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As Divided for a Regular Year
Tanya for 8 Tamuz
Now the mitzvah of repentance  as required by the Torah is simply the abandonment of sin  (.cf. Sanhedrin, chapter 3 ; Choshen Mishpat, end of Sec. 34,  regarding testimony  ), [where it is stated that if a potential witness simply abandons and does not repeat the transgression that had previously disqualified him, he is once again able to testify]. 
This means that he must resolve in perfect sincerity never again to revert to folly, to rebel against G-d's rule; he will never again violate the King's command, G-d forbid, neither a positive command  nor a prohibition. 
This is the basic meaning of the term teshuvah ("repentance") - to return to G-d with all one's heart and soul, to serve Him, and to observe all His commandments.
For so does Scripture state:  "Let the wicked abandon his path, and the sinful his thoughts, and return to G-d....."
[Repentance, then, entails returning to G-d, performing his commandments and refraining from sin].
This differs from the popular conception that repentance is synonymous with fasting [on account of one's sins].
Even in the case of sins punishable by excision or execution, where atonement is made complete by suffering, [as previously quoted from the Beraita in Yoma], this means that it is G-d Who brings suffering upon the sinner, [in order to complete his atonement].
 (As the verse clearly specifies, "With a rod shall I remember [their sin]").
That is to say: When G-d finds his repentance acceptable, as he returns to Him with all his heart and soul, out of love, then following the initiative undertaken from below, and  "as water reflects the countenance ....," there is an awakening Above, arousing G-d's love and kindness, to scour his sin [and entirely cleanse him of it] through affliction in This World, in the spirit of the verse,  "For he whom the L-rd loves He chastises...."
[This is something quite different from any fasts or afflictions that an individual undertakes himself].
It is for this reason that the Rambam and Sefer Mitzvot Gadol  make no mention whatever of fasting as related to the mitzvah of repentance, even in the case of sins punishable by excision or capital sins.
[I.e., fasting is not required even with regard to those sins whose atonement is completed through suffering].
They cite only confessing [verbally] and requesting forgiveness; as the Torah prescribes,  "They shall confess their sin....."
[Why are confession and requesting forgiveness indeed part of repentance?
Every sin consists of a body and a soul. The actual misdeed itself is the "body" of the sin, and the bodily pleasure and ensuing desire with which it was committed are its "soul". Repentance involves eliminating both these elements.
The "soul" of the sin is eradicated by the earnest regret of the individual, who is mortified and pained by his past. Inasmuch as pain is the opposite of pleasure, it negates the pleasure which had earlier aroused his desire to sin, and there by obliterates the "soul" of the sin.
But the "body" of the sin also needs to be nullified. Simply refraining from further transgression lacks the action that would negate the sinful act itself, its "body". This is accomplished through verbal confession, for  "verbalization is also considered to be an action."
At any rate, verbal confession is thus a component of repentance - while fasting is not].
As to what we find in the Book of Yoel,  "Return to Me with all your hearts, and with fasting and weeping ....," [which would seem to indicate that fasting is in fact part of return and repentance], this was to nullify [Note inserted by the Rebbe Shlita: ".... something which relates to the future, while repentance involves forsaking the past]" the heavenly decree that had been issued, to expunge the sin of the generation through the affliction of locusts; [it was not part of the act of repentance].
This is the rationale for all fasts undertaken for any trouble threatening the community, [their purpose being to avert the impending harsh edict], as in the Book of Esther,  [where we find that the Queen asked that a fast be proclaimed in order to nullify Haman's evil decree].
Now the classic Mussar works, particularly the Rokeach and Sefer Chassidim, specify numerous fasts and mortifications  for sins punishable by excision and execution; likewise [numerous fasts are prescribed] for the wasteful emission of semen - a sin punishable by death by divine agency, as the Torah recounts of Er and Onan, .
And a sin whose retribution is identical in this respect to that of sins punishable by excision, [and hence the numerous fasts prescribed].
All this might lead us to assume that the purpose of fasts is suffering - this being the manner through which atonement is brought to completion by those who are guilty of sins punishable by excision.
But it has been previously stated that the suffering which completes atonement is specifically that which comes from Above, and not manmade suffering incurred through fasting and the like.
The Alter Rebbe answers this seeming contradiction by stating]:
These [above-prescribed fasts and mortifications] are intended to avert the punishment of suffering at the hand of heaven, G-d forbid.
[Note of the Rebbe Shlita: "This too relates to the future, unlike repentance, which relates to the past]."
[This means that if, G-d forbid, the punishment of suffering had been decreed upon an individual, he is able to exempt himself from it through these self-imposed fasts].
Another reason [for these fasts] is to urge on and expedite the conclusion of his soul's atonement.
Also, perhaps he is not returning to G-d with all his heart and soul out of love, but only out of fear.
[Such a penitent would not enjoy the Divine reaction that comes "as water reflects the countenance," and would not be granted the completion of his atonement through suffering.
Accordingly, he might undertake these fasts in order to secure this alone. Essentially, however, the suffering that brings about complete atonement (for those guilty of sins punishable by excision and death by Divine agency) is not meant to be self-inflicted, but rather - heaven forfend - imposed from Above].
