Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

17 Cheshvan 5760 - October 27, 1999 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








Sponsored by
Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network

Produced and housed by

Opinion & Comment
Opening the Heart for Teshuvah

by HaRav Shimon Moshe Diskin zt"l

"Then on the third day Avrohom lifted up his eyes and saw the place far off. And Avrohom said to his young men, `Stay here with the donkey while I and the lad go yonder and prostrate ourselves, and then return to you'" (Bereishis 22:4- 5). Rashi (v. 4) explains that Avrohom's "seeing the place" means his seeing a cloud hovering over the mountain. Chazal (Tanchuma, Vayeiro 23) tell us that the two lads who had gone together with him, Yishmoel and Eliezer, could not see this sight. Avrohom therefore told them, "Stay here with the donkey" -- that they are a people similar to donkeys. R' Sheila in Brochos (58a) called an Akum a "donkey," as is written, "Whose members are like those of donkeys and whose issue is like that of horses" (Yechezkel 23:20).

But why, just because they did not reach the lofty level of seeing Shechina on Mt. Moriah, was their status said to be equivalent to donkeys? Are there not many Jews, even many prominent ones, who cannot see the Shechina? Should we consider all of them to be like donkeys?

At any rate, we can infer that a person's failure to reach the level he can reach is considered a definite shortcoming.

There is a simpler way to explain this. Actually it is impossible to expect each person to envision the Shechina. If according to his lowly level he cannot do so, why should he be criticized?

Only Eliezer the servant of Avrohom, who disseminated his Rebbe's teachings through the world, could be criticized, since he himself was a godol hador. Not only did Eliezer digest all of Avrohom's teachings, he was actively engaged in enlightening others with those teachings. Why could Eliezer, whose stature was undeniably elevated, not see the Shechina? If he nonetheless did not see the Shechina, this definitely shows that another factor was involved in his failure.

That factor was Eliezer's body. To attain such a prophetic vision one must have the suitable body, but Eliezer had a body like that of a donkey. The material state of his body prevented him from seeing such a towering spiritual sight. The highest prophecy Eliezer could possibly reach was like that of Bilaam's donkey. Chazal (Yevomos 62a) therefore conclude from Avrohom's reference to Eliezer as being like a donkey, owing to his inability to see Shechina, that he lacked a proper yichus.

Nonetheless, someone who does not reach the level he is capable of reaching is harshly castigated. A man naturally attempts to elevate himself, and his lack of success in doing so shows his yetzer has succeeded in thwarting him. He is held responsible for his failure.

There is nothing new about the Teshuvah Movement. The point that each one of us must reach is the same. The only difference is the distance each one of us is from the objective. A Jew has an innate longing to elevate himself and return to Hashem since his neshomo is tohor.

It is absurd how some people equate the Teshuvah Movement to other movements aimed at becoming more religious or becoming members of mystic cults. The difference is that people join all other movements because of the benefit they derive from them. They hope to find peace of mind for their torn and wandering soul in what they presume is a warm nest. Joining such religious bodies and cults is something individual, something dependent on each person's own understanding according to the degree others have convinced him of that cause's importance.

The Teshuvah Movement is altogether different. What draws people to it, is the truth, an attraction to their roots, to the internal point that is never uprooted from within a Jew. "I will not cast them away nor will I abhor them" (Vayikra 26:44) is what motivates ba'alei teshuvah. This is what provokes them to do teshuvah. If it so happens that in the beginning of their teshuvah process they are drawn to the tranquility of a Torah lifestyle, this is only to help them overpower their yetzer and shake themselves free of the physical lusts they were previously immersed in.

Nonetheless, their main desire is striving for truth, promoted by their attraction to heavenly matters. This principle is taught to us by the Rambam (Hilchos Gerushin 2:22), who rules that when the halocho demands a certain man give a get to his wife, then even if he refuses to do so, he can be forced. Although a get must always be given with the husband's consent, a Jew innately wants to observe the Torah and its mitzvos. Only the yetzer is preventing him from doing so, and after being forced, his yetzer has been weakened enough so that his true desire can assert itself and he actually agrees to give the get.

Before the current Teshuvah Movement started, we saw many of the second generation of National-Religious Jewry return to their roots. After their leaders realized that their educational system of tichonim datiyim was a total failure and their students went altogether off the track, they started the yeshivot tichoniyot, which are a mixture of the sacred with the profane. To the dismay of these leaders, although some parents were satisfied with this arrangement, many young boys, after tasting what Torah is, became dissatisfied with the compromise. They were unable to understand the nature of this compromise with Hashem. These boys began to interest themselves more in Judaism and streamed to the genuine yeshivos, the ones al tohoras hakodesh.

