In the sefer Chovos Halevavos in the section on teshuvah (Chapter 6), he states that there are four different incentives that we are expected to make use of as a prod to do teshuvah; four madreigos of doing teshuvah. And although there is a hierarchy, each one is a more preferable method than the next, they all have to be utilized when the opportunity comes. Every person is capable of making use of all four incentives at various times throughout his life.
One of them, the Chovos Halevavos tells us, is when misfortunes come upon a person. When tzaros befall a person – whether it’s something big or small – he is expected to use that as an opportunity to run back to Hashem; to do teshuvah for his sins, to do more mitzvos, to correct his character and his behavior, and everything else that is to be included in the word repentance.
In all generations that is how the people of Yisroel reacted: מַה זֹּאת עָשָׂה אֱלֹקִים לָנוּ – What is this that Elokim did to us? (Bereishis 42:28) Not ‘What is it that Hitler did to us, or this enemy or that rasha.’ Everything is עָשָׂה אֱלֹקִים. And why did He do it? לָנוּ! He did it for us. It means ‘What do we have to learn from this?’
That’s a standard Jewish attitude: נַחְפְּשָׂה דְּרָכֵינוּ וְנַחְקֹרָה – Let us search out our ways, וְנָשׁוּבָה עַד הַשֵּׁם – and come back to Hashem (Eichah 3:40). If something happens to us, we attribute it not to anything but our misdeeds. And if you’re not sure – after all, what person doesn’t think he’s a tzaddik? – then נַחְפְּשָׂה, you have to search. You have to think a long time and you have to discover the hidden reasons in your life, in your behavior, for why such a thing would happen.
That’s the advice our Sages give us. אִם רוֹאֶה אָדָם שֶׁיִּסּוּרִים בָּאִים עָלָיו – When a man sees that misfortune comes upon him, יְפַשְׁפֵּשׁ בְּמַעֲשָׂיו – he shouldn’t look to blame others; instead he should look into his deeds (Mesichta Brachos 5a). And יְפַשְׁפֵּשׁ בְּמַעֲשָׂיו doesn’t mean a superficial glance over his biography. He has to examine his ways. He has to try to think back to today, to last night, last week and even further back. Maybe there are things that he did wrong that he never did teshuvah for, or maybe not enough teshuvah. He should blame himself for the yissurim he’s having.
And yissurim means everything; even things which we think to attribute to understandable causes. Even a toothache or a headache or if you lost some money in the street, whatever it is, no matter how small, it should not be a wasted opportunity because nothing happens by accident in this world. And the wise man therefore utilizes all the opportunities that come up; even the smallest thing becomes very important to him.
Shamed on the City Bus
How small? The Gemara in Eirechin (16b) asks that question. עַד הֵיכָן תַּכְלִית יִסּוּרִים – How far is the limit of yissurim, of suffering? It means, how small of a thing can still be considered suffering to be utilized as a stimulus, a sign from Hashem, that we should mend our ways?
And the Gemara says like this: if you stick your hand in your pocket to take out a quarter and you pull out instead a half dollar, that’s yissurim. All it means now is that you’ll have to make a second trip to your pocket but that’s already enough. You have to know that Hashem is telling you something.
Here you’re standing in the bus and you know that you have the money. It’s a quarter and a dime (in 1975 the bus fare in NYC was 35 cents). But each time you take something out, it’s wrong; it’s a half dollar, it’s a nickel – it doesn’t make the right change. And behind you people are pressing, “Mister, this is a city bus, not a lounge. Get out of the way.” And you’re embarrassed. It’s not an accident. It’s a message from heaven.
Now we don’t think so – it seems too extreme – but that’s because we are weak in our emunah. But if we are able to elevate our mind to the realization of the truth that nothing is an accident, then we would think, “Why didn’t we hit the quarter the first time?” It is yissurim that Hashem is sending upon me.
Now the man who utilizes these things, even these seemingly small things, he can gain no end of profit. From such an attitude he can gain even the greatest madreigos of shleimus because he’ll always be inspired to teshuvah. Only what? Most people are stubborn and they’re not willing to listen to the messages being sent to them.
A Stubborn Cold
You know, Reb Yisoel Salanter, zichrono l’vrachah, once had a cold. And he was very much distressed. So somebody said to him, “Rebbe, it’s nothing but a cold.”
