Fifteenth Principle of Teshuva: PRAYING
Prayer is a such a fundamentally productive and thorough-going means of drawing close to G-d that it would only make sense that it’s important in returning to Him and doing teshuva. So we’ll present Rabbeinu Yonah’s insights on prayer in this context, then we’ll provide a prayer that he himself composed elsewhere that we find most inspiring.
Rabbeinu Yonah makes a number of fascinating points here. He reveals that while our sins temporarily “douse” the good things we’ve done, when we do teshuva and make amends for them, the merits accrued from those good things in the first place are then bestirred, and they begin to shine again– but to an even *greater* degree than before.
It’s analogous to the situation of two woman friends we’ll name “Elaine” and “Lisa”. Elaine once said something that hurt Lisa’s feelings. Lisa was so hurt, so insulted, that she seemed to forget all the good things Elaine had ever done for her, and how much Elaine had always loved her. Nonetheless when Elaine finally apologized and made amends for what she said, Lisa not only forgave her– she even more fondly recalled all the good Elaine had done for her in the past.
Rabbeinu Yonah’s point is that we’d do well to pray to G-d Almighty that He help us in that process, so that our good deeds might be recalled in even greater lustre than before in His eyes.
We’re also taught that we’d need to ask G-d to *accept* our prayers. After all, while prayer is always propitious and always draws us closer to G-d (after all, for all intents and purposes, the only times we recall there’s a G-d in the world and yearn to draw closer to Him is when we pray to Him), nevertheless not all prayers are accepted. After all, the prayers of sinners– people who, by definition, forget G-d at least for the moment– *have* to have less validity to them than the prayers of others. The point is that we’d do well to ask to find favor in G-d’s eyes again, as we strive to draw close to Him again.
And Rabbeinu Yonah’s final point is rooted in the fact that teshuva is such a glorious and bold opportunity for spiritual growth and excellence. But like all special opportunities, it’s fraught with impediments and hardships which we could only withstand with G-d’s help. Hence it’s important to realize that we have to pray to G-d that He grant us the wherewithal to succeed in it.
Rabbeinu Yonah included the following prayer in another of his works entitled “Yesod HaTeshuva”. Recite it as often as you need to, and take it to heart.
“Please, G-d! I’ve been sinning accidentally, deliberately, and rebelliously from the day I was born to today. But my heart has now propelled me upward, and my spirit has persuaded me to return to You honestly, with the best of intentions and completely; with all my heart, soul, and might. In order to ‘admit and let go’, to cast off all my acts of defiance; and in order to restore heart and soul, and be earnest in my devotion to You.
“G-d! You who open Your arms to accept teshuva and help those who come to cleanse themselves: Please open Your arms to accept my full teshuva. Help me be firm in my fear of You, to resist “the antagonist” who confronts me cunningly and wants to kill me, and to defy his command over me. Keep him from the whole of me, fling him into the depths of the sea, and order him never to set himself against me to antagonize me. See to it that I go in Your ways by replacing my stone heart with one of flesh.
“So please, G-d! Hear out Your servant’s prayers and pleas, and accept my teshuva. Don’t let any of my accidental or deliberate sins obstruct my teshuva or prayer. And allow a sincere advocate to offer my prayers to You, at Your Place of Honor. But if because of the number and seriousness of my sins I haven’t a sincere advocate, then dig down from beneath Your Place of Honor Yourself and accept my teshuva. See to it that I never return wanting from before You, Who hears out prayers.”
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