Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Hilkhot Teshuba 3:1-8 Teshuba and the tipping point

In the third chapter of his Hilkhot Teshuba Maimonides explains that in terms of religious behavior, there are three categories of people: rasha', tsadiq and benoni.

The rasha' (the bad guy) is the person whose balance of good deeds against bad deeds is negative. The tsadiq (a righteous person) is the one who has done more good than harm. And the benoni (the average person) is defined by Maimonides as the person whose good and bad deeds are in a state of equilibrium (3:1).
At a later Halakha (3:4) Maimonides explains that the calculation of our own fault and merits is inaccessible to us. This estimate does not depend on the number of Mitsvot we have done, as if the Tora would be a system of "points" in a scoreboard. Actually this calculation is only known to God. Why? Because He is the only one who knows, for example, what our real positive potential is. If my potential is 10 and I reached 7,  I have less merit than the person whose potential is 5 and reached 5.
Another example, only HaShem knows the intensity of the negative psychological forces that might be driving a person to do what he or she does. The more intense these forces are, the more merit has the individual who overcomes them. For one person it may not be very difficult to avoid stealing because he might have a natural inclination to honesty. For another individual, not  stealing or lying might be a huge challenge.
The balance of our merits and faults, says Maimonides, is only known to God.
This thought leads Maimonides to the following question: Since I cannot know if in God's eyes I am or am not a righteous person, how do I have to see myself?
If I see myself as a great guy, I might rely too much on my merits and remain in a state of inertia, doing nothing to improve my life. On the other hand, if I see myself as a bad guy, I might think I'm already beyond redemption (= ye-ush, a state in which we give up) and will do nothing to improve.
Maimonides concludes (3:8) that a person should always perceive itself as a perfect 50/50. As if my good and bad deeds are at a delicate balance, between merits and sins, permanently. Knowing that I am in that state of equilibrium, the next action I do will definitely count! What I will do in the next few minutes is extremely important because it will determine whether I am a good or a bad person.
Thus, my next action becomes the tipping point of my entire personality. What I do next will determine who I really am.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

TESHUBA, in front of a camera

"What is considered a perfect act of repentance? When one is faced with the same opportunity to repeat the original transgression, but now he does not do it because he has repented... however, when one does not repeat the original transgression, [and refrains from sinning] because now he fears people will find out... his repentance is still accepted, but it is not considered a perfect repentance"  

To explain a perfect scenario of Teshuba, Maimonides gives the example of a man who is involved in an adulterous relationship and later on repents. The ultimate test of his repentance would take place if that man is eventually faced with a similar opportunity but now he refrains from repeating the transgression, because he repented, and because he has reached a new understanding: now he realizes that following his material impulses will hurt him, driving him away from God.
However, if that man faces a similar scenario but now he refrains from sinning because he fears somebody will find out about his affair, his Teshuba is still acceptable, but it is not considered a complete Teshuba. Why? Because this man might have changed his conduct not because of his repentance and his renewed understanding, but just because of social embarrassment, fear of losing his job, etc.
A modern example:  Very often we read in the news about a public figure, usually someone involved in politics, who was caught doing an immoral act. Many times these people would come in front of the TV cameras and publicly express their regret and apologize for what they have done. This is definitely an act of repentance. However, because of its timing, this act of Teshuba is questionable in terms of its credibility and genuineness. Why? Because the whole process of repentance, regret and apologies happened as a consequence of being caught. It is possible that what prompts this person to repent is his fear to loss his  reputation, his job, his family etc., rather than his moral conscience.    
Following Maimonides words, the perfect act of repentance in this case would have taken place if, while still involved in an illicit relationship or other immoral act, before being caught and with no external impediment to continue with it, one would decide out of his own conscience, to stop, repent and change.
That would be a perfect a and complete Teshuba