“It’s not the cold that’s the problem,” he said, “It’s me. Because Mishlei says צִנִּיםפַּחִים בְּדֶרֶךְ עִקֵּשׁ שׁוֹמֵר נַפְשׁוֹ יִרְחַק מֵהֶם – A cold comes upon a man who makes himself stubborn (22:5).”
That’s why Rav Yisroel was worried. Because a cold means that Hakadosh Baruch Hu is trying to get your attention. “It’s something that is the result of my refusal to listen, my stubbornness, and He’s sending me a message so that I should change my ways.”
Now to us it seems like just an anecdote, but that’s really what the possuk is telling us. צִנִּיםפַּחִים בְּדֶרֶךְ עִקֵּשׁ – Colds come upon somebody who is stubborn, שׁוֹמֵר נַפְשׁוֹ יִרְחַק מֵהֶם – and the one who is vigilant will keep away from them.
How can you be vigilant against a cold? Two ways. First of all, when somebody has a cold, ask him to please sit someplace else; or you move away from him. If he’s coughing, either have him cover his mouth with his hands or move away from him.
Also, don’t allow your resistance to be lowered. Go to bed on time and get a good night’s rest. If you’re going outside in the cold wear two pairs of socks. That’s good advice, by the way. I’m giving it to you free of charge. Not one thick pair – two thinner pairs are better at protecting you against cold. So that’s one way of yirchak. Take care of your health. Very important.
But there’s another way, a more important way. And that is, don’t be an akshan! Don’t be stubborn. Start thinking that maybe – I say ‘maybe’; there’s no question about it, but start thinking that maybe, just maybe, there is something wrong in my program in life. Spend a little time thinking into that. Every time you cough or you sneeze you’re being reminded, “Were you mifashpeishb’maasav enough? Did you come out with something clear?”
In the Dentist’s Chair
And so when you sit in the dentist’s chair and he is drilling way down and you feel that that drill is going down to your toenails, you shouldn’t say, “It’s because I didn’t brush my teeth,” or “because I ate candy.” Yes, you should brush your teeth from now on, no question. And don’t eat candy – or at least rinse your mouth out well afterwards; do whatever it is you’re supposed to do.
But don’t be stubborn and say that’s all it is, that it’s a mikreh, sugar and bacteria. No, don’t be stubborn! Because וְאִם תֵּלְכוּ עִמִּי קֶרִי – if you’ll go with me and say it’s nothing but accident and it’s not Hakadosh Baruch Hu, וְהָלַכְתִּי אַף אֲנִי עִמָּכֶם בְּקֶרִי – then the time will come He’ll yank out all your teeth and there’ll be nothing left to drill. You don’t drill into false teeth, you know.
And so when the dentist says, “Open wide!” and you know he’s not putting some ice-cream into your mouth; he’s holding a drill! So don’t think, “Well, teeth in the course of time tend to deteriorate.” That’s thinking like animals think! You have to think that Hakadosh Baruch Hu is giving you a tip, some insider information. You should be sitting there and thinking, “Why did he tell me that I have to open my mouth and get drilled? Maybe because I opened my mouth recently when I should have kept it closed. Maybe I opened my mouth in the wrong place and now I’m getting it back middah k’neged middah.”
“Maybe I opened my mouth and scolded my wife. Maybe I said something fresh to my mother. Maybe I hurt somebody’s feelings. And now the dentist was sent to me, a malach miShomayim, and he says, ‘Open wide!’ Because I opened it wide when I shouldn’t have, now I have to open it for something I don’t want, to admit the drill.”
Thousands of Yissurim
Now, a trip to the dentist’s office is only a small example. There are thousands of things like that, thousands of messages that Hashem might send a person.
If a man was put to shame in public, then he has to consider that he has done that to other people. Maybe it wasn’t today but let him begin looking; he’ll find. If his wife yelled at him, if he tripped on a crack on the sidewalk, let him examine his past. If he lost money – let’s say he had a hold-up or even if ten dollars dropped out of a hole in his pocket – let him think that maybe that money should have gone to a good cause and now Hakadosh Baruch Hu is collecting from him. Anything that happens to us, it pays to investigate, “Why did this happen?” And if you look very hard, you’re going to discover. If you want to find something, something is bound to turn up.
