REPENTANCE -- Returning to God:

1) To make amends for one's sins and rebuild what was damaged, the role of the Tzaddik is of paramount importance. Anyone who wants to attain the ultimate good must make every conceivable effort to draw close to the true Tzaddik and his followers. He must pour out his heart before the Tzaddik and confess his past actions. Then all his sins will be forgiven. The sins one commits are engraved on one's bones. Each sin corresponds to a certain combination of letters. When a person commits a particular sin, an evil combination is inscribed on his bones corresponding to the letters of the negative commandment of the Torah he has transgressed. Because of this the words of that commandment are cast into tum'ah, the realm of impurity. The powers of holiness are sent into exile among the forces of the Other Side, and the evil combination inscribed on his bones exacts vengeance from him. But when he confesses before a Sage, the letters inscribed on his bones are released, and what was damaged can be completely restored (4:5).

2) When a Jew is moved to repent through a feeling that a small hint of impurity is spoiling his prayers and devotions, his repentance has an effect even on those who are totally wicked and who have become completely alienated from their Jewish roots because of their evil deeds. They, too, become part of the Holy Throne and return to God, helping His servants to construct their holy edifice (Ibid.).

3) The true sign of a person who has returned to God is that he can hear himself insulted and remain silent. He can endure even the most murderous abuse with patience. Through this he reduces the blood in the left side of his heart (the seat of the animal soul) and slaughters his evil inclination. He will be worthy of partaking of the glory of God (6:2).

4) Before a person returns to God, he has no being. It is as if he has not yet been created. Because it would have been better for him not to have been created at all. But when he comes and purifies himself in order to return to God, he puts himself in order and prepares to become a being. This element of preparation for becoming -- coming into being, as it were -- explains why the Divine Name which is associated with repentance is Ehyeh, `I shall be' (Ibid.).

5) When someone wants to purify himself and return to God, they tell him `Wait!' (Yoma 38b-39a). It is true that he should hurry to release his soul and flee from the darkness. But he shouldn't be discouraged and depressed when he sees how far he is from true prayer and other holy devotions. It is a necessary part of the process that he should wait. In the end he will be worthy of making amends completely, and all will be restored. Understand this well (Ibid.).

6) Repentance never stops. It is a continuing movement. Even at the very moment that a person is saying `I have sinned, I have transgressed, I have rebelled, etc.' it is still impossible for him to say the words with complete sincerity without a single extraneous motive. Thus he must repent for his earlier repentance -- namely the flaw in his previous confession (Ibid. 3).

7) Even when a person knows that he has achieved perfect repentance he must still make amends for his earlier repentance. For what he achieved then was good only in proportion to the perception of Godliness he had at the time. But now, after his repentance, his perception has undoubtedly been heightened. Compared with his present perception, the earlier perception turns out to have been grossly materialistic. Therefore he must repent for the levels he achieved earlier -- because he degraded the true exaltedness of the Creator to the level of materialism. Happy is the man who achieves true repentance (Ibid.).

8) There are three aspects to repentance: seeing with the eyes, hearing with the ears and understanding in the heart (cf. Isaiah 6:10). Repentance involves all of them. One must use one's eyes to look towards the ultimate goal and purpose of this world, and concentrate on it with all one's heart. He must set himself to travel there and nowhere else. And he must use his ears to listen carefully to everything that our holy Rabbis said. Then he will be able to return to God (7).

9) The essence of teshuva, repentance, is achieved through humility. One has to make oneself into nothing -- like a wasteland which people trample over. He must pay no attention whatsoever to opposition or to the contempt with which people may treat him. He should train himself to be silent and to be able to hear himself insulted without replying. One such as this is worthy of the name `wise' and he will attain perfect repentance -- the `Crown,' which is the summit of the Sefirot. This is the way to true and enduring glory, the glory of God (6).

10) When a person wants to return to God he must become an expert in the halachah, the law (halachah literally means `going'). Two kinds of skill are needed: in the `running' and the `returning' (cf. Ezekiel 1:14). These two expressions correspond to the rising and falling which King David speaks of in the Psalms: `If I ascend to Heaven, You are there, and if I make hell my bed, behold there You are (Psalms 139:8). This means that a person who wants to return to God must gird his loins and keep firmly to the pathway of God regardless of whether he makes progress (`if I ascend to Heaven') or suffers reverses (`if I make hell my bed'). If he makes progress and reaches a particular level of spirituality -- be it high or not so high -- he should still not stop here and content himself with his achievement so far. In his case the skill he needs is to know and believe that he must still advance further. This is the skill of the `running.' On the other hand, even if he falls to a lower level -- and even if he falls into the lowest pit of Hell, God forbid -- he must still not despair in any way, regardless of his condition. He should remain firm and search for God, pleading with Him and begging Him to help in whatever way he can. Even in the lowest pit of hell God is present, and even from there it is possible to be attached to Him. As King David said: `If I make hell my bed, behold, there You are'. The skill he needs now is in the `returning.' The only way to achieve true repentance is with these two skills. Indeed, it takes extraordinary skill to understand that it is necessary to struggle all the time in order to serve God. One has to aim constantly for a higher level while at the same time never allowing oneself to fall in any way or become despondent and discouraged. Someone who acquires these skills will be able to walk the path of true repentance, and God's right hand will be open wide to receive his repentance. He will attain to the glory of God, and Man will be placed upon the throne. Happy is he (Ibid. 4).

