The Power Of Penitence
3. Tshuva From Love
Because the sexual urge is the most powerful passion in man, in order to escape from its clutches, a baal tshuva must undergo a process of purification whereby the sexual passion is replaced by a passion even stronger – the passion to come closer to G-d. The pleasure of illicit sexual sins must be replaced with the supreme pleasure of being attached to Hashem.
This tshuva, motivated by a burning desire to become closer to -d, is tshuva m’ahava (tshuva from love) also called tshuva ila’a, by the Baal HaTanya, because it is the highest level of repentance (See Igeret HaTshuva, Ch.8,) and tshuva sichlit by Rabbi Kook, because it is rooted in the intellectual understanding that union with Hashem is the ultimate good. (Orot HaTshuva, Ch. 1)
What characterizes this type of penitent? The Rambam explains:
“Whoever serves G-d out of love, occupies himself with the study of Torah, observes the commandments, and walks in the path of wisdom, impelled by no other external motive whatsoever, moved neither by fear of retribution, nor the desire for material reward.” These are the basic criterions of tshuva from love. Such a man follows this course of positive action simply because it is G-d’s will for the world. He understands that this is what brings goodness to all of Creation.
“This standard is indeed a very high one; not every sage attained to it. It was the standard of our forefather Avraham, whom G-d called His lover, because he served only out of love. It is the standard which G-d bids us, through Moshe, to achieve, as is said, “And thou shall love the L-rd thy G-d.” (Devarim, 6:5) When one loves G-d with the right love, he will straightaway observe all the commandments out of love as well.”
The Rambam explains the qualities of this steadfast love:
“It is to love Hashem with a great and exceeding love, so strong that one’s soul shall be consumed with the love of G-d. One should be continually enraptured by it, like a love-sick man whose mind is at no time free from the passion for a particular woman; the thought of her filling his heart at all times, when sitting down or rising up, when he is eating and drinking. Even more intense should be the love of G-d in the hearts of those who love Him. And this love should continually possess them, just as He commanded, ‘with all thy heart and with all thy soul.’” (Rambam, Laws of Tshuva, 10:2-3)
Tshuva from love is filled with boundless joy. It transforms all past transgressions into meritorious deeds. (Yoma 86B) If a man abandons sexual wrongdoing, not from fear of punishment, nor with the hope of receiving a reward in Gan Eden, but solely to please Hashem, he has reached the lofty level of tshuva m’ahavah. In doing so, he has succeeded in transforming his hitherto selfish lifestyle, motivated by a lust for self-gratification, into the altruistic desire to bring good to the world.
This tshuva derives from the lofty understanding that man’s highest purpose lies in pleasing his Maker. Instead of a life of wrongdoing, the baal tshuva longs to put his life in line with G-d’s will for all of Creation, out of the recognition that G-d’s will, as expressed in the Torah, is directed toward absolute goodness and truth. This is a tshuva that is not based on anything but the love and devotion to G-d. Inspired by the radiance of G-d’s goodness, the baal tshuva determines to change all of his negative, egotistical acts into positive, transcendental ideals. He longs solely to add goodness and holiness to the world, and in thus aligning himself to G-d’s will, to bring joy to the Shekinah which was exiled because of his sins, and the sins of his forefathers.
This exalted level of tshuva not only atones for transgressions, but the transgressions themselves become transformed into meritorious deeds. All of the actions that brought him to this level of love, even his sins, now take on a positive light. For it was precisely his past wrongdoings that aroused his thoughts of repentance and motivated him to return with a burning desire to achieve this transcendent oneness with G-d.
“A person should not think, how can I ever reach this lofty level? It is not so far away as it seems. For if in contemplating his spiritual darkness, a feeling of deep chagrin fills his heart, he is already on the path of a higher tshuva. When a`person recognizes that his faculties for spiritual perception are blocked because of the blemishes in his soul caused by sin, the anguish he feels works like a cleansing agent, filling his heart with the burning desire to rid himself of the barriers obstructing the flow of Divine light to his soul. This is the way to higher tshuva, the tshuva that is worthy of atoning for any misdeeds.” (Orot Hatshuva, 14:1a)
The Zohar itself promises the greatest of rewards for the penitent:
Fortunate are the penitent, for in one hour, one day, even one second, they draw closer to the Holy One Blessed Be He than even the completely righteous who drew close to the Holy One Blessed after many years. Abraham did not reach that high grade of completeness in days until he was old, as already was said. So too, David, as is written, “Now King David was old; he came into days.” (Melachim 1, 1:1). But the baal tshuva immediately finds entrance, and cleaves to the Holy One Blessed Be He.
Rabbi Yosi said, We have learned that the place where baale tshuva stand in the next world, even the completely righteous do not have permission to stand, because the penitent are closer to the King than anyone else; for their hearts strive more fervently to draw near to the King. (Zohar, Bereshit 129a)
Having seen the loftiness of tshuva, in the next chapter, we will focus on specific remedies to wash away transgressions against the Brit.