But let’s say a person searched and he didn’t find – now that’s improbable; what it means is that he wasn’t searching but lets say it happened, he didn’t find. So יִתְּלֶה בְּבִטּוּל תּוֹרָה – he should blame it on neglect of Torah study. Let him attribute it to insufficient study of Torah. That’s something that all of us are guilty of. You can always attribute it to that.
And some say a peirush – it’s a frum joke, a play on words – if a man searches and he can’t find any sins, יִתְּלֶה בְּבִטּוּל תּוֹרָה – it means he should say that he can’t discover anything because he’s such an ignoramus in Torah. ”What’s the reason I can’t find any sins?” he should say. “Because I don’t study enough so I think I’m pretty decent.”
When you begin studying Torah suddenly your eyes open up – you become aware of responsibilities and obligations you never even dreamed of. “If I would study more Torah I would discover a lot.” Because there’s plenty to discover!
And so that’s a big lesson, this first incentive that the Chovos Halevavos is teaching us: yissurim are golden opportunities for teshuvah. And a person who trains himself to think that way, every bump in the road becomes valuable. A toothache, a trip to the dentist is not just a dentist appointment; it’s an opportunity for teshuvah. And there are thousands of more things like that; various opportunities to do teshuvah by means of the messages of yissurim, of troubles big and small.
Part II. Utilizing Others’ Misfortune
Skipping the Dentist Appointment
Now, as golden as it is, as valuable as it can be for a person who makes use of that path to teshuvah, the Chovos Halevavos says that there is still yet a better way, a higher level of teshuvah. Because better is when someone else goes to the dentist! You hear that? That’s what the Chovos Halevavos says. Why should your teeth have to suffer in order to wake you up to teshuvah if you can learn the lesson from somebody else’s teeth?
So you’re walking down the avenue and you see someone going into the dentist office. And you know what’s in store for that poor fellow. He’ll be sitting in the waiting room imagining all types of things and then he’ll finally go in and the dentist is looking at his teeth deciding how many teeth he should drill today and how many he should leave for the next appointment.
So instead of passing it by and ignoring the message, you stop for a moment on the avenue and you’re thinking, “Look at how he is suffering. I had better do teshuvah before it comes to me. Because don’t I also open my mouth when I shouldn’t? Or maybe sometimes I keep it closed when I should open it more? Shouldn’t I be opening my mouth to learn more Gemara or to encourage my children or to praise my wife’s cooking more often?”
That’s a better way of teshuvah, the Chovos Halevavos says. When misfortune comes upon you so surely you must get busy thinking about doing teshuvah. But there’s a safer way, and that’s before misfortune comes to you. When you see yissurim coming on somebody else and you’re willing to take the hint even then, that’s the wise person – the one who can learn those same lessons without any suffering.
The Wise Fool
Now, concerning this there’s a statement in Mishlei (19:25) לֵץתַּכֶּה וּפֶתִי יַעְרִם – you smite the leitz and the fool becomes cunning. There are two categories here, one is a leitz and one is a pesi. The leitz is the kind that refuses to take hints; he chuckles at such an idea that a stranger going into the dentist’s office should be an incentive to teshuvah. And because such things don’t make any impression on him, the only way of piercing his shell is when suffering is inflicted upon him.
For that type of person, נָכוֹנוּ לַלֵּצִים שְׁפָטִים – blows are prepared for the leitz (ibid 19:29). Like the Mesilas Yesharim (ch. 5) says, “That’s one thing he won’t laugh off.” And so when he himself is sitting in the dentist chair or maybe he’s lying on the operating table and he’s about to inhale, perhaps then maybe some thought of repentance might enter his mind there.
That’s the leitz;לֵץתַּכֶּה – the scoffer has to get hit over the head sooner or later. But וּפֶתִי יַעְרִם – the pesi wisens up. A pesi is someone who is mispateh b’yitzro; he’s being persuaded by the yetzer hora. That’s us! And if we’re looking for a good way to do teshuvah, then יַעְרִם – we are supposed to become wise from this object lesson of the troubles that come to others.
Cause of Misfortune
Now this is so important and at the same time so underutilized that I must dwell on it for a few minutes. The Gemara says in Yevamos (63a) אֵין פֻּרְעָנוּת בָּאָה לָעוֹלָם אֶלָּא בִּשְׁבִיל יִשְׂרָאֵל that any misfortunes that come upon the world are sent only because of the Am Yisroel.
