Friday, February 25, 2011

VaYakheil 5635 Second Ma'amar

What is the true meaning of teshuva/repentance?  Conventionally, repentance means regretting the transgression and committing not to repeat it.  However, there is a deeper meaning that can be learned from this week's parsha.

The parsha relates that the nation brought the raw materials to be used to build the Mishkan and its vessels.  "ויבואו האנשים על הנשים .../The men came with the women …" (Shmos 35:22) to bring their gold jewelry for the Mishkan and its vessels.  The word על which generally translates as "on" is used in this pasuk instead of the word עם, the word that is commonly used for "with".  Why?

The Chiddushei HaRim explains that על/on connotes higher or greater than.  By using the word על/on instead of the more common עם/with, the pasuk is hinting that the men were on a higher level than the women.  Why were they on a higher level? 

The Chiddushei HaRim explains.  Chazal[1] teach us that only the men sinned at the golden calf.  The women did not.  The men were ba'alei teshuva whereas the women, having never sinned, were totally righteous – tzadikim gemurim.  Chazal[2] also teach us that penitents are on a higher level than those who never sinned.  The words of Chazal are, "Tzadikim gemurim cannot stand where ba'alei teshuva stand."  The Zohar[3] says that penitents have more strength to come close to God.  The Chiddushei HaRim explains the Zohar as referring specifically to the object of the transgression.  The men, who sinned with the gold of the golden calf, were more zealous than the women about donating gold towards the building of the Mishkan and its vessels. 

Why is the ba'al teshuva's zeal strongest specifically in the area in which he sinned?  The answer is dependent on a deeper understanding of teshuva.  For a person to sin, he needs a strong desire to motivate him to transgress the word of God.  Teshuva means using this very same desire to serve God.  When we use the very same desire that we used for evil to serve God, we have "returned" the desire from evil to good.  The English word for teshuva – repentance – misses the connotation of returning that the word teshuva implies. 

We see this concept in a novel interpretation of the Sfas Emes on the adage of Chazal, "עשה רצונו כרצונך" (Avos 2:4).  This is usually translated as, "Make His will yours."  The Sfas Emes understands it as, "Do His will the way you do your own."  Chazal are teaching us that we can learn how to do His will from the way in which we do our own.  This is really what teshuva/returning is.

Chazal are applying this idea more broadly to cover all desires.  Every craving we have that is not directly for God, affords us an opportunity to learn how to better serve God with that very craving.  This is the only reason that we have these desires.  And by using our desires to better serve God we "return" them to their proper place.

The men gave gold towards the Mishkan with more zeal than the women because they had already experienced giving gold with zeal albeit to idolatry.  Tzadikim gemurim/The totally righteous are on a lower spiritual level than ba'alei teshuva/penitents because they have never activated these strong desires.  They have never returned the desire to its proper place.  The execution of these desires is not within their life experience.  They therefore cannot use them – "return" them to their proper place – to serve God.  To use the words of Chazal, they cannot stand in the place in which ba'alei teshuva stand.

[1] Bamidbar R. 21:10
[2] Brachos 24b
[3] Zohar 1:129b

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