How Teshuva Makes Us into New Beings
Our teacher the Chida, zt”l (zekher tzaddik liverakhah, may the memory of the righteous be a blessing) cites commentators who explore the question of how it is possible that confession and repentance are effective for a penitent. Haven’t our Sages said that words cannot negate action? If so, how can a person uproot his wicked deeds using the power of confession which is achieved with words? The Chida offers an answer based on the Midrash which states that when someone repents, God makes him into a new being. It turns out that the words of the confession precipitate a monumental action that turns him into a new being. As a result, his previous evil deeds no longer exist.
The Chassidic Rebbe, Rabbi Natan Nata of Shinever, zt”l is cited in Hanhagot HaTzaddikim as saying that when a person sins, a part of his soul departs. This is why our Sages state that the wicked are referred to as dead even during their lifetime. They have done so many sins that almost all their soul has left them. When a person repents, the repentance returns his spirit to him, and he becomes like a new being. Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, zt”l writes in Sefer HaMiddot that with every groan that a person lets out in the course of repentance, he becomes a new being. Explain more
Let us now look at the amazing words of the Vilna Ga’on, zt”l. He writes: If a person says, “How can I be redeemed? I’ve been wicked so far. Look at all the sins I have already committed I am a lost cause,” etc., he must be made aware that a ba’al teshuva is like a newborn baby. Thus he can repent, and resolve to stick to the straight and as a narrow from now on.
The verse states: “Restore us to Yourself, Lord, that we may return; renew our days as of old.” The commentators ask why the verse emphasizes “of old.” The genius Rabbi Yisroel Berenbaum, shelita (sheyichyeh leyamim tovim va’arukim, may he live a long and good life) uses a parable to explain the matter in his magnificent book Marpe Bikhnafeha. A person buys a fancy new suit. Much to his dismay, it gets dirty and he has to send it to the dry cleaner. The suit comes back clean, but it no longer has the sheen of a new suit. In general, after something gets dirty and stained in the material world, it is impossible to return it to its original pristine state. In contrast, teshuva is a divine force. It works in a higher realm where there are no physical impediments or barriers. There is no equivalent to the amazing gift of repentance in the physical world.
Through teshuva, not only do our sins no longer have an impact on our lives, but they disappear completely like weeds pulled up by their roots. The sinner who is sorry about what he has done is like a new person. It is as if he never did anything wrong. He has reached the lofty level of renewal. It is as if he was born today. This is the gift we ask of God when we request: “Renew our days as of old.” Return us to the state of purity and cleanliness which we had before we sinned. Give us the supernatural opportunity to repent, so that we can purify and sanctify ourselves before You.
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.