FREE CHOICE AND TESHUVA    

                                 For Shabbos Shuva

      Rabbi Yeheskel Lebovic


Free Choice and Regret


We read last week: “And you (Jewish people) will return and hearken to G-d’s voice and do all His commandments which I command you today” (Devarim 30:8).  This predicates that the ultimate Redemption of the Jewish people will come upon their making a massive return (Teshuva) to Torah and Mitvoth observance.

In Israel itself one million Jews (so far) have already returned to Torah-true tradition. The Rambam (Maimonides) writes in Hilchos Teshuva (7:2): "The Torah guaranteed that, at the end of Golus, the Jewish people will do Teshuva and they will be immediately redeemed". In chapters 5 and 6, and beginning of chapter 7, he discusses the importance of the principle of Free Choice, almost as a preface to his statement about Teshuva and redemption.  What is the specific connection between Free Choice and Teshuva? It is because only when one recognizes that whatever he committed was done out of free choice and thereby accepts responsibility—only then will he be able to regret it and do a "proper" Teshuva. A lack of free choice would obviate the whole possibility of regret : why and how can one altogether regret a misdeed if, for lack of free choice, one can claim that it was preordained or that he felt totally compelled by factors beyond his control to commit an error by commission or omission? And if regret, an integral part of Teshuva, is not possible, then there is no tangible Teshuva to begin with.


Free Choice vs. “Contributing Factors”


On a deeper level, the Rambam is also alluding to the fact that free choice has to be involved also during the Teshuva process itself: if there are certain factors which crush the human spirit, be it sickness, pain, poverty, etc... and force him to the realization that a Divine Hand is leading him to the path of Teshuva by crushing his stubborn spirit and in a sense coercing him into 'submission'-- this individual may not remain steadfast to his Teshuva commitment once the 'coercing factors' are removed.  He may then revert to his old ways.  Hence, the teshuva process is more complete when the person embarks on that path out of his full personal volition

and free choice. Furthermore, free choice must be consciously felt in the person's mind during the Teshuva process: one will not fully regret the past misdeed if he is able to even partially mitigate it by entertaining the thought that there were contributing factors.  This is based on the principle that G-d does not give man burdens and tests that he is not capable of bearing and

withstand.  Rather, we are always granted enough wherewithal to withstand all internal and external factors, environmental or otherwise etc…  Only by bearing in mind during the Teshuva process that he had full freedom of choice at the time of transgression, will he be able to

achieve a full, more intense feeling of regret.  Emotional intensity in regret is a prerequisite, so that it can offset and rectify the emotional intensity with which the misdeed was carried out.


Threesome Application of Free Choice


Thus, the Teshuva process involves Free Choice at three levels:

 a) the philosophical principle of free choice has to be in place at the time of transgression, for otherwise one cannot be commanded into anything, and one is not responsible and has no need for regret altogether.

 (b) getting into the Teshuva mode out of self-volition and free choice, with no 'coercive'

factors (and even if there are such factors as sickness, pain, poverty, etc., they should not be the primary cause leading to Teshuva).

 (c) as part of the Teshuva process, acknowledgment of the full extent of the transgression, by consciously accepting that there were absolutely no contributing factors that he couldn't have overcome--thereby achieving emotional intensity in the regret.




 An exception to this exposition is the situation of so many contemporary Jews who just were never exposed to the true tenets of Torah Judaism, and as such, cannot be faulted for not following its directives.  These Jews, thank G-d, are also returning to their roots in droves, and are doing so with great intensity.


No Exception


Even when one has fallen so low, having distanced himself from G-d and from all matters of holiness, and having wallowed in the mire of sin and there seeming to be no recourse for him/her to make a come-back-- nonetheless even such a person has total free choice,  no one can 'stay

his hand' for his soul is rooted in the Divine origin, Whose Hand cannot be stayed and he can regenerate at will a new proximity to G-d through Teshuva!

The Torah thus guarantees that there will come a time, which in G-d's time table is the end of Golus, when Jews will as an entire nation, do Teshuva collectively, out of self-volition and free choice -- and then "they will be immediately redeemed". As stated above:“you will return and hearken to G-d’s voice and do all His commandments which I command you today”.


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         Rabbi Yeheskel Lebovic


     Ascending Order for the Good

 “And G-d will cause you to return there (Egypt) in ships (aniyot) in the path of which I said  unto you that you shall not continue anymore to see it and you will (want to) be sold to your enemies but none will (want to) buy”(in this week’s sidra of Ki Tavo Devarim 28:68) While the simple meaning of the text obviously is a statement of Tochacha/rebuke foretelling negative future occurrences if the Jewish people will not adhere to the Torah and its Mitzvoth, there is also a deeper interpretation of this  verse whereby each successive word adds to the dimension of the comforting message contained therein.  This is because it alludes to a different kind of return, i.e. the process of Teshuva, the return to G-d.  The two interpretations are actually interconnected: the culmination of the Tochacha/ Rebuke and its curses is the eventual return through Teshuva.  This process not only elevates certain sparks of holiness which are not elevated through the ‘regular’ path of Torah and Mitzvoth;  it elevates the person to a higher spiritual status, that of Baal Teshuva.  The soul itself undergoes an elevated status and achieves a metamorphosis through Teshuva.

G-d Causes This Too ?!


The path of which I (G-d) said  unto you that you shall not continue anymore to see it”: this refers to the path contrary to the path of Torah and Mitzvot!  G-d is the one who not only causes (G-d will cause you to return…) the culmination of the Teshuva process to take place, but Who causes also the beginning of the whole process.  For the sake of the Teshuva elevation, G-d pulls certain strings that land some Jews in the path contrary to Torah & Mitzvot !!! (see Midrash Tanhuma Vayeisheiv:4, and sources mentioned in Likutei Sichos vol 18, p.395, and note 45)  How does Rashi hint at any of this? By translating aniyot as sefinot. The former term is pure Hebrew, the holy tongue, while the latter is of Aramaic origin. As the context of this verse relates to going off the path of Torah, it is not sufficient to make use of the protective dimensions of the holy realm, that of Torah & Mitzvoth (aniyot), it sometimes also becomes necessary to come down lower, into the realm of foreign tongues and cultures (sefinot), and proceed to elevate those sparks also, to the point of transforming “willful transgressions into merits”.





By One’s Own Efforts

 On  And you will be soldRashi comments: you yourselves will be seeking to be sold. In the theme of  Teshuva, the point now being made by these words is that, unlike children who are naturally drawn towards their father, the Baal Teshuva lacking this natural pull is becoming G-d’s “slave”  by dint of his own efforts and kabolas ol (acceptance of heavenly yoke)--and not through some divine elicitation.

This can be correlated to a passage in Toras Ha-olah of the Ramo (third section, chap.47), where he makes the point that the main driving force of the Baal Teshuva is the radical change generated by his decisive application of will power, rather than by gradually developing it from his hidden potential “fear and love of G-d”.  Were it due to the later, why has it occurred at a certain precise point in time rather than later or sooner?  Obviously, says he, because it was generated at the precise time he truly willed to do Teshuva (and therefore says the Gemara, “he who betrothed a woman on the condition that he is a tzadik, she may be betrothed” : he may have fully activated the process of Teshuva (turning him into a “tzadik”) at the precise moment of betrothal by applying his willpower!)

             On and none will buy” Rashi comments: “for they will decree upon you killing and destruction”.  In the context of this deeper meaning relating to Teshuva, Rashi is hinting that the Baal Teshuva, striving to return by dint of his own efforts and running against the tide of his natural, engrained tendencies, can merit to reach a level wherein all alien lusts of his past become “killed”, wiped away, and his new state of extreme yearning can now destroy all his former attachments to the forbidden realm.

Current Application

The Tochacha and its conclusion is addressing the Jewish people as a whole.  Throughout the centuries many mistakes were made by our people and its leaders. The ultimate “Mover of Strings”, however,  is G-d Himself.  He assuredly is patiently waiting for that sudden application of recognition and willpower, which will jettison the entire Jewish nation on the path of Teshuva and the speedy culmination of the Geula Shleimah through Moshiach Tzidkeinu!

Likutey Sichos vol. 19 pp.235-243

Published as  zechus  for Avraham Refael ben Chaya Feiga Raizel in honor of his

                                   Yom Holedes on the 13th of Elul.

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