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Secret of Brit Book - Chapter 4: Tikun HaBrit - One
Written by Michael   
Tuesday, 09 May 2006

The Power Of Penitence

2. Constant Tshuva


As we have learned, the Zohar states that even the gravest sexual transgressions can be rectified through a great and constant tshuva. (Shmot 3b)

What is a great and constant tshuva?
 
We can find part of the answer in the Psalms of King David, whose life was constantly directed toward tshuva, and toward coming ever closer to G-d. (Maharal, Netivit Olam, Path of Tshuva, Ch.4)

On the verse in Tehillim, “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is constantly before me,” (Tehillim, 51:5) Rabbi Shimon explains:

How stringently should people guard against sinning before HaKodesh Baruch Hu.  For behold, after each of his sins, his transgression is imprinted in the upper worlds, and is not erased except by a great repentance, as is said, “For though you wash thyself with lye, and make use of much soap, yet the stain of thy iniquity is before Me.” (Yirmeyahu, 2:22.)
Come and see, when a man commits a sin before HaKodesh Baruch Hu, it leaves a stain, and when he sins a second time, the stain is deepened. If he sins a third time, the stain spreads from one side to the other. This is the meaning of, “the stain of thy iniquity is before me.”

Observe, because King David sinned before HaKodeh Baruch Hu in the matter of Bat Sheva, he thought this sin would be engraved against him forever. What is written instead? “The L-rd has also has commuted thy sin; thou shall not die.” (Shmuel 2, 12:13)  G-d erased the stain that was imprinted before Him....

Behold, even though David confessed his sin and repented, he refused to remove from his heart and his thoughts the memory of the sins he committed, especially regarding the sin involving Bat Sheva.  For he was always afraid from them, lest one of them prove to be an accuser against him in a time of danger. For this reason, he never removed them from his heart and his thoughts.  (Zohar, Bereshit, 73b)

Even though King David’s life was epitomized by a burning desire to cleave to G-d through constant self-examination, supplications, Torah learning, good deeds, and fasts to break his evil inclination; he worried that the stain of his sins remained as a barrier in his worship of G-d.

There are some sins, like the neglect of a positive commandment, that are forgiven immediately upon heartfelt repentance. But there are other sins that require a more intensive course of atonement. (See, Rambam, Laws of Tshuva, 1:9)

An explanation for this, and a general overview of tshuva, can be found in the chapter, “The Gate of Repentance,” in the book, Orchot Tzaddikim:

“There are many levels of repentance, in accordance with which a person draws closer to the Blessed One. And the soul is never entirely pure – as pure as if the transgressions had never been committed – until one purifies his heart. This is analogous to the state of a sullied garment, which will be rid of filth with a superficial washing, but which will still be left with an impression of this filth and a stain. Only much washing will cleanse it completely, as King David pleads, ‘Wash me thoroughly of my iniquity.’” (Tehillim, 51:4)


It is explained in the Kabbalah that certain sins, like sexual transgressions, blemish a person’s entire spiritual blueprint, leaving an impression on the entire hierarchy of his nefesh, ruach, neshama, chaya, and yichida. Because man is a microcosm of existence, these same transgressions simultaneously pollute all of the spiritual worlds of asiyah, yetzirah, beriyah, and atzilut. A superficial repentance may only clean the stain on the nefesh, but not on the ruach. A greater tshuva may cleanse the ruach, but not the neshama. So too, an initial tshuva may erase the blemish to the world of asiyah, but not touch the stains in the upper spiritual worlds to which a person is connected. Because of this, more than a superficial “one-time tshuva” is needed.

This is especially the case with atonement over sexual transgressions, and the wasting of semen, which involve the more strenuous spiritual work of releasing the souls that have fallen captive to the realm of impurity.

While it is important for a baal tshuva to always remember his sin, as it is written, “And my sin is constantly before me,” the intention is not to be forever in a state of self-chastisement and despair, but rather to always strive for a higher purity and rectification.  The Gemara teaches that a man should spend “all of his days in tshuva.” (Shabbat 153A) In tshuva, and not in despair. True, in the initial stage of tshuva, there is a feeling of remorse and despair, but as Rabbi Kook explains, this pain is soon replaced by feelings of exquisite joy, and endless peaks of greater and greater light. He writes:

“Great and exalted is the pleasure of tshuva. The searing flame of pain cause by sin purifies the will and refines the character of a person to an exalted, sparkling purity until the great joy of the life of tshuva is opened for him. Tshuva raises the person higher and higher through its stages of bitterness, pleasantness, grieving, and joy. Nothing purges and purifies a person, and raises him to the stature of being truly a man, like the profound process of tshuva.” (Orot HaTshuva, 13:11. See also, “The Art of Tshuva,” Ch. 7)

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