Weekly Tanya video\lecture: The Epistle on Repentance

The Tanya compacts four millennia of Jewish wisdom to answer the great personal and existential questions of life.

Rabbi Shimon Aisenbach ,

Lubavitcher Rebbe photo Chabad
Lubavitcher Rebbe photo Chabad
INR staff

Tanya/ Iggeres Ha’Teshuvah - The Epistle on Repentance,

Chapter 1, Class 6


Now, the Mitzvah of repentance [34] as required by the Torah is simply the abandonment of sin

וְהִנֵּה, מִצְוַת הַתְּשׁוּבָה מִן הַתּוֹרָה, הִיא עֲזִיבַת הַחֵטְא בִּלְבַד

(35cf. Sanhedrin, ch. 336; Choshen Mishpat, end of Sec. 34,[37] regarding testimony[38), where it is stated that if a potential witness simply abandons and does not repeat the transgression that had previously disqualified him, he is once again able to testify.[39]

(כִּדְאִיתָא בַּגְּמָרָא פֶּרֶק ג' דְּסַנְהֶדְרִין וּבְחֹשֶׁן־מִשְׁפָּט סוֹף סִימָן ל"ד לְעִנְיַן עֵדוּת),

This means that he must resolve in perfect sincerity never again to revert to folly, to rebel against G‑d’s rule;

דְּהַיְינוּ, שֶׁיִּגְמוֹר בְּלִבּוֹ בְּלֵב שָׁלֵם, לְבַל יָשׁוּב עוֹד לְכִסְלָה, לִמְרוֹד בְּמַלְכוּתוֹ יִתְבָּרֵךְ,

he will never again violate the King’s command, G‑d forbid, neither a positive command[40] nor a prohibition.[41]

וְלֹא יַעֲבוֹר עוֹד מִצְוֹת הַמֶּלֶךְ חַס וְשָׁלוֹם, הֵן בְּמִצְוֹת עֲשֵׂה הֵן בְּמִצְוֹת לֹא תַעֲשֶׂה.

This is the basic meaning of the term teshuvah (“repentance”)—to return to G‑d with all one’s heart and soul, to serve Him, and to observe all His commandments,

וְזֶהוּ עִיקַּר פֵּירוּשׁ לְשׁוֹן "תְּשׁוּבָה" לָשׁוּב אֶל ה' בְּכָל לִבּוֹ וּבְכָל נַפְשׁוֹ, לְעָבְדוֹ וְלִשְׁמוֹר כָּל מִצְוֹתָיו,

for so does Scripture state: “Let the wicked abandon his path, and the sinful his thoughts, and return to G‑d….”[42]

כְּמוֹ שֶׁכָּתוּב: "יַעֲזוֹב רָשָׁע דַּרְכּוֹ וְאִישׁ אָוֶן מַחְשְׁבוֹתָיו, וְיָשׁוֹב אֶל ה' וְגוֹ'";

In the Torah portion of Nitzavim43 it is likewise written:[44] “You shall return unto the Lord your G‑d and hearken to His voice…with all your heart….”[45]

וּבְפָרָשַׁת נִצָּבִים כְּתִיב: "וְשַׁבְתָּ עַד ה' אֱלֹקֶיךָ וְשָׁמַעְתָּ בְקוֹלוֹ וְגוֹ', בְּכָל לְבָבְךָ וְגוֹ'",

“Return, O Israel, unto the L-rd your G‑d…”[46]; “Bring us back, O L-rd, unto You….”[47]

"שׁוּבָה יִשְׂרָאֵל עַד ה' אֱלֹקֶיךָ וְגוֹ'", "הֲשִׁיבֵנוּ ה' אֵלֶיךָ וְגוֹ'".

Repentance, then, entails returning to G‑d, performing his commandments, and refraining from sin.

This differs from the popular conception that repentance is synonymous with fasting on account of one’s sins.

וְלֹא כְּדַעַת הֶהָמוֹן, שֶׁהַתְּשׁוּבָה הִיא הַתַּעֲנִית.

Even in the case of sins punishable by excision or execution, where atonement is made complete by suffering, as previously quoted from the Baraita in Yoma,

וַאֲפִילוּ מִי שֶׁעָבַר עַל כְּרֵיתוֹת וּמִיתוֹת בֵּית־דִּין, שֶׁגְּמַר כַּפָּרָתוֹ הִיא עַל־יְדֵי יִסּוּרִים,

this means that it is G‑d Who brings suffering upon the sinner in order to complete his atonement

הַיְינוּ, שֶׁהַקָּדוֹשׁ־בָּרוּךְ־הוּא מֵבִיא עָלָיו יִסּוּרִים

([48] as the verse clearly specifies, “With a rod shall I remember [their sin]”).

