The Power of Teshuva is Beyond Human Understanding
Teshuvah is one of the greatest and most wonderful gifts which God has given the Jewish people. It is truly amazing that a person who has sinned and transgressed against God can wash off the filth of his sins, repent, and draw close to God, as if he had never sinned. God gave this gift to the Jewish people out of His great love and affection for them, and it is beyond human understanding.
With the help of teshuvah, a person can correct the past. For example, if a Jew desecrated Shabbat (the Sabbath), r”l (Rachmana litzlan, may God preserve us), ate forbidden foods, or committed the most serious transgressions, he should not be able to correct that sin. After all, is it possible to get rid of an action which has already taken place? Chazal (Chakhameinu zikhronam liverakhah, our Sages of blessed memory) take this even further and make a statement that is even more difficult to understand following strict logic: “The power of teshuvah is so great that intentional sins are now considered to be merits.” This means that through teshuvah a person can transform his sins so that in the heavenly accounting they will be reckoned as if he were engaged in Torah study and mitzvah performance.
What can this be compared to? Let us say a person breaks the law. He breaks the speed limit or runs a red light, and as a result he kills someone (may God spare us). Then the police catch the driver. It is impossible for him to turn back the clock. It is likely that were he to ask the judge for forgiveness, the judge would respond: “First of all, you will pay for your crime by spending many years in jail as the law dictates. Afterwards, perhaps we will forgive you.” It is possible that were he to cry and beg for mercy for himself and his wife and children, the judge might go a little easier on the punishment, but there is no way that the driver can restore matters to their original pre-crime state. There is no way that he will be treated as if he never broke the law, and will go unpunished for his actions.
Following the dictates of logic, we should first have to pay the price for our misdeeds, and only afterwards receive forgiveness. But God, in His great mercy and kindness, gave us the option to repent and to turn the clock back, so to speak. We must be truly grateful to God for this wonderful gift called teshuvah.
The prophet Eliyahu (Elijah) teaches us this idea as well in the midrash Tanna Devei Eliyahu: What happens when a man has a fight with his friend? He comes to the friend to apologize, but the friend is not appeased until the man gathers many people to witness the apology. Then the friend accepts it. However, even though he has forgiven him, he still has a little ill will in his heart. “However, I (God) am not like this. If a person transgresses and then repents, I treat him with mercy. I accept his repentance, and I do not hold his sins against him at all.” Come and see how merciful God is towards the Jews. Even if they spend their entire lives worshiping idols, as soon as they repent even slightly, Hashem cries and forgives them.
Chazal consider the gift of teshuvah to be so valuable that they declare that it is even greater than the World to Come: “For one hour of teshuvah and ma’asim tovim (good deeds) in this world is greater than all of life in the World to Come.”
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.