After these boys understood that a person cannot have it both ways, they abandoned the false pleasures of their previous lifestyle and chose what is really the virtuous way. This particular movement has been incorporated within us and we have already seen a blessed second generation from them which has been educated from childhood al tohoras hakodesh.

It is difficult to know whether the name ba'alei teshuvah fits this particular phenomenon, since these boys are nearer to bnei Torah and are not considered tinokos shenishbu. However, since they were educated in such a way from childhood on they are unintentionally off course. Not only were they misled about mitzvos aseih and lo sa'aseih but they were also nourished with beliefs not far from apikorsus and cannot be blamed for how they are.

Actually it would be more proper to define the current Teshuvah Movement as aimed at true tinokos shenishbu. What difference does it make whether non-Jewish bandits or Jewish ones took them into captivity? The way of the Torah is totally alien to them. On the other hand, they were fed from birth with hatred for religion and were told lies about the Torah-true. A chasm of estrangement divides them from the Torah-true. They were never part of our camp so we cannot say they are "returning" to us, returning to Judaism. They never had anything to do with Judaism to begin with. Any aveiros they did until now are considered as being ones.

The greatness of these ba'alei teshuvah is in their adopting full observance of the Torah. Chazal (Sanhedrin 99a) write "even tzaddikim gemurim cannot compare to ba'alei teshuvah." Surely for those who initially did aveiros because they were deliberately educated to act in such a way, their present Torah observance was much more difficult to bring about than for regular ba'alei teshuvah. When we see these people doing teshuvah we must learn a lesson from it. Such occurrences obligate us to think. It is surely insufficient to just casually say, "Boruch Hashem, there are ba'alei teshuvah" and satisfy our curiosity and excitement only by gazing at this tremendous sight.

First of all, we must think about why we are so delighted with this occurrence. Is it perhaps because we are enjoying our victory over the secular camp? We can discern whether we are truly pleased when someone does teshuvah because of his coming closer to Hashem, if we have the same pleasure with each and every baal teshuvah, without regard to his or her background. If we do not pay any attention when a common person makes teshuvah but when a central pillar of secular Jews does teshuvah we are enthralled, that shows that our feelings of victory are the real reason we are so happy. Such thoughts are not only improper for bnei Torah, they are in bad taste.

Do we feel we are fighting the secularists? We should instead pity them, since they are, Rachmono litzlan, tinokos shenishbu. Each one of them would have been zoche to the Torah's brilliance had he received the same chinuch as we did. He unfortunately was placed in a thieves' den and almost altogether lost Hashem's image that he was created with. His neshomo was taken prisoner by the sitra achra. This is what should really bother us.

Dovid Hamelech wrote, "I hate them with the utmost hatred; I count them as my enemies" (Tehillim 139:22). A person who has complete love for Hashem hates someone who harasses his Creator. Parents, too, begin despising immeasurably anyone who annoys their children. On the other hand, they have immense gratitude to someone who lends a helping hand to their offspring, and their love for him increases.

The same applies to the sinners who are not tinokos shenishbu, that is, for those who knowingly sin although they know what Torah is. The way we regard a mechaleil Shabbos should not be different from the way we regard a lowly and contemptuous murderer or adulterer. Even if a mechaleil Shabbos acts properly in public, how can we forgive him for spitefully angering our Creator?

Just as we would not forgive someone who killed our son or caused us a large financial loss even though in other matters he acts properly, so we should not forgive a mechaleil Shabbos even if he is otherwise all right. If we have not yet completely adopted this viewpoint and feeling, this shows we are lacking love for Hashem.

The teshuvah of those who, instead of doing acts against Hashem's will are now fulfilling the Torah, should fill our hearts with overflowing pleasure. If there are people who in the past had molested me but have now completely changed and are concerned with my welfare and search for ways to please me, my heart should spill over with joy. How can it be that we do not rejoice in the same way with regard to Hashem's honor?

