Friday, September 22, 2006
The Essence of Teshuva
The Essence of Teshuva
as related by Rabbi AJ Twerski, in Not Just Stories
A man once came to Rebbe Michel of Zlotchov, stating that he had inadvertently done something forbidden on Shabbos, and asked the Rebbe what he must do for his teshuva to be accepted. Rebbe Michel explained the gravity of violating the Shabbos to him, and that Shabbos is equivalent to all the other 612 mitzvos. His sin was indeed serious one, and he therefore prescribed a rigorous course of fasting and self-mortification as penance.
This man subsequently came to the Baal Shem Tov, who told him that the fasting prescribed by Rebbe Michel was unnecessary, and that as penance he should provide the candles for the pulpit in shul. The man proceeded to buy candles, and since in those days the candles were made of tallow from animal fat, a dog who wandered through the open door of the shul sniffed the candles and ate them. The man then replaced the candles, but whenever they were lit, the wind blew them out. He took these as being Divine signals, that his teshuva was rejected, and he reported this to the Baal Shem Tov.
The Baal Shem Tov understood that the problem was due to Rebbe Michel's interference, and that the latter believed that a more strenuous penance was necessary. The Baal Shem Tov sent a message to Rebbe Michel, asking that he come to him for Shabbos.
Rebbe Michel accepted the invitation, and set out on the trip on Wednesday, giving himself ample time to arrive before Shabbos. However, the trip was plagued with one mishap after another. First the axle of the wagon broke, and this took considerable time to repair. Then a severe thunderstorm caused the roads to be muddy and hindered their progress. Then a wheel fell off and then they took a wrong fork in the road. In short, there were a series of misfortunes that resulted in their arrival at the Baal Shem Tov's home late Friday afternoon, shortly before sunset.
Rebbe Michel, who was by this time terribly anxious that they not travel into the Shabbos, took his belongings and rushed into the Baal Shem Tov's house, where he saw the Baal Shem Tov in his Shabbos garments, standing with the goblet of wine in his hand, reciting the Kiddush. Assuming that it was already Shabbos and that he had violated the Shabbos by traveling, Rebbe Michel fainted.
The Baal Shem Tov revived him and said to Rebbe Michel, "You did not violate Shabbos, because the sun had not yet set. I accepted the Shabbos upon myself earlier than usual, but for you it is not yet Shabbos."
"But tell me, Reb Michel, when you thought that you had violated the Shabbos, how distressed were you? Don't you see that if the awareness that one has sinned causes a person to feel deeply distressed at having transgressed the Divine word, this is the essence of teshuva? Once this regret has occurred, there is no need for additional self-punitive behavior. The man who had sought a method of penance from you had already experienced the pain of the awareness of having transgressed, and all that has necessary was some token act of penance, because the true teshuva had already taken place.''
May we all merit the essence of Teshuva this Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur!
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