“soon i’m going to make a mortal human of flesh…but only on 1 condition…when they, because of their iniquities, turn to you,
you must be ready to erase their faults”
so says the Holy One, blessed be, to…well, to whom? to an angel? nope. to ‘wisdom’? well, if you are willing to see t’shuvah as the wisdom it is, maaaaybe. to t’shuvah….yup, to t’shuvah (Zohar3:69b). to t’shuvah, which was created before the Creation of the World, and not just according to the mystics, but according to Chazal, the rabbis of the Talmud (Pesachim 54a).
this is quite an idea. the means of repair of the relationship between humans and G’d (and humans) was created before the humans themselves. t’shuvah is something like the medium out of which radical free will is created…without an “out” humans were doomed to lives of error, iniquity, and darkness. why? because as Creations truly free to act, they were created to act without a sense of certainty in what to expect….Creations not given to habit and instinct only….Creations with a consciousness that would enable to act against their own interests!….and, of course, against whatever was thought to be G’d’s will. we humans are self-seducing, you see. we are truly free to test limitations and limits because the way back is already there before us. like air. and light. and plant life. and the universe. reb Nachman must have been thinking of this pre-Creation t’shuvah when he taught:
if you believe you can destroy, you must believe you can repair
aside from the Sh’ma, i don’t know that anything states the essence of judaism better than this simple phrase. this is the essence of belief outside of belief in haShem purely…this is the way. remember, the Zohar actually points out that the human appeal in times of darkness would be to t’shuvah, which can act with humans alone to effect repair. it is like the existence of the Rad51/Srs2 enzyme balance that allows for “spontaneous” DNA repair within the cell…Rad51 is that hint at a u-turn. the street is always potentially 2-way. likewise, the u-turn in approach to haShem and to moral/ethical behavior can reciprocate.
when the Holy One needed to make a point to pharaoh and the world, he “hardened” pharaoh’s heart….think of it as Srs2 predominating, allowing pharaoh’s spiritual DNA to continue replicating bad…..the issue for all of us is to flip the t’shuvah switch and live differently.
we are not automatons for either the good or that bad. ours is a pied way (GMHopkins, 1918):
“glory be to G’d for dappled things–
all things counter, original, spare, strange; whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)…..
Chazal see the way of t’shuvah in the hebrew letter hei, stating that the universe was created with it (Menachot 29b). the hei has a solid horizontal bar on top, attached on the right side to a solid vertical bar. but on the left, the vertical bar is short of reaching the top bar. there is an opening in it moving toward the next letter (hebrew is, of course, read from right to left). and hei has no bottom. how does it represent t’shuvah? well, one can fall away out the bottom of the hei, but can always work back up and take the passageway to the left back into the stream of endless possibility in each and every moment.
we should note that there are 2 hei’s in the unpronounceable name of G’d: one after the yod that is the entrance of the Divine in Creation, and another after the vav that is the full extent of the Divine in Completion. after the explosion of the creative yod, then, there is no full extension, ie, vav, no completion (hence, redemption ultimately) without first navigating the hei of t’shuvah. and after the completion/redemption what still remains? the hei of t’shuvah. the present moment represented by hoveh, is redemption sandwiched twixt t’shuvah. a good way to remember that t’shuvah is the alpha and the omega, if you will, in the walk with haShem (the Name). return and return…continuous t’shuvah….not at all something to “do” once a year in the fall.
and consider quickly the difference between hei and the closed letter equivalent, the letter chet, the very name of which means “sin,” or better, errancy, missing the mark, deviating from the path. pry open the left side of chet and you have hei. t’shuvah is only redemptive when it continues to be open, so if you think you can “do” it once a year and be done, well, you’ve made your hei into a closed chet….t’shuvah into a thing and not a way of walkin Torah. you have, one might say, created an idol that has no ongoing power. from a chet, one can only go down…..
now, since we have also just enjoyed the 7th day of Elul, the first shabbat in the month that was not also Rosh Chodesh, we should consider the relationship between t’shuvah and Shabbat. you probably have already guessed the shabbat frees us from the routine of everyday life, just as t’shuvah frees us from deadly habit. shabbat is the only in the moment living many people have a chance to do, for living so in the hubbub of workaday routine is very difficult for many. so, since we are dealing kabbalistically with letters, let’s notice the shin bet tav (shabbat) are rearranged as tav shin bet in tashev, which means return and is the root of the word t’shuvah. of course, each week, in the hebrew calendar, is a counting up toward the next shabbat…ie, yom rishon toward shabbat, yom sheni toward shabbat….so it is shabbat to which we return each week…a taste of the world to come in that it is a day of just being, and not our everyday doing. now to make the word t’shuvah from tashev, you add a vav of redemption after the shin of shabbat and tack a hei on the end after the bet: tav shin vav bet hei. t’shuvah is, then, a sort of open-ended shabbat of redemption….endless being, endless blessing….constant walkin Torah with haShem.
t’shuvah is the breathing out of hei (go ahead say it, either as “hay” or as “ah”) ridding us of the spent, and preparing for the next oxygen-rich breathing in….all through that opening in the letter. a good way to remember it. t’shuvah breaks habit, which is really nothing but the predictable, mindless, determined extension of the past, and opens to endless possibility in each moment. t’shuvah is the ever extending possibility of newness, the u-turn on a one-way street.
practice the idea of repair in your personal resolve. know, absolutely know, that no matter how fallen you may be, you can rise, even if you need crutches. resolve to get up today, or tomorrow, or very, very soon and know that there is no destruction that can’t be repaired in some way. t’shuvah has been around longer than you…it’s roots are deeper sunk and cannot be uprooted.