Paying Teshuvah Forward

The following is based on a Hebrew Text from Reb Zalman’s Sefer, Yishmiru Daat.  Click here for Reb Zalman’s text in Hebrew.  Rebuking a person can help him onto a path of Teshuvah, which begins to effect repair for the sin.  (Freely translated by Gabbai Seth Fishman)

The Torah states: “Be sure to rebuke et amitecha / your fellow group member and don’t bear a sin through him.” (Leviticus 19:17)

When a person does something wrong and we witness it, then the person is to be rebuked.  When we close our eyes to the sins of others and avoid dealing with the anxiety or stress we may feel in taking a stand, then we are being passive to the situation.  The rebuking can be a very important thing to the person, the group and the world. Let’s look more closely at how it can help.

Amitecha / your fellow group member: Who is in scope for rebuke?  Who is Amitecha / your fellow?  The group to which this command applies is (Baba Metziah, 59), “the person that is with you in Torah,” anyone interested in making himself the best that he can possibly be.  It may or may not align with your community or your synagogue or your co-workers or your family and it is not just a subgroup of Jews or even just Jews.  It is “Am She-it’cha Batorah“.

In situations when we have gone astray, our sin can be cleansed by our fellow group members when they rebuke us, when they call it out and don’t just remain quiet. Because the rebuker felt remorse when he did something similar, he is  now paying Teshuvah forward, helping you on your path.  It’s not that he is more righteous than the one being rebuked, but he has come to recognize that being rebuked helped him, was positive for him. He knows that he must show this person, just as they showed him and they rebuked him when he sinned.

If I have the insight, if I have “been there and done that”, have had that experience and if I can see the sin as a sin, then I am being told in this passuk to rebuke.  The power of my teshuvah when I did something wrong mitigated the effect of the sin.  Given this, I have come to recognize the potentially positive effect of rebuking another for their sin.

We’re All Together In this: Read, “Hocheach tocheach et amitecha” as “Hocheach tocheach im / with amitecha.” When it is read this way, it says that we’re all in this together. We belong to a group and we support one another. I was rebuked; you were rebuked.  If we are  together with the one who has sinned, he will feel supported. Chances are that at some stage in your life you did something as bad as that which he’s done now. You did something like this and, then you felt regret. The process you went through is the backdrop for rebuking.

If you have come to experience the power of Teshuvah then you know that it is a good thing.  The greatest sin is to know that there is a returning in Teshuvah and he didn’t return.  Reb Nachman (z’l) of Breslov (Likutei Moharan, Ed. Mahadora Batra, section 112) teaches:  “If you believe that through sin we can go wrong, you must believe that through Teshuvah we can fix it.” Reb Nachman says that the person who worries he has sinned is showing a kind of faith in his worry that sin had an effect. If he just transforms his emunah / faith-energy being expended in worrying and turns it to positive effect by looking to a belief on the repairing aspects of Teshuvah then he can begin to repair the sin. However anxious he feels about it, he can now feel correspondingly consoled.

A sin may be in our awareness and it may not be in our awareness. It may be intentional, it may be accidental. It may just be an error. Regardless, through Teshuvah, the impact of the sin is diminished. The person who is repentant about having done a willful sin changes the willful sin into a sin that was just done without having intended to sin. And a person who sins without having intended to do something wrong but nonetheless has done something wrong turns that sin from one which they were not intending to do into the equivalent of doing a mitzvah.

It’s For His Own Good: So if a person is doing something wrong and they don’t know that they’re doing something wrong and then you rebuke them you will make them stronger by doing that and it will bolster their courage. You’re actually giving him strength by rebuking him so he will no longer be burdened by his confusion. By rebuking him you’re teaching about teshuvah, and you’re teaching that he can repair the damage he did.

Through acknowledging our wrong-doings, may we grow into a heart of wisdom. The group’s help is important to get to this place. We want to try to do the right thing, but sometimes we do something wrong.

May each of us find the insight, the sensitivity, the courage and the love to sternly rebuke our fellow group members and thereby help them on their personal paths toward holiness.  Amen

2 Responses to “Paying Teshuvah Forward”

  1. David Says:

    I’m very impressed by the great effort you expend to make sense of what revered people of the past have said. You write well and I think, successfully elucidate what they have said.

    However, I can’t help thinking how better it would be if you found and expressed your own thoughts, rather than theirs.

    The world moves on. New insights and solutions emerge. As Newton said, we stand on the shoulders of giants. But this height permits us to see things not available to them.

  2. Gabbai Seth Fishman (Blog Editor) Says:

    My voice on this site is built upon the voice of Reb Zalman. I feel in that way that I can jump start my voice because his insights come from a place beyond my own. So he helps me stretch further. The translations are not literal translations of the Hebrew. I am translating freely and the material is a mixture of literal translation, things I’ve learned from Reb Zalman and also things that make sense to me and are expressed in my own words.

    This particular piece does not have much of Jewish Renewal in it; it would also read well in a more traditionally-based website. But I feel that what is said here is relevant to our time and is not only of the past.

    In addition, I believe that Reb Zalman’s teachings on paradigm shift are very much in line with Newton’s quote that you referenced. I believe that Yiddishkeit is eternal and will always be with us together with whatever innovations we are privvy to in the context of our time and its zeitgeist.

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