Now, if you’re a humble fellow it may be too much for you to swallow that you’re important enough that the Congolese should kill themselves over you. Or that the brown ones in Indonesia should slaughter themselves for your sake. So stop being humble and begin to realize the place of our people in this world.
The whole world is the backdrop, is scenery for the Am Yisroel. Whether you can accept this idea easily or not, it makes no difference; that’s the Torah. Torah tells us that whenever misfortunes are visited upon the nations of the world, it’s for the sake of our becoming wiser. And Rashi says לְיַרְאָם – to make the Am Yisroel afraid, כְּדֵי שֶׁיַּחְזְרוּ בִּתְשׁוּבָה – so that they should do teshuvah.
Messages from Asia
And so when we read that in India the Ganges River overflowed and many were drowned, and many were rendered homeless and now epidemics and starvation are widespread; it shouldn’t be merely a remote and meaningless news item to us. Because then we are not viewing the world through the Torah eyes.
The Torah says that we’re expected to understand that that’s a message for us. Chas v’shalom, it could have happened here! You know what it means to be in a neighborhood of flood and famine and epidemics? It’s an experience that shakes a man. That’s לֵץתַּכֶּה. It’s a warning for us. Do teshuvah! That’s the purpose.
If you’re sitting home and eating breakfast and as your wife turns on the radio to hear what the weather will be today, you hear the latest about a famine somewhere in Tibet, you must understand that this is staged for your edification. Again, אֵין פֻּרְעָנוּת בָּאָה לָעוֹלָם – no misfortune comes upon the world, אֶלָּא בִּשְׁבִיל יִשְׂרָאֵל – that is not intended for you. It’s for that purpose that you should hear of it and utilize it and become better.
How are your Knees?
And of course, the closer it is to home, the more you’re responsible to take the lesson. So if you’re walking on the street and you see a Puerto Rican with one leg and he’s hopping on crutches – one leg is cut off right above the knee – we must understand this as a vision from Above. Hakadosh Baruch Hu is speaking to us. It’s לֵץתַּכֶּה, but it’s וּפֶתִי יַעְרִם. He’s the one who got it in the knee, but you have to wisen up. That sight is supposed to be a kick in the pants for you: wake up! And if as a result of this encounter you are none the wiser, then you lost the opportunity.
Now, what does it mean wiser, that’s not our subject now. It could be many things. Are you using your legs to get to shul on time? Maybe you’re using them for worse things. And even before that, did you thank Hashem today for your knees, how they’ve been bending back and forth all day without any friction or creaking? And even if you have some creaking, some arthritis, at least you have a knee unlike this poor fellow.
I learned this lesson from my rebbeim in Europe – they said it much better than I am, and I listened to them. And so when I came back to America I remembered what they said and I studied the people on my block.
Now these people, every single one is a chacham. They see a man with a beard and he’s wearing rabbinic garb too, so they know that he’s an ignoramus. That’s me, you understand. Now these people, you should know, never read a hard-covered book in their lives. But every one of them knows that he is far superior to me in education.
One of them sometimes condescends and he comes over with a ‘Forward’ in order to explain to me the news of the day. And he explains it to me like you talk to a peasant. He won’t listen to me when I ask him to come to the shul, to the shiur, but he comes to teach me about the world. So these poor blind fellows, when suffering comes upon them, because they’re so ignorant of Torah teachings so they don’t know what it means, what to do with it.
Ignoring the Rabbi
Once next door to me, there lived a young man, a mechallel Shabbos; but he was on the top of the world. He had a big business and things were going very well with him. He had an elderly father who tried at one time to prevent his son from breaking with the Shabbos, but the son said, “This is America, Papa. You’re from Europe.” He knew better and he saw he was succeeding. For some years, things were going very well and he was convinced that this was the right way. “You see, it’s succeeding.”
A dapper young fellow running off every Shabbos morning; no such thing as Shabbos, no such thing as Judaism. He gets in his car and he drives off to work and play. The rabbi is watching from his window but he doesn’t even care to be ashamed. He’s smoking a cigar; he looks up at me and gives a puff and jumps into his car. He’s off to good times; everything is hefker.
