hashem when He is close.
These two different approaches to teshuva address themselves to two different aspects of sin. Sin itself has several different components. there is the sin itself; the fact that any sin constitutes a denial of Hashem and what He sets as priorities; the impact on the self, as sin defiles an individual and renders him impure and dirty; it is an act against Hashem and, as it were, against the Kingdom of Heaven; it fractures the relationship between God and man. Taken as a whole, these five elements can be categorized as moral elements, focusing on the wrong as such, and religious elements, focusing on one's relationship to God.
Ramban notes that when Hashem is described as a vengeful God (Keil Kana) with regard to those who worship idols, that description only describes God with relationship to the Jews, an idea that fits in with the imagery of God and the Jews as man and wife. This idea, however, can be extended beyond idolatry to the entire purview of religious experience. It can be applied to anything that ruptures the intimate relationship between man and God.
If sin is to be viewed as a multi-faceted event, the it is logical to assume that teshuva is similarly multi-faceted. There is teshuva as an assertion of the authority of the Heavenly Kingdom, and there is teshuva which comes in response to the contamination of the self. In one case we are instructed to make up "to" Hashem, and in the other we are implored to make up "with" Hashem - v'hitvadu and titharu.
Returning now to our original dilemma. While the goal is obviously that we strive for total teshuva, there nevertheless exists the possibility of a partial and particular teshuva through v'hitvadu. We rule that one who is known to eat forbidden fat (Mumar ochel cheilev) may nevertheless bring a sin-offering if he eats blood, yet one who is known to worship idols (mumar l'avoda zara) may not bring a sacrifice if he commits any other sin. In the former his sin is particular in nature, while in the latter case the individual has damaged his relationship to Hashem. A person may even do teshuva for one instance of one sin while not repenting for a second instance of the same sin, unless he is such a repeat offender that his repentance is effectively a sham.
That is all good and well for v'hitvadu, the particular form of teshuva, but what are we to say for titharu, the more general approach? Can one partially repair his relationship with Hashem? Instinctively, it would seem not - either we are committed to Him or we are not. There are no middle-of-the-road approaches to be had.
However, there are qualifications in both directions. Rambam notes that Hashem at times can throw a person's mitzvot back in his face when that person is steeped in sin. Any mitzvah can come to be seen as an abomination. In Yerushalmi Kiddushin, Ben-Azzai discusses, based on a verse in Kohelet, how one fly can ruin an entire jar of oil that is to be used for annointment purposes. In a similar sense, it can be suggested that a single sin can reach a level of severity that it offsets all of one's merits.
While these examples may be a bit extreme, we also must consider the reverse qualification. The idea of titharu makes sense - one cannot be "toveil v'sheretz b'yado" - attempting to purify himself while still holding the very object that is the cause of his defilement. Rav Soloveitchik noted, in the name of the Chavot Yair, that the last line of Yoma is not as enthusiastic as it is usually made out to be. The gemara first notes that Yom Kippur does not atone for sins committed between man and his fellow man, and then concludes with the statement of Rabi Akiva that the Jews are so fortunate that they come to purify themselves before Hashem Himself, and that He serves, as it were, as their mikveh (ritual bath). Why are these two lines juxtaposed to each other? The Rav answered that when Hashem purifies the Jews he does so acting as a mikveh - one cannot purify himself partially. If one has not yet cleansed himself of his sins to his fellow man, then not even Hashem Himself can purify that individual. It is either all or nothing when it comes to one's relationship to God.
The mishna in Avot states that a person who forgets part of what he has learned is held accountable for his life, a very harsh statement indeed. What is one to do, therefore, if extenuating circumstances, as are extremely common in our lives, causes one to forget? To answer this problem, the mishna states that one is only held accountable if he actively uproots his learning from his heart. What does this mean? Rabbeinu Yonah says that the failure to review adequately is included in the concept of uprooting what one has learned. Either way, the message is clear. A case of one who uproots his Torah from his heart is a case of one who forgets, even only due to the conditions around him, yet is not bothered by that fact. To him, his ignorance of a certain part of Torah is not a consequence that is of major importance. On the other hand, one who forgets due to circumstances is one who learns and wishes that he could do more, yet finds himself limited, despite his thirst for Torah and his concern for his spiritual development.
The same is true when we speak about teshuva. If one aims for total teshuva, then regardless of how slowly his teshuva progresses, he can feel confident that his teshuva will achieve tahara - purity. However, if one does teshuva in some respects, yet is unperturbed about his failure to do so in other areas, then his teshuva is sorely lacking. V'hitvadu without an eye towards titharu cannot work. However, if that ultimate goal is kept in sight, then even a "partial" teshuva can be made to work and help an individual along the path to complete repentance.
Back toChabura-Net's Home Page