- (Back to text) Note of the Rebbe Shlita: "The Alter Rebbe speaks of `the mitzvah of repentance' (rather than `the content of repentance' or simply `repentance,' and the like, recalling the expression of the Rambam in Hilchot Teshuvah 2:2). This would seem to indicate his stand on the basic content of repentance - that abandoning sin is a command of the Torah. This is so even according to the Rambam and the Semag, whose opinions he follows here (see Sefer HaMitzvot of the Tzemach Tzedek, beginning of Mitzvat Vidui U'Teshuvah) and not only according to the Ramban (on Nitzavim 30:11, quoted in Likkutei Torah on that verse).
..."In the preamble to Hilchot Teshuvah in Sefer HaYad (and it would seem that these introductory headings were written by the Rambam himself) we [likewise] read: `One positive command: That the sinner return from his sin before G-d and confess.
"Possibly this preamble also serves as the source for the words of the Tzemach Tzedek, loc. cit. [So too] in Sefer HaMitzvot of the Rambam: `The seventy-third mitzvah is that He commanded us to confess [our transgressions] and to articulate them penitently (lit., `with teshuvah')."
- (Back to text) Parentheses are in the original text.
- (Back to text) 25b.
- (Back to text) Sub-section 29ff.
- (Back to text) Note of the Rebbe Shlita:
"It will be noted that the Alter Rebbe does not cite Tractate Kiddushin (49b) and the section of the Shulchan Aruch entitled Even HaEzer (38:31) with regard to marriage, even though these two sources respectively precede Tractate Sanhedrin and Choshen Mishpat (see also Minchat Chinuch, Mitzvah 364). [The Gemara in Kiddushin teaches that even if an utterly wicked individual betrothed a woman on condition that he was a tzaddik, the betrothal is valid - for at that moment he could have repented in his heart; the Shulchan Aruch in Even HaEzer determines that such a betrothal has a degree (albeit uncertain) of legal validity; and the Minchat Chinuch in fact cites the above-quoted Gemara to demonstrate that the abandonment of sin in itself constitutes teshuvah. Why, then, did the Alter Rebbe not draw on these sources?]
..."It could be suggested by way of explanation that he prefers to adduce proof from fiscal law, where any particular case is not determined by a majority of instances. This is to say, that it is not only in the majority of instances [but in all instances] that abandonment of sin alone suffices."
- (Back to text) The Rebbe Shlita notes that the Alter Rebbe's point here is that the main element of repentance is not fasting, as he goes on to prove, but the abandonment of sin. However, the text also makes it clear that verbal confession is not essential to repentance (as is demonstrated by the citation from Choshen Mishpat, where verbal confession is not mentioned). It is only that when one does confess verbally and ask for forgiveness, these steps are incorporated in his repentance and enhance it - for which reason Rambam speaks of them. Fasting, however, is a totally separate thing, as the Alter Rebbe explains at the end of this chapter and the beginning of the next - for which reason (as he goes on to say) "the Rambam and the Semag make no mention whatever of fasting as related to the mitzvah of repentance."
- (Back to text) Note of the Rebbe Shlita: "Though this requires action on his part, nevertheless he so resolves."
- (Back to text) Note of the Rebbe Shlita: "For by transgressing a negative command rebelliousness is evident - which is not the case when he fails to perform a positive command."
- (Back to text) Yeshayahu 55:7.
- (Back to text) Note of the Rebbe Shlita: "The Alter Rebbe cites the parshah [Nitzavim] rather than simply stating that the quoted verse is found `in the Torah' as he does later on, in order to make it clear that he is not referring the reader to Parshat Va-etchanan (Devarim 4:30), for there the Torah merely relates events, as we see from the beginning of the text, `I call as witnesses against you...." Furthermore, and more importantly (for it could be pointed out that even from a narrative in the Torah we could learn what is considered repentance), there the verse does not specify that it be done `with all your heart."
- (Back to text) Devarim 30:2.
- (Back to text) The Rebbe Shlita suggests that the reason the Alter Rebbe quotes the Prophets (Yeshayahu) before the Torah (Devarim) is that the Prophet explicitly states that repentance involves the abandonment of sin. The Rebbe Shlita adds: "See Rambam, Hilchot Teshuvah 2:2."
- (Back to text) Hoshea 14:2.
- (Back to text) Eichah 5:22.
- (Back to text) Parentheses are in the original text.
- (Back to text) Mishlei 27:19.
- (Back to text) Ibid. 3:12.
- (Back to text) Positive Command 16.
- (Back to text) Devarim 5:7.
- (Back to text) Sanhedrin 65a.
- (Back to text) 2:12.
- (Back to text) 4:16.
- (Back to text) "Especially problematic here is the mention of mortifications, for in the context of averting a decree the sources speak only of fasts, as in the Books of Esther and Yoel cited above. An alternative explanation must therefore be found." (Note of the Rebbe Shlita.)
- (Back to text) Bereishit 38:6-7.
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