Tag Archives: Chesed

In the Matter of True Teshuvah

Chovos HaLevavos lists seven things of which a sinner must be cognizant if he is to attain true teshuvah.

  1. He must be regretful and ashamed of his evil behavior.
  2. He must know that the deed was wrong, and recognize the wickedness of his act.
  3. He must know that Hashem is aware of his misdeed and that punishment (without forgiveness) is inevitable.
  4. He must understand that teshuvah is the cure that he requires.
  5. He should make an accounting of all the good that Hashem has done for him.
  6. He must contrast this with his own disobedience, and use it as a spur to his resolve not to sin further.
  7. He must take concrete steps to avoid sinning again.

One who undertakes to satisfy these requirements can attain true teshuvah.

-from “A Mussar Thought for the Day,” p.192
Tuesday’s commentary on Parashas Vayechi
A Daily Dose of Torah

“One who undertakes to satisfy these requirements can attain true teshuvah.”

True teshuvah.

I’ve written a lot about repentance, both in the past and more recently. But it’s something that’s difficult to maintain and easy to neglect, thus my mind and heart have drifted off into other topics lately.

But it’s as if God were “programming” my study materials to remind me and bring me back on course:

No enslavement and no tyranny are as ruthless and as demanding as slavery to physical desires and passions. Someone who is unable to resist a craving, and who must, like a brute beast, do whatever the body demands, is more profoundly enslaved than someone subject to a human tyrant. Addicted people are an extreme example of those who have become slaves to their bodies.

Dignity comes from freedom, in the capacity to make free choices, and hence, in our ability to refuse to submit to physical desires when our judgment indicates that doing so is wrong. Freedom from domination by the body is the first step toward spiritual growth.”

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twersky
from “Growing Each Day” for Tevet 8

PrisonAs Rabbi Twersky suggests, we each choose our own prison, but often, when attempting to make teshuvah and overcome a lifetime of error and disobedience, it seems as if you’re perpetually making a prison break. It can be very discouraging.

But then again…

In our Yom Kippur prayers, we say, “until the day of [a person’s] death, He waits for him; if he repents, He will accept him immediately.” This prayer reveals the tremendous mercy that Hashem shows toward his creations. A person may have been a sinner his entire life, doing evil constantly without regard for Hashem or His Torah. As his life is coming to an end, when he does not even have strength left to sin, he contemplates his future, and repents of his past. Surely this is a less than perfect teshuvah! Yet Hashem not only will accept it, He does so immediately, without reservation. As we say elsewhere in the Yom Kippur prayers, “we are filled with iniquity, but You are filled with mercy.”

-from “A Closer Look at the Siddur,” p.195
Tuesday’s commentary on Parashas Vayechi
A Daily Dose of Torah

This isn’t an excuse to wait for the last moment to repent, but rather is it encouragement and hope that no matter how long you have been buried in habitual sin, and no matter how far you have fallen, and no matter how distant you are from God, you can return and He will accept true teshuvah immediately.

But as we saw above, “true teshuvah” is no small thing. As I’ve said previously, it is hardly a matter of just saying “I’m sorry” and then it’s all good. Teshuvah is a life-changing event, and well it should be. It is turning your life around completely and starting off in a brand new direction, the polar opposite of the path you previously trod.

But we can’t do it alone. Without God, no one of us has the will to completely subdue our evil inclination and to make true teshuvah.

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
And renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from Your presence
And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of Your salvation
And sustain me with a willing spirit.

Psalm 51:10-12 (NASB)

I’m sure you recognize this as part of David’s sincere plea to God for forgiveness for the multiple and heinous willful sins he committed in the matter of Bathsheba. There is no sacrifice in the Temple for willful sin, and the only sacrifice that is acceptable before God for such sins is “a broken spirit and a broken and a contrite heart” (verse 17).

And this is exactly what God is waiting for from each of us:

As we pray each day, the knowledge that Hashem is not wrathful or vengeful, but is rather a merciful God Who desires our sincere repentance, should act as a powerful stimulant, giving us the fortitude to mend our ways and live our lives as servants of Hashem.

-“A Closer Look at the Siddur,” ibid

But as for me, I am like a green olive tree in the house of God;
I trust in the lovingkindness of God forever and ever.
I will give You thanks forever, because You have done it,
And I will wait on Your name, for it is good, in the presence of Your godly ones.

Psalm 52:8-9

PrayerIn the Days of Awe surrounding Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the shofar blast is meant to be something of a “wake up call” from God to the Jewish people to repent, for time is short. But actually we can repent at an moment, and God will listen and be merciful. However, this happens only if we’re diligent and serious about teshuvah, about turning around and returning to Him. We all must answer the call and answer today and everyday.


