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Before making Aliyah to Israel, Tzvi Fishman was a Hollywood screenwriter. He has co-authored 4 books with Rabbi David Samson, based on the teachings of Rabbi Kook, Eretz Yisrael, Art of T'shuva, War and Peace, and Torat Eretz Yisrael.
Continuing our magical mystery tour of t’shuva, let’s have a look at what Rabbi Nachman of Breslev teaches about the month of Elul and t’shuva. Try to put on an imaginary pair 3-D “t’shuva glasses” and see the spiritual powerhouse in the days of Elul.
The month of Elul is a rope ladder that G-d lowers down to us to rescue us from our fallen state. But it is our task to grab a hold of the ladder and climb back up.
The dominant spiritual theme of the month of Elul is the “tikun habrit,” the rectification for the abuse of the sexual covenant. A person who achieves this will find his true partner in life, a partner who will help him in his aspirations rather than fight against him constantly.
Elul is an especially favorable time to attain “Da’at,” the knowledge of G-d. A person can come to know and understand what he did not know before. New clothes are fashioned for his soul, and he is released from all of his troubles.
Elul is the time to circumcise the foreskin of the heart. Only then does a person have the sensitivity to feel real pain in his heart over the sins he has committed. His sensitivity will become so acute that the very hearts of all of the drops of seminal seed he cast away will also feel the pain, no matter where they may have fallen. They will all rise up in a great commotion and also return to G-d.
Elul is the time most suited for t’shuvah, the return to G-d. It is a period of Divine favor because it was at this time that Moshe went up to receive the second tablets of law and opened a wide path to G-d. The key to this path is to realize that G-d is present in every place and every situation. No matter how far you may have fallen, G-d is with you there just as much as He is present in the heights of the universe…. His dominion extends over everything.
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 deeds. Then all of his sins will be forgiven.
Even when a person knows he has achieved perfect repentance, he must still make amends for his earlier repentance. For what he has achieved then was good only in proportion to the perception of G-dliness he had at the time. But now that he has advanced, compared with his present perception, the earlier perception turns out to have been grossly materialistic.
When a person wants to return to G-d, he must become expert in halachah, Jewish Law, (halachah literally means “going).
Even if a person falls into the lowest pit of hell, G-d forbid, he must not despair in any way, regardless of his condition. He should remain firm and search for G-d even there, pleading with Him and begging Him to help in whatever way. For even in the lowest pit of hell, G-d is present, and even from there it is possible to be attached to Him.
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 G-d.
When those who were far from holiness draw closer – whether they are proselytes who convert, or Jews returning to their roots – G-d’s glory is exalted through their drawing closer, and His Name is glorified in the upper and lower worlds. Glory is raised to its root, and through this shalom spreads over the whole world.
When those who were far away from holiness are roused to return to the light of the Torah, they may experience tremendous obstacles. It takes enormous effort to strip themselves of their “filthy garments.” These “filthy garments” are as difficult a barrier as a river which is impossible to cross. Do not be discouraged if you find yourself confronted by all kinds of obstacles. This is inevitable. It takes great effort to strip off these “filthy garments” – the sins of the past. At times the experience is very bitter. But in the end all of the barriers which separate you from holiness will disappear.
You must be “like a strong man running his course” (Tehiilim, 19:6), because even if you have succeeded in repenting and making amends for the damage you did, you must still make up for the good deeds which you could have done but didn’t all the time you were rebelling against G-d. You must be extra enthusiastic and run extra fast in order to make up for what you failed to do then.
A person must take pity on himself and try to repent of his sins and pray to G-d to help him find a spiritual leader who will show him true love, enlighten him with wisdom, and draw him from his sins. There is no love greater than this.
The only way to attain complete t’shuva is by passing through all the places one had been before his t’shuva. 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 t’shuva. There is no other way.
Repentance helps for every conceivable sin, even the most serious of all, the deliberate emission of semen in vain, or other forms of grave immorality. When the Zohar says that t’shuva 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 as our Sages have said, “There is nothing that stands in the way of t’shuva.” But perfect t’shuva can only be attained with the help of the true Tzaddikim.
[From the book “Advice,” See chapters on the Month of Elul, and on T’shuva. Translations by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan.]