(וּכְמוֹ שֶׁכָּתוּב: "וּפָקַדְתִּי בְשֵׁבֶט וְגוֹ'" – "וּפָקַדְתִּי" דַיְיקָא),

That is to say: When G‑d finds his repentance acceptable, as he returns to Him with all his heart and soul, out of love,

וְהַיְינוּ, כְּשֶׁתְּשׁוּבָתוֹ רְצוּיָה לְפָנָיו יִתְבָּרֵךְ, בְּשׁוּבוֹ אֶל ה' בְּכָל לִבּוֹ וְנַפְשׁוֹ מֵאַהֲבָה,

then following the initiative undertaken from below, and “as water reflects the countenance…,”[49] there is an awakening Above, arousing G‑d’s love and kindness, to scour his sin and entirely cleanse him of it through affliction in This World,

אֲזַי, בְּאִתְעָרוּתָא דִלְתַתָּא וְ"כַּמַּיִם הַפָּנִים וְכוּ'" – אִתְעָרוּתָא דִלְעֵילָּא, לְעוֹרֵר הָאַהֲבָה וְחֶסֶד ה' לְמָרֵק עֲוֹנוֹ בְּיִסּוּרִים בָּעוֹלָם הַזֶּה,

in the spirit of the verse, “For he whom the L-rd loves, He chastises….”[50]

וּכְמוֹ שֶׁכָּתוּב: "כִּי אֶת אֲשֶׁר יֶאֱהַב ה' יוֹכִיחַ וְגוֹ'".

This is something quite different from any fasts or afflictions that an individual undertakes himself.




34. Note by the Rebbe: “The Alter Rebbe speaks of ‘the mitzvah of repentance’ (rather than ‘the content of repentance’ or simply ‘repentance’ and the like, recalling the expression of the Rambam in Hilchot Teshuvah 2:2). This would seem to indicate his stand on the basic content of repentance—that abandoning sin is a command of the Torah. This is so even according to the Rambam and the Semag, whose opinions he follows here (see Sefer Hamitzvot of the Tzemach Tzedek, beginning of Mitzvat Vidui U’Teshuvah) and not only according to the Ramban (on Nitzavim 30:11, quoted in Likkutei Torah on that verse). “In the preamble to Hilchot Teshuvah in Sefer Hayad (and it would seem that these introductory headings were written by the Rambam himself), we [likewise] read: ‘One positive command: That the sinner return from his sin before G‑d and confess.’ Possibly, this preamble also serves as the source for the words of the Tzemach Tzedek, loc. cit. [So, too,] in Sefer Hamitzvot of the Rambam: ‘The seventy-third mitzvah is that He commanded us to confess [our transgressions] and to articulate them penitently (lit., ‘with teshuvah’).”

35. Parentheses are in the original text.


37.Subsection 29 ff.

38. Note by the Rebbe: “It will be noted that the Alter Rebbe does not cite Tractate Kiddushin (49b) and the section of the Shulchan Aruch entitled Even HaEzer (38:31) with regard to marriage, even though these two sources respectively precedeTractate Sanhedrin and Choshen Mishpat (see also Minchat Chinuch, Mitzvah 364). [The Gemara in Kiddushin teaches that even if an utterly wicked individual betrothed a woman on condition that he was a tzaddik, the betrothal is valid—for at that moment, he could have repented in his heart; the Shulchan Aruch in Even HaEzer determines that such a betrothal has a degree (albeit uncertain) of legal validity; and the Minchat Chinuch in fact cites the above-quoted Gemara to demonstrate that the abandonment of sin in itself constitutes teshuvah. Why, then, did the Alter Rebbe not draw on these sources?] “It could be suggested by way of explanation that he prefers to adduce proof from fiscal law where any particular case is not determined by a majority of instances. This is to say that it is not only in the majority of instances (but in all instances) that abandonment of sin alone suffices.”

39.The Rebbe notes that the Alter Rebbe’s point here is that the main element of repentance is not fasting, as he goes on to prove, but the abandonment of sin. However, the text also makes it clear that verbal confession is not essential to repentance (as is demonstrated by the citation from Choshen Mishpat where verbal confession is not mentioned). It is only that when one does confess verbally and ask for forgiveness, these steps are incorporated in his repentance and enhance it—for which reason Rambam speaks of them. Fasting, however, is a totally separate thing, as the Alter Rebbe explains at the end of this chapter and the beginning of the next—for which reason (as he goes on to say) “the Rambam and the Semag make no mention whatsoever of fasting as related to the mitzvah of repentance.”

40. Note by the Rebbe: “Though this requires action on his part, nevertheless, he so resolves.”

41. Note by the Rebbe: “For by transgressing a negative command, rebelliousness is evident—which is not the case when he fails to perform a positive command.”

42. Isaiah 55:7.

43. Note by the Rebbe: “The Alter Rebbe cites the parshah [Nitzavim] rather than simply stating that the quoted verse is found ‘in the Torah,’ as he does later on, in order to make it clear that he is not referring the reader to Parashat Vaetchanan(Deuteronomy 4:30), for there, the Torah merely relates events, as we see from the beginning of the text, ‘I call as witnesses against you….’ Furthermore, and more importantly (for it could be pointed out that even from a narrative in the Torah, we could learn what is considered repentance), there, the verse does not specify that it be done ‘with all your heart.’”

44. Deuteronomy 30:2.

45. The Rebbe suggests that the reason the Alter Rebbe quotes the Prophets (Isaiah) before the Torah (Deuteronomy) is that the Prophet explicitly states that repentance involves the abandonment of sin. The Rebbe adds: “See Rambam, Hilchot Teshuvah 2:2.”

46. Hosea 14:2.

47. Lamentations 5:22.

48. Parentheses are in the original text.

49. Proverbs 27:19.

50. Ibid. 3:12.