Parashat Naso(2) | Repentance | Mitzvah

Parashah Insights

Rosh Yeshivat Ahavat Shalom

Rabbi Yaakov Hillel



Heights of Repentance
The Basics of Teshuvah
“Speak to the Children of Israel. A man or woman who commits any of man’s sins, transgressing against Hashem, that soul is guilty. And they will confess their sin which they committed and make restitution for his guilt, returning its principal (literally, ‘return his guilt to his head’), and he will add its fifth to it and give it to the one he has sinned against” (Bamidbar 5:6-7). These verses refer to restitution in cases of theft where the thief initially made an oath that he did not steal, but eventually confessed his crime. In such an instance, he must return what he stole plus an additional one-fifth of its value. This is the literal meaning of the verses. However, we see that it is from these verses that the Rambam derives the mitzvah of teshuvah (repentance). He writes that in order to repent the transgression of any mitzvah, positive or negative, one must orally confess the transgression to the Al-mighty. As proof, he cites the verse, ‘a man or a woman who commits any of man’s sins... and they will confess their sin which they committed.’ This oral confession is a positive commandment. The Rambam then gives detailed instructions of how to confess. He writes, “How does one confess? He says, ‘Please, Hashem, I have sinned unintentionally, I have sinned deliberately, I have sinned rebelliously before You, and I have done such and such [confessing the specific transgression]. And now I regret it and I am ashamed of my deeds, and I will never return to this sin again.’ This is the basic confession. The more one confesses at length, the better (Hilchot Teshuvah 1:1). The Rambam goes on to explain that oral confession is an essential, indispensable element in the teshuvah process. He writes, “And what is repentance? That the sinner abandons his sin and removes it from his thoughts, and resolves in his heart

never to do it again, as it says, “Let the wicked one forsake his ways [and the sinful man his thoughts, and he will return to Hashem]’ (Yeshayahu 55:7). And so too, he should regret the past, as it says, ‘For after my return, I regretted” (Yirmiyahu 31:18), to the point where He Who knows what is hidden [in one’s heart] would testify about him that he will surely never return to this sin... And he must confess orally and articulate those transgressions which he has committed himself never to repeat.” (2:2). Since the Rambam begins his discussion of the topic of repentance with these verses from our parashah, they clearly carry important lessons about the nature of teshuvah. Let us see how these words teach us about both basic and more advanced levels of repentance.

From Thought to Deed
The Rambam explains the first part of the verse as dealing with the fundamentals of repentance. Interpreting the verse b’derech derash,1 we can continue this line of thought and relate the continuation of the verse to higher aspects of repentance. The words v’heshiv et ashmato b’rosho may be literally translated as ‘and he will return his guilt to his head.’ What is the connection between man’s sins, repentance, and his head? Repentance should relate to the source of sin and rectify it. The primary cause of sin is man’s “head” – the sinner’s intelligence and reason, which failed to exercise proper judgment. Before leaping ahead into sin, he should have used his head and followed our Sages’ advice to “weigh the loss of a mitzvah against its gain, and the gain of a sin against its loss” (Avot 2:1); considering the consequences, was the sin really worth it? This disastrous lack of judgment has a distinct cause: the sinner did not learn enough Torah. As a result, his reasoning was deficient, leading him to transgress.

Repenting with Torah
When the sinner undertakes to repent, the process must begin with the head, correcting the damage caused by the sinner’s faulty reasoning. Since lack of Torah learning was the cause, increased Torah learning is the cure. Torah straightens out the mind and sets man on the proper path. It is only when we subjugate our own reasoning to that of the Torah that we can achieve true repentance. As our Sages teach, “The purpose of wisdom is repentance and good deeds” (Berachot 17b), for it is the Torah’s wisdom which leads to the path of repentance. The Nefesh HaHayyim (Shaar Daled, Chapter 31) cites the Zohar’s words about the importance of Torah for repentance and its power to atone for man’s sins (Shelah 159a). “How much attention people should pay to their service of Hashem,

Explanations based on Scriptural verses and teachings of the Sages, not necessarily in keeping with the literal explanation. 2

