By Rabbi Tuvia Teldon
As we approach Yom Kippur, I often think about the Chassidic mandate to do our teshuvah b’simcha, with joy. I would like to use the following story as a springboard for a better understanding of how this can be.
About seven years after our 1977 move to Long Island, a young lady started coming to our classes and expressed a great interest in Judaism. After a few months, she asked to speak to me. She told me that, in truth, she was going to a church while she was also coming to us. She was experiencing a spiritual-identity crisis and had to decide once and for all which path she would choose — Judaism or Christianity. Her decision would be based on my answer to one question.
That really hit me hard, and the responsibility she was placing on my shoulders was not one that I was used to or comfortable with. But a Chabad rabbi has to be prepared for any situation, so I took a deep breath and asked her to continue.
Her question: “What happened at the sin of the Tree of Knowledge?”
I was dumbfounded, and though I didn’t indicate my surprise, I felt like telling her to “get a life.” How can you make such a major life decision based on my answer to such a question? I didn’t see the significance of her question. However, as the conversation continued, I realized how well-thought-out her question really was.
After a quick prayer that I should find the right words, I explained to her that according to the Torah, the sin took place on the sixth day of creation, not after the world was created. It was part of the creative process. They did not have a perfect Shabbos in a perfect world and then woke up on Sunday after the seven days of creation were complete and just decide to sin. To the contrary, G-d wanted to create evil, sin, and free choice as part of the world He was to give Adam and Eve. So He orchestrated that during the six-day creative process all those elements would be included in life and the world at large by putting the Tree of Knowledge right in their midst on Friday afternoon.
In other words, a perfect G-d deliberately wanted to create an imperfect world so that mankind, through free choice, will make mistakes but will be able to work to perfect themselves and the world at large. This woman’s real question was how Judaism deals with the negativity in the world, and she was not satisfied with the Christian answer. We do not believe that G-d created a perfect world and then Adam and Eve messed it up, so mankind is forever paying for their “original sin.” Instead of going through life carrying the burden of sin from Adam and Eve, we Jews hold our heads high as partners with G-d working together in tikkun olam, to heal our imperfections and those of the world. Her question about the Tree of Life hit the nail right on the head.
The message is clear. Hashem knows us well and knows our fragile state. However, Hashem wants us to be His partners in perfecting this world and ourselves. Because of His infinite love, He created life with everything we need to be a true partner, including teshuvah and Yom Kippur. Teshuvah is so powerful that it is able to repair the shortcomings we create in the performance of all the other mitzvos we have. If we are to have simcha shel mitzvah in all other areas of life, how much more so we should have the simcha shel mitzvah for this great gift that Hashem has given us. This does not take away from the obligation to feel genuine regret for our misdeeds. It does add a new dimension to our service to G-d — the recognition that it is Hashem’s infinite love that provides us with the opportunity to fix our past.
In a similar vein, the Gemara relates that repentance from fear of G-d will atone for the sin itself, but repentance which is motivated by love of G-d has the power to actually transform a past misdeed from a deliberate sin into a mitzvah. This is the power of teshuvah when done with joy and a positive attitude.
By the way, this young lady now lives in Lakewood and has four grown children, all yeshiva graduates.
May we all be written and sealed for a sweet New Year!
Rabbi Tuvia Teldon is the regional director of Chabad Lubavitch of Long Island. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information and inspiration, visit www.chabadli.org or Facebook.com/RabbiTeldon to view his weekly broadcasts.