One summer night – his window was just across the driveway from my window; the windows were open one summer night – in the middle of the night, we were awakened by a terrible groaning. He began to groan from a great pain in his spine, a sudden pain. But this poor fellow, the leitz takeh, had no preparation. He never heard of these teachings, that you have to utilize the opportunity to get better and therefore in his blind suffering he didn’t budge.
So he got up Shabbos morning with pain in his spine and he went off to his business. But not for long; he had to come back the same day. Not long afterwards his father told me that he was in the hospital with cancer in the spine.
One day they bring him home. And thenceforth, he never goes to work anymore. He sits on his porch and saliva drools down from his lips. He had a stroke and he’s incapacitated for years. He has to have a Negro woman to help him get up and go to the bathroom. He’s a wreck of a man.
But the poor fellow, just as he didn’t have any sense before to understand and to have any incentive to get better, he now also doesn’t. It’s like beating a piece of wood. The wood doesn’t get better; it just crumbles.
All for Us
So the question is: Why are they being beaten if they’re not going to get better; and they don’t know how to get better?
The answer is: It’s to make this fellow Miller better. That’s the purpose. לֵץתַּכֶּה – They’re being smitten. וּפֶתִי יַעְרִם – And the pesi gets wise. Now, I can’t say I got wise but at least you see I’m bringing the example of the lesson here before this audience. There’s some benefit. The purpose was for us to get better. That’s what we’re doing tonight. His life was offered up so that we should learn, we should improve.
And so we must study these examples. This person had an operation; boruch Hashem I didn’t. And I am going to do teshuvah now to make sure it stays that way. This person had to separate from his wife, ahh a tragedy; Boruch Hashem I don’t have to. I’ll do teshuvah. As long as I still have a happy married life, I will do teshuvah.
When you hear of someone who lost his business or someone who lost members of his family or someone who lost his own life, none of these opportunities should be allowed to pass by. They should be utilized as an impetus to become better.
The whole gamut of misfortunes that happen in this world must be utilized because that is a higher madreigah than waiting until it happens to you cholilah. And that’s what they’re there for. That’s why it happened. It’s not an accident; they were sent for that purpose, to serve as a message to us.
Part III. Utilizing Good Fortune
Suffering at Leining
However, the Chovos Halevavos goes on. He says that there are even higher madreigos of teshuvah; there are still better ways. Because who needs to suffer? Your own suffering, the suffering of others – even if it’s far away, it’s the people in the Congo – who needs it? We don’t want anybody to suffer.
And so the Chovos Halevavos goes on and says that we shouldn’t wait for those messages that come by means of suffering; instead we should listen to the messages that come by means of words.
Imagine you’re sitting this week, Shabbos, in the synagogue and the baal korei is reading the tochachah and you hear how Hakadosh Baruch Hu foretells what will happen when the Torah is transgressed. But instead of listening to the words just to be yotzei krias haTorah, you take the words to heart. It’s talking to you; it’s talking about you.
אַשְׁרֵי אִישׁ שֶׁיִּשְׁמַע לְמִצְותֶיךָ וְתורָתְךָ וּדְבָרְךָ יָשִׂים עַל לִבּו – How fortunate is the man who puts the Torah on his heart! You know why he’s so fortunate? Because he’s choosing a higher path, a better path – he’s listening to the words of rebuke and he does teshuvah just because of that.
I’m Talking to You!
אַשְׁרֵי אָדָם שֹׁמֵעַ לִי – “How fortunate is the man who listens to Me,” Hashem said (Mishlei 8:34).
“Oh,” you say, “Certainly if Hashem spoke to me, I’d listen to Him.”
No, that’s not what it means. “I’m speaking all the time to you,” Hashem says, “I speak to you from the siddur every day. I’m speaking to you from the Chumash and from Mishlei and from all the seforim.”
“But not only from seforim I’m speaking to you,” Hashem says. “I speak to you from the mouths of the gedolim too, the great men of the generation. I speak and speak constantly.”
Words of Gedolim
So if you read in a Jewish newspaper that this-and-this rosh yeshivah made a statement, by no means should you make the fatal error of thinking it’s too extreme. If you read this-and-this chassidishe rebbe made a statement, beware of thinking that you know better. There are many fools who in their overweening arrogance and ignorance believe they understand more than these old rabbis from Europe. Anything that comes from Europe, they know, is nothing.