how much care they should give to words of Torah. For anyone who engages in Torah study is considered as if he offers all the sacrifices in the world before the Holy One, blessed be He. And not only that, but the Holy One, blessed be He, atones all his guilt for him, and several chairs are prepared for him in the World to Come.” We find this concept in Rabbi Pinhas ben Yair’s famous Brieta (Avodah Zarah 20b). “Torah leads to watchfulness; watchfulness leads to zeal; zeal leads to cleanliness; cleanliness lead to separation; separation leads to purity; purity leads to saintliness; saintliness leads to humility; humility leads to fear of sin; fear of sin leads to holiness; holiness leads to Divine inspiration; Divine inspiration leads to the Resurrection of the Dead.” Torah is the greatest of all tikunim (rectifications), and it is the first stage in the progression leading to the exalted spiritual heights of Divine inspiration and the Resurrection of the Dead. The connection between Torah and teshuvah is expressed in our daily prayers. The very first request we make in Shemoneh Esre is for Torah wisdom: Hanenu m’Itcha hochmah, binah, v’daat, “Grant us from You wisdom, intelligence, and reason.” Our second request is for repentance: V’hahazirenu b’teshuvah shelemah lefanecha, “And bring us back in complete repentance before You.” Interestingly, this second blessing, the request for teshuvah, begins with the words Hashivenu Avinu l’Toratecha, “Bring us back, our Father, to Your Torah.” This is surprising. We have already asked for Torah in the first blessing; now we are talking about teshuvah. And yet, this blessing also begins with a request for Torah. The lesson is clear. If we wish to repent, we must begin the process with Torah. The opposite is also true. If we despise Torah, G-d forbid, anything goes. In Rashi’s commentary on Behukotai (Vayikra 26:14-15), he describes the downward spiral ultimately leading to denial of the Al-mighty, G-d forbid. He also tells us how it begins: by neglecting to toil in Torah. If this is where the trouble begins, however, it is also the first step back – learning Torah will lead us to repentance. This is why the Torah tells us, “v’heshiv et ashmato b’rosho.” Recognizing flawed thinking as the cause of sin, we can infer that toiling in Torah will correct our way of thinking and reasoning, so that eventually, we will correct our deeds as well. The Nefesh HaHayyim cites a number of our Sages’ teachings which describe Torah as our guide through life, without which we are guaranteed to fall into the trap of sin (Shaar Daled, Chapter 32). • “‘And when you wander it will guide you’ (Mishle 6:22). This refers to this world” (Sotah 21a). Torah is our guide in olam hazeh. • “Fortunate is the man who has acquired Torah. Why? Because the Torah will guide and direct his heart, as it says, “‘And when you wander it will guide you’ (Mishle Rabbata Parashah Vav). • Torah straightens and guides man’s heart, until it is totally loyal and dedicated to Hashem (Vayikra Rabbah 35), and he serves Hashem wholeheartedly, with both his good and evil inclinations (Berachot 54a)


“‘The words of the wise are like goads’ (Kohelet 12:11). Why are words of Torah compared to a goad? Just as a goad directs a cow to its furrows to produce life for the world, so too do words of Torah direct the hearts of those who learn it from the ways of death to the ways of life (Hagigah 3b). Our safeguard against the wiles of the evil inclination is Torah. The yetzer hara spreads a tempting net at our feet, calculated to trap us and topple us down to the lowest depths, resulting in our eternal death, G-d forbid. Our only protection is Torah, which grants us eternal life (see Mishle 4:22; Bamidbar Rabbah 14, Tanhuma Behaalotcha and Vayelech).

The Power of Torah
The Nefesh HaHayyim (Shaar Daled, Chapter 29) explains that Torah has the power to rectify and sanctify man’s physical being, and is literally a source of healing. He cites our Sages’ words (Eruvin 54a), “If one’s head aches, he should engage in Torah study, as it says ‘for they are a crown of grace for your head (Mishle 1:9). If one’s throat aches he should engage in Torah study... If one’s intestines ache he should engage in Torah study... If one’s whole body aches he should engage in Torah study, as it says, ‘and to all his flesh it is healing” (Mishle 4:22; see Metzudat David). Our Sages also teach that through learning, man becomes sanctified, and that all his limbs, sinews, and energies are purified (see Vayikra Rabbah 12, Tanhuma Yitro, and Midrash Tehillim Chapter 19). This is why they tell us that “Torah study is equivalent to all the mitzvot combined” (Pe’ah 1:1). He goes on to write of the lofty greatness of Torah (Chapter 30). The Torah emanates a more radiant light and is holier than the light and holiness of all the mitzvot combined. One who fulfills all the six hundred and thirteen mitzvot perfectly, with careful attention to every last minute detail, with proper intent, in purity and sanctity, is surely on a very high level of spirituality. Every part of his being is elevated to a very lofty level, and the sanctity of all the mitzvot rests upon him. Yet even so, the enormous holiness and spiritual light of all the mitzvot put together cannot approach the level of the incomparable holiness and radiance which rests upon one who learns Torah properly. This is because Torah stems from an even higher root of sanctity than all the mitzvot combined. As we see, Torah sets us straight and corrects our ways. When our head is as it should be, our deeds will be what they should be. This is the first stage of repentance, as we learn from the words hashivenu Avinu l’Toratecha, “Bring us back, our Father, to Your Torah.”

The Concept of Fives in Teshuvah and Tikun
As we have seen, the first part of the verse explains the basic principles of teshuvah. We may explain the second part, “and he will add its fifth to it and give it to the one he has sinned against,” as referring to a higher aspect of teshuvah. Let us