11) There are certain Torah scholars who are highly learned but have not begun to repent, and on the contrary, they resist the Tzaddikim and take issue with them. The reason for this is that their motives for learning Torah are not pure. They want prestige and influence, and they like to feel important and take issue with everything. Their learning simply develops their subtlety, making them more and more insidious. The Torah is double-edged, `For the ways of the Lord are just, the righteous walk in them, and sinners stumble in them' (Hosea 14:10). Their expertise in the oral Law merely opens their mouths to speak arrogantly and contemptuously against the Tzaddik. However there exist certain great Tzaddikim who understand the Torah concepts which are the source of the ideas they are using against the Tzaddikim. These great Tzaddikim have the power to elevate these ideas and make out of them halachot, legal rulings (12:1).

12) When those who were far from holiness draw closer -- whether they are proselytes who convert, or Jews returning to their roots, for they too were `outside' -- God's glory is exalted through their drawing closer, and His Name is glorified in the upper and the lower worlds. Glory is raised to its root and through this peace spreads over the whole world (14:2).

13) When a person is completely humble and lowly he can reach such a level of attainment in Torah that his very learning can bring radiance to the roots of the souls of Israel, which are to be found in the Torah. He has the power to radiate even to those who are very distant, even to the sinners and those who are farthest removed from Torah. He can arouse them and encourage them to return to God. No matter how greatly a person may have sinned, as long as he is still called by the name of Israel he is still a Jew in spite of his sins, and the radiance of the root of his soul can be transmitted to him wherever he may be by means of the study of Torah. Then he will return to God (Ibid. 3-5).

14) Even when those who were distant from holiness are roused to return to the light of Torah, they are still very far away and they may experience tremendous obstacles. It takes enormous effort for them to strip themselves of their `filthy garments' (Zechariah 3:4). These `filthy garments' are as difficult a barrier as a river which it is impossible to cross. If you want to draw closer, do not be discouraged if you find yourself confronted by all kinds of obstacles. This is inevitable, because all these obstacles stem from the `filthy garments' -- the sins of the past. It takes great efforts to strip off these `filthy garments' and throw them aside. At times the experience is very bitter. But in the end all the obstacles and barriers which separate you from holiness will disappear (Ibid. 5).

15) We have to make amends even for the sins we committed unwittingly. Through this we attain perfection in the Holy Tongue, which is tikkun habrit (Ibid. 19).

16) Teshuva means to return a thing to the place from which it was taken -- to restore it and return it to its root. Now wisdom is the root of everything. This is why you must guard your mind and your wisdom against alien ideologies and extraneous thoughts, not to speak of evil temptations. The reason for all the sins and transgressions which people commit and all their shortcomings is that their thoughts are impure. They are not careful to guard their thoughts and avoid overstepping the bounds of holiness. When a person protects his thoughts and his wisdom, he can remedy everything and return to God (35).

17) Teshuva depends upon the heart -- more specifically, the thoughts in the heart. You must be firm and avoid all evil thoughts. Think only good thoughts. Focus your heart on the purpose of life. Think up plans and strategies for coming closer to God. Then you will be worthy of attaining the Hidden Torah of the Ancient One -- the inner secrets of Torah, which are the essence of the joy of the World to Come (49).

18) More than any other times of the year, the months of Tishrei and Nissan are the times for teshuva. The Redemption is destined to take place in Nissan, and it will come about only through teshuva (Ibid. 6).

19) You must be `like a strong man running his course' (Psalms 19:6) because even if you have succeeded in repenting and making amends for the damage you did, you must still make up for all the good deeds which you could have done but didn't all the time you were rebelling against God. You must be extra enthusiastic and run extra fast in order to make up for what you failed to do then (Ibid.).

20) An action is not an action until it is carried through from the realm of possibility to that of actuality. This applies equally to mitzvoth and good deeds and to sins. A mitzvah is not complete until it has been brought from potentiality to actuality. It must be realized in actual fact. When a potential mitzvah is made actual, this is literally the `creation of the universe' -- because the mitzvah sustains the entire universe. Conversely in the case of sin, when a person merely contemplates the possibility of sinning in his mind, the sin is still potential. If he then makes the potential actual and commits the sin in practice, God forbid, he is totally wicked and might as well be dead. He destroys himself and the whole world. Because the entire creation of the world is brought about through the process of emerging from potentiality to actuality by the hand of God. Every single sin therefore spoils the totality of all the worlds and all the holy names of God. The only remedy is teshuva -- because when one experiences genuine regret for one's sins and abandons them, the damage that was done can be repaired and the repair of all the worlds is carried through from potentiality to actuality (66:2).