And so an old European rabbi, the Satmerer Rav, for years and years while he was still healthy, he warned – now he is nebach sick; Hashem should be maarich yomim him. He’s sick now but when he was healthy he used to issue warnings, valuable words of tochachah. And oyy, there were so many ‘wise’ people who ridiculed what he said. He’s against Medinas Yisroel? That already sentenced him to being canceled out.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe, zol zein gezunt, is speaking. All the roshei yeshivah, they’re speaking. The rov of your shul is speaking. Beware! Listen up! It’s sent from Heaven for your benefit.
And even ‘lesser’ messengers who come to us should be heeded. Your rebbe in the cheder and mother and your father are excellent messengers. When your mother scolds you or when your father tells you off, pay attention. When your rebbe points out something to you or when some old person says, “Don’t do that,” they’re all messengers from Heaven.
That’s a much wiser person. He’s not interested in yissurim. And so he makes himself interested in rebuke. If a person can get better from what his rebbe tells him, from what the gedoleihador and his mother and father and neighbor say; if he can get better from the tochachah when the baal korei reads it, that’s a much better way.
And so he doesn’t merely let it pass over his head; he tries to absorb it and it goes into his bones. Even if it’s only one thing; even if one time he refrains from making a derogatory remark about a fellow Jew. One leitzanus less or even one maariv that he davens better, one brachah that he says better, then it wasn’t in vain. It has accomplished its purpose.
How fortunate is the one who learns how to do teshuvah by means of listening to Hashem because he has chosen the higher road, the better road to teshuvah than suffering.
The Higher Happier Road
But as high as it is, it’s not yet the highest. Because now we come finally to the grand finale, to the highest and best incentive to do teshuvah. You know what it is? שִׂמְחָה וְטוּב לֵבָב מֵרֹב כֹּל – Happiness and a good heart because of all the good that he has (Ki Savo 28:47)! Because it’s only תַּחַת אֲשֶׁר לֹא עָבַדְתָּ אֶת הַשֵּׁם אֱלֹקֶיךָ בְּשִׂמְחָה וּבְטוּב לֵבָב מֵרֹב כֹּל – it’s only when you don’t do teshuvah in the midst of your happiness, that’s when the tochachah comes. But the best method of all is happiness!
It’s the Chovos Halevavos but I will put it in my words instead of his words: The best type of teshuvah is teshuvah over watermelon. You are eating watermelon – isn’t it good? It’s delicious! It’s red and sweet and refreshing and cold. You’re enjoying it, aren’t you? So you say, “Just because of that, just because You gave me this tasty watermelon I will do teshuvah.”
I’m very serious right now. You can try it when you get home tonight. Go to the refrigerator and practice doing teshuvah on a slice of watermelon. “You’re so good to me Hashem! How could I sin against you with lashon hora or by saying brachos without kavanah, or whatever it is.”
And so when a man is sitting at his table and his wife puts out a miniature banquet for him; he has good bread and he has salt and he has a piece of chicken and he has some more things to garnish the plate and as he sits there and he’s ready to dive in, he should think, “Now is the time to repent.”
That’s the best repentance, to repent in the midst of a good meal! Of course if you repent on your deathbed when you’re wracked by pain and you know the grave is only one day off, it’s also repentance. But there’s no comparison to the repentance that a man can accomplish when he’s sitting down at the supper table!
Isn’t that a good way to do teshuvah? Hakadosh Baruch Hu is sending messages but He’s not sending suffering or even someone to criticize him; instead He’s sending chicken. Sometimes He sends ice cream and chocolate cake too. Whatever good taste the messages have, they are all urging us to awake from our slumber, to stir ourselves from our lethargy and to dedicate ourselves to the great task of our lives of getting better.
Teshuvah at the Bank
Isn’t that a good chiddush? Isn’t it worth coming to hear that? To repent when you’re eating a good piece of meat! It tastes good! And your saliva is flowing and you have all your teeth and you’re chewing and your stomach is still operating. Everything is working, purring smoothly. And then you think, “Now is the time.”
Not only eating. When you’re standing in line in the bank and you have a fat wad you’re going to deposit, that’s the time to think about rectifying your misdeeds.
When you’re happy because everything is going well; you have no headaches and your business is making money – you’re able to pay the rent – and your children are all good, you’re marrying off your daughter to a big talmid chochom, making simchahs, that’s the time to decide, “I am going to do teshuvah just because of that. Because Hashem is so good to me I am going to repent and improve my ways.” That’s the highest teshuvah there is.