Shemini: Chesed to the Stranger

acts-of-kindnessThe following you shall abominate among the birds — they shall not be eaten, they are an abomination: the eagle, the vulture, and the black vulture; the stork; herons of every variety; the hoopoe, and the bat.

Leviticus 11:13,19 (JPS Tanakh)

The Talmud (Chulin 63a) states that the Hebrew name for the white stork is chasida, because it acts with kindness, chesed, towards its friends.

The Ramban, Moshe Nachmanides, a great Torah scholar, writes that the birds enumerated in this portion are forbidden for consumption because of their cruelty. Why, then, should the stork be considered “detestable” and an “abomination”? It should be permissible since it does kindness!

The Chidushai Ha-Rim answers: The stork does favors only for its friends. Since it doesn’t do chesed for strangers, it is considered not kosher. Chesed, kindness, must be done for everyone, not only one’s friends!

-Rabbi Kalman Packouz
“Shabbat Shalom Weekly”
Commentary on Torah Portion Shemini

It seems strange that we could learn lessons about treating others with charity and lovingkindness from the Laws of Kashrut, but the esteemed sages have illustrated this passage thus. Perhaps you would like something more familiar.

Love your fellow as yourself: I am the Lord.

Leviticus 19:18 (JPS Tanakh)

And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.

Matthew 22:39

But as the famous question goes, who is our neighbor?

The Torah teaches us, “Love your fellow human being as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18). It is often translated as “Love your neighbor as yourself.” However, Rabbi Mordechai Gifter taught that while the words “neighbor” and “fellow human being” are often used synonymously, in everyday speech the word “neighbor” is used to denote someone living or located nearby, while the obligation of this commandment includes a complete stranger who lives far away.

The general rule for this commandment is that anything you would want others to do for you, you should do for others (Rambam, Hilchos Aivel 14:1). The great Hillel once taught a convert, “That which is hateful to you, do not do unto others. That is the basis of the Torah.” (Shabbos 31a). The Baal Shem Tov used to say, “Love your fellow man as yourself — though you have many faults, nevertheless, you still love yourself. That is how you should feel toward your friend. Despite his faults, love him.”

-Rabbi Packouz

Not just your neighbor who is close to you, and not just your fellow who is like you, but even people who are far away and who you do not know…even people you may not like.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Matthew 5:43-48

What is Chesed? What is truly giving kindness if not showing love and concern for another human being, even when they’re a stranger, or even when there has been bitterness and enmity between you?

One thing I can attest for is his integrity. He was one of the few who called me after my last surgery to find how I am despite our bitter feud. None of you did. Give the guy a break, we must not take love out of the equation.

Chesed is calling up a sick person and showing compassion, even though at all other times you bitterly argue with that person. Chesed is a love note placed in a bottle and tossed into the sea for anyone who may need love to find, no matter how far away they may be. Chesed is a can of soup donated to a food bank for any hungry person to eat. Chesed is smiling at a stranger you pass on the street.

More about chesed on The Transcendent Path.

Good Shabbos.

Love in Exile

In the previous chapters the Alter Rebbe explained how a Jew can perform Torah and mitzvot “with his heart” — with a love and fear of G-d. When a Jew is motivated by love and by a desire to cleave to the Almighty, his Torah and mitzvot will then surely be lishmah, i.e., with the most purely focused intentions. This, in turn, will add vitality to his endeavors. It is also possible, as explained in the previous chapter, that his love for G-d is such that he is motivated in his Torah and mitzvot by the desire to cause G-d gratification, just as a son strives to do all he possibly can for his father, so that his father may derive pleasure from his actions.

Love and fear of G-d stem from the two attributes of kindness (Chesed) and severity (Gevurah). The attribute of kindness and love is that exemplified by our forefather Abraham, who is described (Yeshayahu 41:8) as “Abraham who loves me.” The attribute of severity and fear is that of our forefather Isaac; the Patriarch Jacob refers to the G-d of his father (Bereishit 31:42) as the “Fear of Isaac.”

Today’s Tanya Lesson (Listen online)
Likutei Amarim, beginning of Chapter 45
By Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi (1745-1812)
founder of Chabad Chassidism
Elucidated by Rabbi Yosef Wineberg
Translated from Yiddish by Rabbi Levy Wineberg and Rabbi Sholom B. Wineberg
Edited by Uri Kaploun

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”John 13:34-35 (ESV)

In yesterday’s meditation I talked about this new commandment of Jesus and how we don’t seem to obey it very well. While most Christians believe that the Law has been done away with and wholly replaced by grace, that doesn’t explain why they (we) should disregard this new “Law” of Christ as if it too were “nailed to the cross.”