begin our explanation of these words by understanding the spiritual significance of the number five in the context of repentance and tikun. The mekubalim teach that man’s soul has five levels of spirituality. In ascending order they are nefesh-soul; ruah-spirit; neshamah-higher soul; hayah-living soul; and yehidah-unique soul. Parallel to this, the Arizal teaches that every mitzvah has five levels. The first level is maaseh hamitzvah, the actual act of correct halachic performance of the mitzvah. Next is dibbur hamitzvah, speech which is related to the mitzvah. This means learning the relevant halachot connected to the mitzvah and reciting the Torah verses from which the mitzvah is derived prior to performing it. This is followed by kavanah, our intent as we do the mitzvah, fulfilling it specifically because it is the Will of the Al-mighty Who so commanded us. Next is the higher level of mahshavah, our thoughts while we do the mitzvah, clearing our mind of all other matters and concentrating solely on what we are doing. An advanced level of mahshavah is to have in mind the profound Kabbalistic significance of the mitzvah as we fulfill it. The fifth and highest level is re’utah d’libah, the joy of the mitzvah. We should be as happy over the privilege of fulfilling a mitzvah as we would be over a million dollar windfall. The five levels of the soul correspond to the five components of a mitzvah. Maaseh is nefesh, dibbur is ruah, neshamah is kavanah, mahshavah is hayah, and re’utah d’libah is yehidah. A mitzvah properly fulfilled, with all five components, rectifies the five levels of our soul. The created world also has five levels. From lowest to highest, they are the Olam Ha’Asiyah, the physical world of earthly activity; the Olam HaYetzirah, the World of the Angels; the Olam HaBeriyah, the World of the Throne; the Olam Ha’Atzilut, the World in Which Hashem Reveals Himself; and above that, the highest of worlds which are beyond human comprehension. Perfect fulfillment of a mitzvah not only rectifies the soul of the individual; it rectifies the world’s five corresponding levels. The reverse is true as well. Just as mitzvot rectify the soul, and with it, the worlds, sin blemishes the soul, and with it, the worlds.

Higher Levels of Repentance
When a sinner wishes to repent and seeks to come close to the Al-mighty once again, he regrets his sins, abandons his bad ways, firmly and fully commits himself to behave correctly in the future, and confesses his sins orally. He has returned to Hashem with all his heart, and yet, that is not enough. He needs to raise his repentance to a higher level still and rectify the sin at its root, repairing as well all the spiritual damage he has caused with the sin. The Nefesh HaHayyim writes that the rectification of the various levels of the soul through teshuvah is the foundation of repentance and its most important aspect (Shaar Alef, Chapter 17).

He explains that it is essential for man to take the utmost care in his service of Hashem, down to the smallest, most precise details, so that it is perfect and complete, holy and pure. He should constantly subject all his deeds, speech, and thoughts to exacting scrutiny and careful examination; perhaps he has not fully done Hashem’s Will, in keeping with the level of the root of his soul and what he is capable of achieving according to his level. Therefore, as long as man lives, he should engage in the study of Torah and fulfillment of mitzvot in order to perfect himself. Since Hashem in His great kindness wants man’s end to be good, He constantly rectifies a sinner’s soul, so that even if it is submerged in the depths of evil, all the damage will be repaired and restored, and no soul will be lost for eternity.

Rectification or Ruin
The Nefesh HaHayyim also discusses the process of the rectification of the higher worlds (Shaar Alef, Chapter 6). Hashem invested man with enormous spiritual powers to interact with the higher worlds, as we learn from the verse “And G-d created man in His image” (Bereshit 1:27). All the mitzvot are related to their source in the higher worlds. When man uses his limbs and energies to fulfill a mitzvah, it rectifies and elevates the higher worlds and the spiritual forces corresponding to that particular mitzvah. In keeping with the level at which the mitzvah is performed, sanctity and vitality are drawn down from them to the corresponding limbs and energies of the person who performed the mitzvah. If the mitzvah was done with meticulous care in every practical detail, and also with purity, holiness, and sanctified thoughts, the rectification in the higher worlds will be very great. In turn, the one who performed the mitzvah will be correspondingly elevated and granted holiness from these higher worlds, meriting the presence of the Shechinah within him, in particular upon the limb which corresponds to that specific mitzvah. Unfortunately, the reverse is also true. When man sins, he misuses the limbs and energies which were employed to commit the sin, blemishing the part of his soul which corresponds specifically to that particular mitzvah. The damage is also in keeping with the sin’s source in the higher worlds, its severity, and the manner in which it was done.

Adding the Element of Five
Now we can understand the Torah’s words, “and he will add its fifth to it and give it to the one he has sinned against.” Hamishato, “its fifth,” refers to the rectification of the five levels of man’s soul, and the five worlds which were blemished by the sin. We “add its fifth,” because the process of rectification is an additional element in accordance with the teachings of the Zohar, beyond the basic requirements of complete, sincere teshuvah as outlined by the Rambam.


Teshuvah begins with the basics. The first step is “they will confess their sin:” we confess our guilt to the Al-mighty, following the step by step path to repentance. Then we “return his guilt to his head,” learning Torah to correct the flawed reasoning which led us to sin. When we are ready to sanctify ourselves at a higher level still, we “add its fifth.” We must strive to rectify our sins at their root. If we rectify the spiritual damage at the place and at the level where that damage was caused, we make it a vehicle where the Divine Presence can once again come to rest. This is alluded to in the final words of the verse, “and give it to the one he has sinned against.” Let us pray that Hashem will help us repent and rectify all our sins, making the world a perfect vehicle for the Divine Presence.


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