Moreover, each mitzvah that is not being done and the aveiros that are being done should indeed grieve us. We should realize how grave it is to commit a lo sa'aseih and the tremendous gain in fulfilling even one mitzvas aseih, even one time. Now through teshuvah thousands and thousands of aveiros are being prevented and instead thousands and thousands, and it is not exaggerating to say tens of thousands, of mitzvos are being done, each one of which is a world in itself. This alone is enough to cause us to take part in the great simcha of the Torah. If we think about these points we will understand that we should be full of simcha after seeing this great spectacle of so many people doing teshuvah.

I will point out some additional particulars in this matter. A person instinctively acts kindly to others. When a person hears of an opportunity for material prosperity somewhere he will not hide this good news from others. He wants others to benefit too, and conceives of ways to help them. This is as Geichazi said: "Then they said to one another, `We are not behaving correctly. This day is a day of good tidings, and we are holding our peace. If we tarry until the morning light, punishment will come upon us! Now therefore come, that we may go and tell the king's household'" (II Melochim 7:9). Even if the Torah was not given to us we would have learned this virtuous way of behavior from the way animals act. If concerning material matters that bring only a fleeting benefit we try to help others, how much more is this so concerning ruchniyus, that has real value.

When we hear of someone who has done teshuvah, who is now proceeding on the right way and is also profiting from the brilliance of the Torah and mitzvos, we should be truly cheerful.

When one of our dear acquaintances, chas vesholom, declines in his Torah observance and sinks deep into the forty-nine gates of tumah, Rachmono litzlan, how much does the feeling of alienation that has developed between us pain us. How happy we would be if this lost son returns home to Yiddishkeit.

We should have this same feeling with every person in Klal Yisroel who until now has been lost to us and has finally returned to us. Each Jew is actually an integral part of our family. What immense simcha we should have when we see their children going to cheder, when we remember that they were so close to attending a school that would teach them heresy. A new generation that is nourished on pure Judaism from birth is growing up! From the moment these children learn to speak they say, "Moshe commanded us the Torah."

The above is only part of what we should think about, and it is surely insufficient to only think about this. We must do something about it too! Even if occupying ourselves with this were included in the category of mitzvos that can be done by others and halachically we were not obligated to do them, it would be fitting to take part in this momentous matter.

How can we not be jealous of those engaged in outreach work? Each nefesh they save is as if they have sustained a whole world. There are some people who have even abandoned their private endeavors and their spiritual endeavors for this objective. Each one of us is obligated to contribute as much as he can to this elevated mission since the small number of those occupied in it does not fill the need.

Our assistance can be divided into two parts: 1) Gemilus chesed through handing out spiritual help to them; 2) Gemilus chesed through answering their material needs. This is not the time and place to write in detail all the kinds of aid each one of us can offer. Someone who realizes he must join in helping them will easily find the way to find out what to do from reliable sources.

Financially helping them is the easiest way, and its benefit is extremely significant. With each added monetary gift we actually increase the number of ba'alei teshuvah. Besides the large expenses of the outreach work itself, the costs involved do not end there. Many people, after doing teshuvah, do not continue to work in the same profession as before. In addition, most need several years of study to broaden their emunah. They want to at least learn some of what is taught in cheder and yeshiva. They unfortunately were not zoche to study there. This was stolen from their childhood and they have not yet saturated themselves with a treasury of Torah study. Usually each penny contributed to this aim is considered a part of other mitzvos too, either hachnosas kallah, helping a poor person to have a livelihood, sustaining Torah study, and others.

I do not mean to rule here that we should prefer this mitzvah over other mitzvos of tzedokoh, and each person must consult a moreh horo'oh about this, but, "The wise in heart will take mitzvos" (Mishlei 10:8), and will grab heaps of them.

Let us hope that by helping these ba'alei teshuvah and assisting them monetarily we ourselves will also be helped. We too need a movement for doing teshuvah for ourselves. Just as they have abandoned the vanities of the world that were wrapped around their neck, so will we be zoche to free ourselves from the vanities that have become implanted among us, vanities that we have become accustomed to. We must separate ourselves from these vanities to purify ourselves. Our coming nearer to this movement will surely have a good influence on us.

May the reward for this mitzvah be paid to us `measure for measure,' and may Hashem radiate a spirit of tohoroh upon us, and purify us from all tumos, and send His sacred aid to us.

HaRav Shimon Moshe Diskin zt'l was a rosh yeshiva in Yeshivas Kol Torah of Yerushalayim. He was niftar on 15 Tammuz of last year.

All material on this site is copyrighted and its use is restricted.
Click here for conditions of use.