The Enormity of the Concept of Repentance
The Chassidic Rebbe, Rabbi Tzadok HaKohen of Lublin, zt”l explains that the commandments of the Torah are not mere arbitrary decrees of a king. A king may demand that all follow his wishes, and may decree that anyone who disobeys will be punished for the simple reason that he has disobeyed the king. If God’s commandments were arbitrary as well, the existence of repentance would not be such a big deal. For it is clear that if a person were to come and request forgiveness and atonement, God could and would forgive him.
Even an ordinary person must not be cruel, refusing to forgive someone who asks forgiveness. How much more so in the case of the King of kings, the Holy One, blessed be He. Even though considering His stature, going against His will is a tremendous, enormous sin. Nevertheless, He is a king full of mercy, and it rebounds to his honor to forgive sinners who ask forgiveness. This is what logic would demand of a merciful king like God, Who is the source of all mercy in the world. It is inconceivable that He would be cruel and refuse to forgive someone who asks for forgiveness.
Nevertheless, since the Torah served as the blueprint for the world, the laws of nature require that we observe the laws of the Torah in order to keep the world going. Sinners are pursued by the evil they do. One who sins has no one to complain about except himself. What can this be compared to? A person did something foolish and took a knife to play with. He threw it into the air and caught it a number of times until the knife fell on his finger and cut him badly.
Would it help for such a person to regret the idiotic thing which he did? It is obvious that he will still need to bandage his wound and apply medicine. And if the person actually managed to cut off his hand, there would be no way to fix it. Similarly, the mitzvot of the Torah animate our spiritual limbs. Depending on the severity of his sin, a sinner is wounding or amputating a limb. Therefore, logically there is no way for Teshuvah to save someone from a deserved death.
And yet, God, may He be blessed, created Teshuvah before He created the world. This is what is meant by the phrase in the Machzor (High Holy Days prayer book), “He opens the gate to those knocking with teshuvah.” These are the gates of repentance, which are more exalted than all the other heavenly gates involved in running the world.
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.