Rebbe Nachman of Breslov tells us (Likkutey Moharan II :112): “If you believe you can damage, believe you can repair.”
In a similar vein, the Talmud (Berachos 34b) relates: “Rabbi Avahu taught that in the place where ba’alei teshuvah (people who have repented) stand, even pure tzaddikim who never sinned cannot stand.”
This means that pure tzaddikim cannot reach the level of those who have done teshuvah. This is hard to understand. Why should a person who never messed up be lower than one who ran after sin and only later repented? A person who never sinned should be far greater than someone who repented!
The Rambam (Hilchos Teshuvah 7:4) explains that by sinning, ba’alei teshuvah activated their desires and became more susceptible to the pull of sin. Their desires are many times stronger than those of a person who never sinned. For them to win their battles, they must exert much more effort.
But how do we actually repent if we are spiritually weakened and now have a stronger desire to sin once we’ve already stumbled?
Rebbe Nachman tells us that we must “revive” ourselves by focusing on our good points. He writes: “A person can fall through looking at themselves and finding that they are full of sins. As a result of this, they won’t be able to daven at all. Therefore, one must do exactly the opposite and is obligated to search and find the good in themselves…”
The Rebbe continues, “A person has to be very careful to go in this path since it is very important for anyone who wants to come close to Hashem… The MAIN THING is to distance oneself from sadness and bitterness in any way possible.” (Likutey Moharan 1:282)
Rebbe Nachman is telling us that when we are overwhelmed with feelings of guilt and hopelessness due to our sins, we must search within ourselves and affirm that, despite our sins, we still have many positive attributes.
For example, suppose we are feeling dejected because we did something forbidden by the Torah. Instead of berating ourselves and becoming depressed, we should tell ourselves something like, “Yes, it’s true that I engaged in sinful behavior. But I also did many mitzvos today. I put on tefillin, I wore tzitzis, I said berachos before I ate food, I helped my spouse, etc.”
By doing this, we are reminded that we still possess goodness within ourselves. This helps to spiritually revive us and arouses us to become more committed to teshuvah. Furthermore, this exercise helps us to believe that we are, in fact, capable of teshuvah.
May Hashem help us to go in the path of teshuvah and truly repair any damage we may have done in the past.