In Likutey Moharan (I:6), Rebbe Nachman of Breslov tells us something astounding: “The true sign of a person who has returned to G-d is that they can hear themselves be insulted and remain silent. They suffer the insults and ‘bloodshed’ by feeling their own smallness and the great damage they have done (through their sins), and understand that it is most fitting that they suffer the insults they are experiencing. In this way, they diminish the blood in the left side of the heart (the seat of the animal soul) and slaughter their evil inclination, thereby meriting G-d’s honor.”
Rebbe Nachman is telling us how we can know if we have attained true teshuvah. The litmus test is quite simple: What is our reaction when we hear someone insult or belittle us? If we respond with rage – “How dare this person insult my honor!” – then it is a sign that we are far from true teshuvah. But if we hear the insults and can endure them without responding, this is a clear indication that we have attained the level of humility needed to merit the title “ba’al teshuvah.”
But why is this so? Of all the possibilities, why is being silent in the face of insults the single indicator that we have returned to G-d?
To answer this question, we must first understand why we do aveiros in the first place. At the core of our rationality, we have the mistaken belief that we deserve and are entitled to do as we please, even if it means transgressing Hashem’s Torah. Without this mistaken belief, it would be impossible for us to knowingly violate G-d’s expressed will for us. Therefore, teshuvah must perforce require a correction of this mistaken belief.
The only way for us to make this correction in our thinking is to deflate our inflated egos. We are not entitled to do as we please, and if our behavior is sinful we will be held accountable. This is the proper way to view ourselves and this is the correction that needs to take place in our thinking if we are to become true ba’alei teshuvah.
Rebbe Nachman is telling us we can know for certain we’ve reached this level of humility if we are able to endure affronts to our honor in silence, without responding.
Rav Yaakov Meir Shechter tells of an incident that happened during World War II: There were a number of “Practical Kabbalists” who devised a plan to destroy Hitler. They were going to fly a plane over the Cave of the Patriarchs in Chevron, slaughter a chicken while concentrating on Hitler’s name, and perform certain mystical intentions. Needless to say, this strange idea was not well received by the leading rabbis of the time.
It happened, during those days, that one of the truly great Kabbalists of Jerusalem, Rabbi Shimon Leider, was sitting in his yeshiva teaching a class. Suddenly, a man walked in and started to hurl insults at Rabbi Leider. The man was outraged by this “witchcraft” that was being perpetrated by the Kabbalists. Rabbi Leider accepted the disgrace without a word in self-defense and continued his class as if nothing happened. A week later, Rabbi Leider told his class that he had absolutely nothing to do with the “Kabbalistic” plan, and that he was in fact totally opposed to it. He wanted to tell them this so that they wouldn’t suspect him of holding strange beliefs. The reason he had not said anything earlier was that he was concerned he would have become angry, and he preferred humility over anger.
May Hashem help us to attain such a lofty spiritual level as this and thereby merit to truly be called “ba’alei teshuvah.”