A Ba’al Teshuvah Is Greater Than a Tzaddik
Rabbi Moshe Cordevero, z”l writes that God’s character is unlike that of mankind. After all, if a human being is angry with his friend but later forgives him, he will not love his friend as intensely as he formerly did. God, however, considers a person who sins and repents to be greater than he was previously.
This is what is meant by the saying, “In a place where ba’alei teshuvah stand, complete tzaddikim cannot stand.” For when a person repents and God returns the Shekhinah to him, it does not return to its former level of love. Rather, it spirals upward. This is what is meant by “He will return to have mercy on us” (Mikhah 7:19). He will increase His mercy toward the Jews, fix them, and bring them closer – even closer than those complete tzaddikim who never sinned.
The Rambam states that a ba’al teshuvah should not think that his sins and transgressions distance him from the stature of tzaddikim. This is not the case. Rather, he is beloved and favored by the Creator, and it is as if he never sinned.
Not only that, but his reward is great. This is because he tasted the taste of sin, and then left it behind and overcame his evil inclination. Chazal tell us that in the place where ba’alei teshuvah stand, complete tzaddikim cannot stand. In other words, ba’alei teshuvah are even greater than those who never sinned, because they have a tougher battle to fight against their evil inclination.
This concept has puzzled many commentators. How is it possible that a person who lives his entire life immersed in sin, and then chooses to change his ways and to repent, can be considered greater than a completely righteous person who spent his whole life studying Torah and performing mitzvot? The holy genius Rabbi Avraham Azulai, author of Chesed LeAvraham, writes that the reason a ba’al teshuvah is superior to a complete tzaddik is that the light is given off when he performs the mitzvah of Teshuvah is able to repair all the damage done to the celestial light by his intentional sins.
These sins, which have been transformed into mitzvot, now become a source of great illumination. Even complete tzaddikim cannot perform such mitzvot.
Rabbi Yosef Churba is the founder of Sephardic.Org as well as Rosh Yeshiva of Magen Avraham Yeshiva in Brooklyn NY. It is with his guidance that this amazing website remains on the correct path in order to inspire Jewish people around the world.