Teshuvah: Finding Forgiveness

By Rabbi Shlomo Nachman © June 06,2013 (last update March 16, 2017)

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Finding Teshuvah (audio only)

Parsha Korach (i.e. Bamidbar/Numbers 16:1-18:32) tells about the rebellion of Korach, Dathan and Avirim. These men led their followers in rebellion against Moshe and Aaron. We wont go into this account here, our interest is in its aftermath.

Torah tells us that HaShem caused the earth to open up and swallow the leaders of this rebellion alive, and then to close back, sealing their doom (Bamidbar/Numbers 17:1-5). The matter seemed to be over, but it was not.

The next day a sizable segment of the people came to complain against Moshe and Aaron for the death of their leaders, blaming them for the decision of HaShem caused by their rebellion! In this they too rebelled. It was only then that the plague broke out.

Numbers 17:6. The following day, the entire congregation of Israel complained against Moses and Aaron saying, "You have killed the people of the Lord."
7. It came to pass while the congregation were assembled against Moses and Aaron, that they turned to the Tent of Meeting, and behold, the cloud had covered it, and the glory of the Lord appeared.
8. Moses and Aaron came to the front of the Tent of Meeting.
9. The Lord spoke to Moses saying:
10. Stand aside from this congregation, and I shall consume them in an instant." They fell on their faces.
11. Moses said to Aaron, "Take the censer and put fire from the altar top into it. Then take it quickly to the congregation and atone for them, for wrath has gone forth from the Lord, and the plague has begun."
So the reason for the plague was the rebellion of Korach and his associates (verse 6) but it was not until the people rebelled the next day (verse 7) that HaShem sent the plague. As the Gutnick Chumash notes, There is an important lesson to be learned here.

The people often complained against HaShem during the entire forty years and afterward, but no plague was sent. Why? What was different?

The plague was obviously a continuation of HaShem's judgement against Korach. The seeds of his rebellion had continued to bloom and many of the people had willingly been infected by its spores. Even though Korach incited the people to rebel against Moshe (and hence HaShem), it was not until they personally rebelled that judgement was unleashed upon them.

We are all, by the Will of HaShem, free moral agents. We think, we make our judgements, and we have our opinions. Indeed the very word Y'israel means: "He has striven with God!" This is as it should be. Judaism has never advocated cult-like unthinking obedience. In fact more than one learned rabbi has noted that Judaism is the perfect religion for heretics! We are commanded to think for ourselves! Our thoughts and determinations need a foundation however and that foundation is Torah and in teachings of the rabbis. This requires balance, knowledge, and insight!

According to Torah we were created with the dual nature of yetzer tov and yetzer hara (i.e. the inclinations towards both the positive and the negative). We alone determine how we will respond to these dual tendencies moment by moment. On the other hand, the Torah of HaShem is supreme. One may agree or disagree with Him, one may understand or not, but the Word of GOD is absolute. HaShem resides in His Torah. Happiness resides in choosing harmony with His revealed will. Preferably with understanding.

This is why we stress Torah study and personal spirituality.

Here are the things the fruits of which a person enjoys in this world, but the principal remains for him in the world to come:

Even if a person is lacking in his or her knowledge and dedication to Torah observance, even if the person seems to be very far away from God, still, unless that person has actively rebelled against HaShem, as these people did, one can still be sure of finding grace and compassion with HaShem, who alone is the eternal well-wisher of all creation. And even when we rebel HaShem affords us time to make teshuvah, to return to Him. How can we know if we have gone too far in our rebellions? Perhaps we have passed a point of no-return? Here is the way to know:

If you still want to return there is still time!

Wherever you may be in your life know that God is but a sincere prayer away. This is the assurance of Likutei Sichos (volume 28) and the entire Torah, Written and Oral.

As Rebbe Nachman of Breslov assures us:

God's greatness is unfathomable: that is why Teshuvah [active repentance] has such power. No matter how far you may have fallen - be it to the lowest depths - never despair, because you can always return to God. With just a little effort you can turn even your worst sins into merits. No matter where in the world you fall, you can easily come back to God. This is because of His unfathomable greatness. Nothing is beyond His power. Just never give up! Keep crying out, praying and pleading to God at all times.
Teshuvah is the Key

So, what is teshuvah?

Teshuvah is usually translated as "repentance" but it is more accurately understood as "return." This return is to our original state: Harmony with HaShem. When we rebel against HaShem and His Torah we lose this original connection and need to return to it. This returning is called teshuvah. Teshuvah consists of three stages:

  1. Sincerely regretting our rebellions and our rebelliousness.
  2. Deciding by our free will to return to harmony and observance.
  3. Verbally repenting of our sins. HaShem knows our inward thoughts but verbal repentance makes us hear as well!

Each and every day we should do this process of intentional teshuvah through the daily prayers and during hitbodedut (i.e. secluded, private prayer and meditation). However there is also a special time of year when teshuvah is required. The ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are specifically designated for making teshuvah. During this period the gates of prayer and repentance are more open than at any other time during the Jewish year.

Teshuvah holds great mysteries for those who would know God! The word "teshuvah" in Hebrew (תשובה) is "teshuv hey," (תשוב - ה) which literally means "returning the letter Hey." Our esoteric masters explain that the last letter Hey of the Tetragrammeton -- or Sacred Four Letter Name of God -- refers to Malchut. Malchut is synonymous with Shechinah, which is how the Holy One manifests as sovereign within the creation. Teshuvah then is the returning to the state of original blessing and balance. For those who are serious about spiritual development therefore teshuvah is not something one "does" from time to time, it is the consciousness one seeks to dwell in at all times.

The ONLY source of Forgiveness:

This people I formed for Myself; they shall recite My praise.
But you did not call Me, O Jacob, for you wearied of Me, O Israel.
You did not bring Me the lambs of your burnt offerings, nor did you honor Me with your sacrifices; neither did I overwork you with meal-offerings nor did I weary you with frankincense.
Neither did you purchase cane for Me with money, nor have you sated Me with the fat of your sacrifices. But you have burdened Me with your sins; you have wearied Me with your iniquities.
I, yea I erase your transgressions for My sake, and your sins I will not remember.
            Isaiah 48:21-25

So, "Seek HaShem when He is found, call Him when He is near" -- Isaiah 55:6
"When He is found" means that we are to make our teshuvah before the verdict is promulgated, while He still says to you, “Seek Me.” (Rashi).

Everyone who lives consciously in HaShem receive divine mercy and blessing.

Teshuvah, The Key To Happiness

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