As far as people in the Hebrew Roots/Messianic movement (in all its varied forms and expressions) are concerned, since most of them pride themselves on their total obedience to the commandments of Torah, how can they still blatantly disobey this one new commandment of the Messiah by openly expressing displeasure and even hostility toward people in the church?

As we see in the quote from the Tanya which I posted above, as well as other similar quotes I’ve used from this source over the past week or so, most people tend to obey God for one of two reasons: love and fear.

But if we are aware of God, believe in God, understand God is real, and realize that God has the ability to enforce His edicts, why then do we continue to disobey Him, even in the commandment to love one another? The explanation is also in this commentary on the Tanya:

For the soul had to descend from its source, from the most lofty of spiritual heights, to the nethermost level, in order to garb itself in a body whose life-force derives from kelipot, and is as distant as possible from G-d. This is all the more so if the individual caused the “Exile of the Shechinah” through improper thoughts, speech or deeds.

The Rebbe notes that this word alludes to ch. 36, where the Alter Rebbe concludes that this world is “lowest in degree; there is none lower than it in terms of concealment of His light; [a world of] doubled and redoubled darkness, so much so that it is filled with kelipot and sitra achra, which actually oppose G-d.”

Since the Divine spark of the soul is clothed in a body which is animated by the kelipat nogah of this world, it is removed at the farthest possible distance from G-d.

It gets worse.

The body is referred to as a skin, since it serves as a garment to the soul, as the verse states (Iyov 10:11), “You have garbed me with skin and flesh.” This is moreover the skin of a “snake”, since the body in its unrefined state is loathesome, as explained in ch. 31.3 The Divine spark must enter into such a body…

Welcome to exile in the farthest part of the universe away from God, clothed in a body of “snake skin.” Sounds repulsive, doesn’t it? However it explains a good many things, including the current and historical state of humanity, all of the crime, all of the wars, all of the day-to-day cruelty people engage in against each other. Just watch a local or national news broadcast on TV for half an hour and you’ll see what I mean.

It also explains, sadly enough, why we who claim the name of Christ continue to fail in obeying even one, simple commandment to love those who all belong to the same flock and who hear the voice of the same shepherd.

Oh sure, we may love most (or some) of the people in the congregation where we worship, but is that really obeying the commandment to love each other?

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?” –Matthew 5:43-47 (ESV)

Oops. Guess that doesn’t work.

So how do we manage to love at all?

A Jew’s sin causes his soul to be exiled within the domain of the kelipot. This in turn (so to speak) exiles the Shechinah, the source of his soul, too. Pondering this matter will awaken within a Jew a profound feeling of compassion for his soul and for its source. This compassion, as the Alter Rebbe will now point out, should be utilized in one’s study of Torah and performance of mitzvot. This will elevate his soul, enabling it to reunite with its source, the blessed Ein Sof.

Even when Jews are (heaven forfend) in an unclean spiritual state, the Divine Name dwells among them. This arousal of compassion towards the Divine Name is what is alluded to in the previous phrase: “And let him return to G-d,” the stimulus for his repentance being one’s “mercy upon Him,” i.e., the Divine Name, the source of Jewish souls, inasmuch as Jews are part of the Divine Name.

If we try to apply this to the larger body of disciples in the Master, the lesson seems to be telling us that we can learn to love each other by feeling compassion for a “suffering God” who is in exile with us and within us. He is in exile with us in our “snake skin bodies” because we were all created in His image and the Divine spark dwells in each of us. But that includes every human being who has ever lived, including atheists and those of other religious traditions.

But what about we Christians having compassion for the suffering Messiah? He was tortured and killed for our sake because God had compassion on us and refused to let us live out lives without hope. If, upon becoming disciples of the Master, the Spirit of God entered into us, whispered words of love and faith to us, and empowered us to surrender our sin to oblivion and surrender our souls to our Creator, can we not muster up enough of the compassion God has for humanity and express it to each other as “kindred spirits?”

Christian, Hebrew Roots person, Messianic, or whatever you call yourself. You who say you are saved by grace. You who say you flawlessly obey the Torah. You who exalt yourself in whatever manner you choose as attached to God in His Heaven. Do you love, not just the believer who is exactly like you, but those who also have a sincere devotion to the Master and who may look and act nothing like you? If not, what value is your so-called salvation? What light is shining out of the windows to your soul?

Our souls are windows for the world to receive light, pours through which it breathes, channels to its supernal source. There is no function more vital to our universe, nothing more essential to its fulfillment, since for this it was formed.

When we do good, speak words of kindness and teach wisdom, those windows open wide. When we fail, they cloud over and shut tight.

It is such a shame, this loss of light, this lost breath of fresh air. A stain can be washed away, but a moment of life, how can it be returned?

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Keep the Windows Open”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson