Dr. Nosson Chayim Leff
The Sfas Emes referred to this day and to this ma'amar as "Shabbos
Teshuva." As this name indicates, the focus here on Teshuva (return to
HaShem; return to one's true self; repentance) The Sfas Emes begins the
ma'amar with a statement that may come as a surprise . He says that all of
us -- even a person who has sinned and caused much evil ("Ve'ahf she'chata
ve'hirshi'a harbei") -- must believe that nevertheless, the essence of his
Jewishness is untouched. What is this "essence of his Jewishness"? The
neshama tehora (the pure, unsullied soul) that HaShem gives every one of us.
You may ask: if our neshama remains pure, how come do we do aveiros
sins? The Sfas Emes answers by quoting a statement in the Gemara. Chazal
tell us that: "Ein ahdam chotei ahd she'nichnas bo ru'ach sh'tus". That
is: a person who does an aveira is a person who has fallen prey to a spirit
of silliness. The Sfas Emes is assuming that being extraneous to the
person, the "ruach shtus" does not affect this/her Jewish essence. The
Sfas Emes concludes this paragraph by quoting a pasuk in Yesha'ayahu
(60:21): "Ve'ahmeich kulam tzadikim ..."(ArtScroll: "Your people will all
be righteous ..."). Note that ArtScroll's translation sees universal
righteousness as coming only in the future. By contrast, the Sfas Emes
reads this pasuk as telling us something about reality now. People who
work in kiruv (outreach) can take this thought of the Sfas Emes as powerful
chizuk for their daily activities.
We move on now to the second paragraph of this ma'amar. Here the Sfas Emes
introduces elements of Chazal's approach to Teshuva. In principal, Teshuva
can be motivated by ahava (love) or by yir'a (fear of HaShem; awe of
HaShem). But, the Sfas Emes, continues: in reality, Teshuva is impossible
without love. You may wonder: how does love come into this
picture? Answer: as a gift. Thus, the Sfas Emes quotes a pasuk in
Hoshei'a (14: 5): "O'haveim ne'dava" (ArtScroll: "I will love them
gratuitously"). That is, HaShem promises to love unconditionally -- i.e.,
even though we don't deserve it.
This formulation seems supremely conventional. The Sfas Emes, however,
reacts with a cry of puzzlement: "Vehu davar peleh! Aich sha'yach ne'dava
le'ahava? ("This is a wonder! How does a gift fit in with love?") The
Sfas Emes goes on to explain. In fact, this process is not "gratuitous" --
a free gift. This process works for a person who tries to come closer to
HaShem even though he does not know how to do it. He yearns to return to
HaShem; but he has no idea of what to do to come closer to Him. All he can
do is to offer himself -- as a ne'dava -- to HaShem. In response, HaShem
offers the person His love, as a gift. Thus, a dynamic that begins with
yir'a can grow into ahava -- the love that, as the Sfas Emes told us
earlier, is essential for Teshuva.
Finally, for one more nuance in the ahava, yir'a, and Teshuva story, we go
now to the last paragraph of the Sfas Emes in the year 5637. The Sfas Emes
there asks: "Hayitachein"? is it conceivable that a person who has sinned
can do Teshuva based on love of HaShem? How will such a person acquire
love for HaShem? The Sfas Emes continues by explaining that in fact the
Teshuva process begins with yir'a. But HaShem responds to the person's
effort by granting him the gift of ahava.
So we see that Teshuva Mei'ahava involves love on both sides -- love of
HaShem for the person; and the person's love for HaShem. To my (admittedly
limited) knowledge, this is an entirely new interpretation of the phrase
"Teshuva Mei'ahava." Recognize it as such, and appreciate it as such.
Copyright © 2003 by Dr. Nosson Chayim Leff and Project Genesis, Inc.