Smart Repentance (Haazinu)
True repentance has a double aspect. It looks upon things past with a weeping eye, and upon the future with a watchful eye. -Robert Smith
The biblical poem of Haazinu, the penultimate reading of the Torah, has Moses warning the nation of Israel against disappointing God. He calls upon the heavens and the earth to stand as witnesses to his words. He presses Israel to remember it’s history, talks about Israel’s future and warns of the rebelliousness that Israel will be prone to.
The Bat Ayin on Deuteronomy 32:1, in the spirit of Yom Kippur, connects Moses’ description of Israel’s future sins, as well as his warnings, to the concept of repentance. Yom Kippur is indeed the day consecrated to repentance. It is the day that we believe that God is most forgiving. It is the day that we fast and pray and believe that if we come to God with a contrite heart, He will pardon us, even if we are undeserving. He will give us yet another chance to mend our ways.
However, the Bat Ayin adds that it’s not enough to beat our breasts and wail over our misdeeds. He extols us to be smart about our repentance. We need to make serious efforts to ensure we don’t repeat our mistakes. It’s not enough to admit our guilt, feel bad over our misdeeds and make a general commitment not to repeat them. We need to take active steps to prevent ourselves from sinning again.
As an example, a kleptomaniac, a person who can’t resist stealing things, even if the items are not needed or are of little value, may want to find ways to prevent such theft. They need to avoid situations that would make it easy to steal. They need to find creative ways to avoid “high theft potential” situations.
The Bat Ayin states that true repentance is smart repentance. It’s understanding what are the root causes that lead us to sin, and finding active ways to anticipate, neutralize and guard us from those root causes. It’s what the Sages call creating fences around the Torah. The Sages understood human nature very well and for a number of laws they created such fences to minimize the risk and the temptation. However, if we’re honest, we know ourselves best and need to further tailor our own active, thoughtful, preventative measures. We need to identify the issues that we are struggling with, our personal Achilles heel, and develop plans and strategies to protect ourselves from repeating the same mistakes over and over again.
May we be both honest and smart about our repentance.
Shabbat Shalom and Gmar Chatima Tova,
To the 100th anniversary of the start of the Daf Yomi program. Arguably, one of the most successful Jewish study programs of the modern era.