21) Repentance out of love has the power to efface every trace of sin, and then one can pray and learn with a clear mind in a state of expanded consciousness. He can pray as he should and learn and understand rapidly and expand and refresh his mind every day (74).

22) Each individual must see to it that he is not responsible for holding up the coming of Mashiach. He must make amends for what he did in the past and return to God with all his heart, and this way he will make sure that Mashiach is not prevented from coming because of his sins (79).

23) True repentance depends on Torah: when a person labors so hard in his studies that he reaches the level where he can understand one thing from another and produce original ideas for the sake of Heaven alone, this is perfect repentance (74).

24) If a person feels genuine pain for having sinned -- if he `circumcises the foreskin of his heart' and feels true contrition for what he did and returns to God with all his heart -- then the hearts of all the drops that left him -- his actual children and the drops that went elsewhere, God forbid -- will also be circumcised in the `foreskins of their hearts.' They too will feel the pain of their degradation. They will all be aroused and rise with a thunderous noise and return to God (141).

25) The difference between being alive and dead only has any meaning for someone caught up in his appetite for food and drink. For him death is a reality. It is different for the Tzaddik who has conquered his inclination and is always in complete control of himself, even in things which are permitted to him. The Tzaddik is always alive, even after his death. For him there is no difference between death and life (144).

26) A person should take pity on his soul while he is young and hurry to return to God before he becomes old. In his youth he still hears the voice of Torah crying out every day and calling on men to return. This `voice of Torah' is all the thoughts of teshuva which rise in a person's mind continually. But once he becomes old it is harder for him to return (205).

27) There is such a thing as words of teshuva, as it is written: `take with you words and return to the Lord' (Hosea 14:3). We must talk and talk before God until we pour out our words like water and attain true repentance. The way to achieve this is with the three `lines of truth': prayer (to pray in truth and with sincerity), true Torah and true partnerships and marriage bonds. It is through praise and thanks to God and the study of Torah law that we can attain this: they are the essence of the joy of the World to Come (Likutey Moharan II:2).

28) You must understand that the Jew is completely remote from sin. He has no connection with sin at all, so exalted is the subtle spirituality of his inner essence. This is why sin is such a heavy burden for the Jew. It is impossible to bear it even for a single day. It is worse than any other suffering in the world. A person must take pity on himself and try to repent of his sins and pray to God to help him find a leader who will show him true love, enlighten him with wisdom and draw him from his sins. There is no love greater than this (7:3).

29) The only way to attain complete teshuva is by passing through all the places one had been before teshuva -- and obviously this will vary for each individual, depending on what he went through in the earlier part of his life. When he passes through them and encounters the very same temptations that he experienced before, he must turn his head aside and control his inclination without repeating what he did in the past. This is the essence of perfect teshuva. There is no other way (49).

30) An essential element in teshuva is shame. We must feel a deep sense of shame before God. We can come to this through seeing ourselves with the true Tzaddik (72).

31) If you want to accomplish complete teshuva you should make a habit of reciting the psalms. They are a great help to teshuva. There are many obstacles to teshuva. Sometimes people feel no inclination to return to God at all -- they are simply not interested. There are certain people for whom the gate of teshuva is closed. There are others who simply do not know how to reach the gate that is right for them -- the path they need in order to return to God. There are also other barriers which prevent people from accomplishing teshuva. One can waste away one's whole life and die without teshuva, God forbid. But reciting the psalms is a great help. Even a person who feels no enthusiasm at all for teshuva can experience an awakening if he recites the psalms. No matter who you are, you can always find yourself in the psalms you are reciting. This will arouse you and help you find the gate of repentance which is appropriate for your soul. You will be able to open the gate and attain perfect repentance, and then God will return to you and show you love. This is why during the month of Elul and the Ten Days of Repentance all Jews recite the psalms. But this is something one should do throughout the year in order to accomplish teshuva (73).

32) Repentance helps for every conceivable sin, even the most serious sin of all -- the deliberate emission of seed in vain, or other forms of grave immorality. When the Zohar says that teshuva does not help in the case of a person who wastes his seed, the meaning is not what it appears on the surface. The truth is that as our Sages said, `there is nothing which stands in the way of teshuva.' (Yerushalmi Peah l:l; Yerushalmi Sanhedrin 10:1; Rambam, Mishnah Torah, Hilchot Teshuva 3:14; Zohar II, 106a; Tosefot on Baba Metzia 58b). But perfect teshuva can only be attained with the help of the true Tzaddikim (Rabbi Nachman's Wisdom 71).

Online English translation of Likutey Etzot
A compendium of Rabbi Nachman's practical teachings on spiritual growth and devotion.
© AZAMRA INSTITUTE 5766 / 2006