So it's Elul again. Another year, another time for Rabbonim to give speeches about the importance of Teshuva, the importance of focusing on repairing, on reenergizing our relationship with Hashem. While the Elul “vibes”, if they can be called that, are no doubt meant for our benefit, they can also be quite overwhelming. Some people may find the guilt of Elul to be too heavy to bear, the shame of their perceived wickedness so overpowering that it makes them feel worthless. Indeed, the joy and beauty and healing power of reconnecting with Hashem through our deficiencies can be lost in the fear and shame and despair that many people may feel in the runup to the Yomim Noraim.
And to those people, I say, you are right, the level of despair and shame that you feel is entirely proper. Sinful behavior is a travesty. Considering all the areas we may have fallen short over the year is just cause for many of the negative thoughts and feelings that we have regarding Elul time.
However, there is also a dialectic here. Dialectics (the D in DBT) is essentially the concept that there can be two (or more) ideas, even in opposition to each other that are both true. In therapeutic terms, an example of this would be DBT’s focus on both change and radical acceptance. DBT encourages clients to both fully accept their situation in life, and be working to change it. In terms of Elul and Teshuva, it is true that the full weight of the judgment of Rosh Hashanna is overwhelming, but there is an equal and opposite aspect that provides a ray of hope in the face of the overwhelming negativity.
In the first chapter of Sefer Tomer D’vorah, Rabbi Moshe Cordovero explains the Talmudic passage “B’makom shebaalei teshuva amod, afilu tzadikim gemurim ein yachol lamod (In the place where baalei teshuva stand, even perfect tzadikim are not able to stand).
Rabbi Cordovero explains this to mean that all of the suffering we feel as a result of our misdeeds, all of the efforts we make to repair the damage we’ve done to ourselves and others is counted as another aspect of our service to Hashem. Thus, when a person does something wrong, even with all of the distress that this causes him, he is now presented with a new opportunity to do a new mitzvah that was not previously available to him. And, in performing this mitzvah, the mitzvah of Teshuva he is in fact able to rise higher than he ever was previously.
So now, I will ask you a question. Which is better, to be the “tzadik gamur”, or the baal teshuva”?
Surely we all instinctively understand that the best thing is to not to do anything wrong in the first place. However, only someone who has done something wrong has the opportunity to do the extra mitzvah of teshuva?
The answer is found in dialectical philosophy, the idea that there can be multiple truths. It is true that it is better to be either the tzadik gamur or the baal teshuva. There are incredible aspects to each, And, just as it is true that all of the negative feelings are warranted, there is also an equally true reason to feel excited and hopeful about the unique new opportunities to grow and change for the better. Through deepening our connection with Hashem through the process of repair, we hope for greater depth, greater closeness, greater heights.