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August 5, 2015 / 20 Av, 5775
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Thoughts Make the Man


you are what you think

This is also why t’shuva can come in a second. Just the thought of t’shuva is t’shuva itself (Kiddushin 49B). Thoughts of t’shuva are themselves uplifting. The actual mending of activities is only a second stage. This knowledge can give a person the strength to continue through difficult times. Rabbi Kook writes:

To the extent that someone is aware of his transgressions, the light of t’shuva shines lucidly on his soul. Even if at the moment, he lacks the steadfastness to repent in his heart and will, the light of t’shuva hovers over him and works to renew his inner self. The barriers to t’shuva weaken in strength, and the blemishes they cause are diminished to the degree that the person recognizes them and longs to erase them. Because of this, the light of t’shuva starts to shine on him, and the holiness of the transcendental joy fills his soul. Gates which were closed open before him, and in the end, he will achieve the exalted rung where all obstacles will be leveled. Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low; and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain (Yisheyahu, 40:4. Orot HaT’shuva, 15:7).

A few examples may help illustrate this idea. Individual t’shuva includes rectifying transgressions and improving character traits. Let’s suppose that Joseph has stolen a laptop computer from Reuven who lives two thousand miles away. At the moment, even though Joseph wants to return the computer, he is unable to make the trip. This is a barrier to t’shuva. Or in a case where Reuven lives just across the street, it may be that Joseph is too embarrassed to admit his theft. Until he strengthens his will to do t’shuva, musters his inner courage, and swallows his pride, Joseph’s t’shuva will be delayed. Regarding character traits, let’s say that Joseph is an angry person. He is angry at his parents, at his wife and children, he is angry at his boss and at the neighbor down the street. It may take a considerable amount of introspection, and a serious course of Torah study, before he can transform his anger into love. But even if this barrier should seem insurmountable to him, he should take comfort in knowing that once the process of t’shuva has started, God’s help is ever near.

When a person truly longs for t’shuva, he may be prevented by many barriers, such as unclear beliefs, physical weak ness, or the inability to correct wrongs which he has inflicted on other people. The barrier may be considerable, and the person will feel remorse because he understands the weighty obligation to perfect his ways, in the most complete manner possible. However, since his longing for t’shuva is firm, even if he cannot immediately overcome all of the obstacles, he must know that the desire for t’shuva itself engenders purity and holiness, and not be put off by barriers which stand in his way. He should endeavor to seize every spiritual ascent available to him, in line with the holiness of his soul and its holy desire (Ibid, 17:2).

In dealing with his anger, it may be that Joseph lacks the determination or courage to have a heart-to-heart talk with his boss. Or perhaps, he is afraid of losing his job. So let him begin with his parents or wife. With each step he takes, he will find greater courage for the stages ahead. And if his Pandora’s Box of anger is too threatening for him to open at all, let him turn to redress other matters more in his reach, with the faith that a more complete t’shuva will come.

One must strengthen one’s faith in the power of t’shuva, and feel secure that in the thought of t’shuva alone, one perfects himself and the world. After every thought of t’shuva, a person will certainly feel happier and more at peace than he had in the past. This applies even more if one is determined to do t’shuva, and if he has made a commitment to Torah, its wisdom, and to the fear of God. The highest joy comes when the love of God pulses through his being. He must comfort himself and console his outcast soul, and strengthen himself in every way he can, for the word of God assures, ‘As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you.’ (Yisheyahu, 66:13).

About the Author: Tzvi Fishman was awarded the Israel Ministry of Education Prize for Creativity and Jewish Culture for his novel "Tevye in the Promised Land." A wide selection of his books are available at Amazon.

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Tzvi Fishman, author of the Jewish Press blog Felafel on Rye and author of more than a dozen books.
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