Teshuvah on Ocean Parkway
Try that tomorrow. You’re walking down Ocean Parkway and you have two feet. You’re healthy. You have clothing. You even have in your pocket a few nickels — you’re rich! And as you walk down the street and you breathe this wonderful Brooklyn air and you think, “Look what I’m getting! Look how lucky I am! Ay, chasdei Hashem!”
מָה אָשִׁיב לַהַשֵׁם – What can I repay Hashem, כָּל תַּגְמוּלוֹהִי עָלָי – for all that He bestowed upon me? “What can I do for you, Hakadosh Baruch Hu, after all You are doing for me?” And he does teshuvah on Ocean Parkway – teshuvah in happiness, teshuvah in pleasure. He decides to get better as a result.
That is the best teshuvah there is. We see the blue sky, the sun is shining and the weather is nice, and you feel well, you do teshuvah just because of that, in gratitude to Hashem, that is the highest madreigah of teshuva.
Teshuvah in the Home
Try it out! Do it tomorrow. Even when you’re sitting in your house and you consider that you have a roof over your house; it’s not raining in or it’s not raining in much – if it rains in only a little, still it’s a great blessing. And it’s warm inside; there’s no snow on the carpets.
You look through the window, you see a homeless dog running through the snow sniffing at garbage cans, maybe he can find a stray morsel, and here you are snug in your home, with a full stomach. And you’re going to sleep in a place with a roof. You’re in Brooklyn. You’re an American citizen. That’s the time to think of repentance. That’s the time to do teshuvah.
After a while you’ll to get into the habit of saying, “Hashem, I am so happy with what you are giving me, I am going to do teshuvah right way” and it becomes a stereotype, a form of living, that you learn to repeat again and again.
The Best Program
Now, of course this requires a certain level of emunah; besides for developing your middah of gratitude a person also has to know that everything he has is from Hashem. Because if a man thinks that his happiness is to be attributed to his own ability or to be attributed to some extraneous material cause, then he’s not going to be spurred on to repent because of his happiness. It’s only when he understands that Hakadosh Baruch Hu is the Gomel chassodim tovim and whatever good fortune accrues to him is only the yad Hashem, then he’ll understand it’s a message. Only that instead of a message of suffering, instead of a message of vicissitude, of misfortune, exile, poverty, illness and rebuke, it’s a message of happiness.
Because all the other messages – rebuke and suffering of others and chas v’shalom suffering himself, all those are substitutes; they’re just tachas, they’re instead. תַּחַת אֲשֶׁר לֹא עָבַדְתָּ אֶת ה’ אֱלֹקֶיךָ בְּשִׂמְחָה מִטּוּב לֵבָב וּמֵרֹב כֹּל – Instead of not having served Hashem in happiness I have to bring the substitute, the tochachah. And the substitute is never as good as the original article. The original and the best teshuvah is to repent when you’re healthy and happy.
That’s the best way! That’s the genuine teshuvah! The one who wants to be the best baal teshuvah he makes use of this message of happiness and bestirs his mind and he becomes better. He uses that feeling of gratitude to spur him to make amends for what he has done wrong in the past and to serve Hashem with more zeal and purity of heart in the future. This is a teshuvah that is מַגִּיעַ עַד כִּסֵּא הַכָּבוֹד. That’s called teshuvah me’ahavah. You repent out of love, out of gratitude to Hakadosh Baruch Hu. And that’s the best teshuvah program for everybody.
Have A Wonderful Shabbos
Let’s Get Practical
A Minute of Happiness
In the two weeks that we have left before Rosh Hashanah I want to focus on doing teshuvah as much as possible and therefore in these two weeks I will make use of the best method of doing teshuvah: happiness. And therefore twice each day I will bli neder pause for thirty seconds to focus on a different happiness that Hashem is giving me and use that to do teshuvah out of a feeling of gratitude.
Tapes: 17 – Repenting In Happiness | 520 – Messages From Hashem | 606 – Torah Models For Eternity | E-160 – Repent in Happiness
Vanitzaak – And We Cried Out
Before heading home for the night, Rav Volender, the Rov of the Jerusalem Prison, made his way past the prison cells, wishing the inmates a good night. Most of the prisoners were already in their beds waiting for the lights to be turned off, but as he approached cell 27-D, he saw the man inside sitting on his floor with his back to the bars, rocking back and forth.
“Tzadok, is everything okay?” Rav Volender asked.
Tzadok “Hatzadik” turned around, a tuft of beard hairs in his hand, his cheeks stained with tears.
“Tzadok, why are you pulling out more of your beard hairs – just when it was starting to grow back?” Rav Volender exclaimed.
“Rebbe,” Tzadok said desperately. “My trial is coming up and Hashem has not been doing anything to help me!”
“Tzadok, how could you say such a thing? Hashem is always helping us! Why just this morning Hashem helped you by making the guard walk by as you were trying to catch that stray cat in the courtyard!”
“How was He helping me?” Tzadok asked, a pained look on his face. “That was going to be my new pet! I was going to name him Chaim Yankel and he was going to be my best friend!”
“First of all, Tzadok, you are not allowed to have pets in jail. Secondly, you would do better to have a human best friend instead of an animal. And finally, after the guards safely captured the cat, they discovered that it had rabies. Could you imagine if you had caught it with your bare hands, like you were trying to do? It could have bitten you, chas veshalom.”
“I didn’t know Chaim Yankel had rabies,” Tzadok said quietly.
“Hashem is always helping us,” Rav Volender said gently. “But you still haven’t explained why you are pulling out your beard hairs.”
Tzadok stood up to face his rebbe.
“Well, since you said I’m not allowed to bring a korban nowadays, I decided that I would instead pull out my beard hairs. Since it’s painful, it would be my own personal sacrifice to Hashem so that he’ll get me out of prison.”
“Tzadok, do you remember what I said we are supposed to do instead of korbanos? I’ll give you a hint – it’s not pulling out our beard hairs.”
“I know, I know, you said we are supposed to daven. But I daven three times a day, and that isn’t helping.”
“Tzadok, tefillah always helps, even if we don’t see it,” said Rav Volender. “But what about screaming to Hashem with all your might? Like it says in our Parshah ‘Vanitzaak! – The Yidden in Mitzrayim cried out to Hashem’. Have you tried that?”
“Screaming?” Tzadok said, perplexed. “But wouldn’t people think I’m weird if I do that?”
Rav Volender looked for a second at Tzadok, his half-beard, and the clump of hairs clenched in his fist for a second before answering.
“Tzadok, I have to go home now and you need to sleep. Meet me outside the kitchen tomorrow after lunch and I’ll show you how to scream to Hashem. Good night, Tzadok.”
The next day after lunch, Tzadok went to the prison kitchen and found Rav Volender waiting for him.
“Ah Tzadok, you’re right on time,” Rav Volender said. “Come, follow me.”
Tzadok followed Rav Volender to the back of the kitchen, where a giant machine was standing.
“The trash compactor???” Tzadok asked, terrified. “Are you going to throw me inside?”
“No no, chas veshalom,” Rav Volender said. “I want to show you how you can scream to Hashem.”
Just then, two kitchen workers arrived and started dumping trash bags into the machine. Immediately, the trash compactor started making tremendous noise. Tzadok looked and saw Rav Volender’s eyes shut and his hands in the air.
“Hashem!” screamed Rav Volender. “Please help Tzadok get out of prison! Please teach him how to be an eved Hashem and stay out of trouble!”
The machine quieted down as it finished compacting the trash bags.
“See?” Rav Volender said. “It’s just as simple as that. When there’s a lot of loud noise, people won’t hear you screaming to Hashem and they won’t think you’re weird. Look, here comes some more trash. Let’s do it together this time.”
As the workers dumped the next load of trash into the trash compactor, both Tzadok and Rav Volender lifted their eyes and hands to Heaven.
“Hashem!” Tzadok screamed. “Please magically transport me from this prison to a huge mansion with millions of pets! Please give me human friends too who will all help me take care of my animals! Please help me find the hairs to Bilaam’s donkey!”
“Hashem!” Rav Volender screamed. “Please help Tzadok desire the important things in life, serve you b’lev shaleim, and care about other Yidden as much as he cares about animals!”
Have A Wonderful Shabbos!
Takeaway: Our forefathers in Mitzrayim called out to Hashem with all their might. Crying out to Hashem is the most powerful tool we have for gaining a yeshuah.