There are many lights which shine in each week’s Sedra. In this week one of those many lights is the notion of teshuvah wrongly translated as “repentance”. Teshuvah really connotes “return”.1

In Parshas Bo the Korban Pesach is discussed. The Korban Pesach was necessary to rid Am Yisrael of the sin of Idol Worship2 and is, amongst other things, the notion of teshuvah. In this week the opportunity for teshuvah glows with the promise of its extraordinary power. We will learn some of the deeper ideas of this together.

We begin with an astonishing and fascinating concept. Consider Adam, the first man. He was created by G‑d Himself3 and as everybody knows, was placed in Gan Eden. He was created on Erev Shabbos and all that was required of him was to refrain from one prohibition (eating the fruit), for the whole of that day. Adam was only denied the fruit until Shabbos.4 If Adam had succeeded, there would have been paradise forever. Libraries have been written about that moment. How was it possible for G‑d’s direct creations, man and woman, unique in spiritual stature, to fail in relation to this direct, explicit command?

Of the thousands of postulations, there is one very deep observation. Adam knew what he was doing, but, if he did not commit a transgression there would be no possibility for man to do teshuvah and more importantly there would be no teshuvah in the world.

This explanation is apparently unintelligible. What if there is no teshuvah in the world? So what? There would be no sin either.

In order to understand this extraordinary explanation we need to consider evil and why man succumbs to it.

Evil can be defined as that which is contrary to HaShem’s directives.5

Evil is enclothed in attractive, even luscious, garments. People, by nature, desire that which is prohibited. So far we learn no secrets.

The desire to commit evil comes from one’s yetzer hora which is spawned from the Nefesh HaBahamis (Animal Soul).6 This is discussed elsewhere but here it is sufficient to note that all ordinary people have a Yetzer Hora although of varying degrees of intensity and for varying prohibitions. One man is consumed by desire for power, another for food and drink; one for cruelty and another for lust. In one the passion is hot and urgent; in another passive and submissive. Overcoming the Yetzer Hora is one of life’s basic imperatives as discussed elsewhere.7

A tzaddik has no yetzer hora8 ; he has converted his yetzer hora to a yetzer tov (inclination for good). A tzaddik is born like every other human being with a yetzer hora. He is born with a Nefesh HaBahamis. By effort and avodah (service to HaShem) he is able to convert his inclination for bad into pure yetzer tov. A complete tzaddik therefore, never commits an transgression intentionally, because, simply put, with no yetzer hora , he has no desire prompting him to evil. He will never therefore intentionally commit an evil action.

Now, evil exists to be refined into good.9 There are two levels of refinement.10 There is that which can be refined into good and that which simply cannot be so refined. A cow for example can be refined, or the reverse. If the meat from the cow is kashered and then eaten by a Jew who eats in order to give himself strength to learn Torah and do mitzvos , making a berachah before and after eating, the cow is elevated from the level of neutral into something kodesh (holy). The same cow cruelly killed and eaten merely for pleasure, and/or used as an offering for idol worship or witchcraft, G‑d forbid, is turned into kelipah (the opposite of holiness).

There are in fact two levels of kelipah ;11 neutral and intrinsically evil. The cow example is neutral and can be refined to good or dragged down into bad.

Secondly, however there is the level of kelipah in our existence which is so impervious, that it cannot be broken open and elevated into good. Since a Jew cannot elevate and refine this kelipah , it is forbidden to us. Since a Jew’s task is to elevate his environment, that which is impossible to be elevated, like say, pig, is irrelevant to our service and so forbidden.

We need some vocabulary together to understand teshuvah. The remedy for a Jew who sins (i.e., departs from HaShem’s Will) is to return to Him. This return (teshuvah) is accomplished by regret and resolve to change.

Now, teshuvah has the capacity of changing time.12 This is a very deep and difficult concept. Most simply put, the idea is that when a man sins and regrets and does teshuvah the original sinful action becomes good. Why? Because that act is the initiating step in the final teshuvah. So long as complete and total teshuvah takes place, the original act (then bad) now becomes actually good.

Now, we learn an astonishing thing, a baal teshuvah stands higher than a tzaddik !13 How can that be? How can a baal teshuvah , a person who has lived a life of living contrary to HaShem’s Will, even having done teshuvah , even having totally returned to HaShem, stand higher than a tzaddik with no aveiras (transgressions)?

The extraordinary answer is this;14 a tzaddik cannot refine anything from that level of kelipah so dense that it cannot be elevated as we have learned. However, when a person sins, when a person commits an act contrary to HaShem’s Will, and when this man does teshuvah , real, total teshuvah then, all the acts performed (which were sins) are turned into merits, as we have seen. Now, why does he stand higher than a tzaddik? If this man eats pig intentionally, its flesh dripping from his mouth and nose, and then does teshuvah, the act becomes part of his goodness! A tzaddik cannot elevate a pig. A tzaddik cannot elevate anything from this level — it is forbidden. But our Jew who slurps the pig, eating it with his hands and feet, if he does teshuvah well enough, he is actually elevating the pig which an observant Jew cannot do! So, as he goes through this process of teshuvah he is actually elevating and refining something a tzaddik cannot refine. This is one reason the baal teshuvah stands higher than a tzaddik.

Adam, understood this. He understood that it is not possible to advance the world to a higher level of refinement without the existence teshuvah, and seeking an aveira for teshuvah, erroneously ate the fruit.

So why did he do wrong? His mistake was that not always are we to mix in our own seichel (intellect). Sometimes it is necessary, even with the best intentions in the world to simply do what one is told. There are times to question but equally there are times to obey. We are all rightly suspicious of corrupt authority and obedience to it. We have seen this century the wickedness caused by submission to corrupt domination. Ordinary men must be questioned. Equally however, G‑d cannot be questioned. We are required to obey without personal calculation of HaShem’s directives as revealed through Torah and the Moshe Rabbeinu of each generation.

In complex modern life this distinction is often lost; questioning authority has its place — if the authority is human. People have become lost however, stumbling in the midst of their own “intelligence” instead of treading the certain path of obedience to G‑d’s commands.

This week a man can focus on eradicating his intellect from that which are Divinely commanded to do — and save it for its proper place, learning and problem solving. Meanwhile, the focus further sharpened will allow each man an opportunity for the teshuvah of the Korban Pesach , catapulting him to a level higher than a tzaddik, readying him for a life of paradise.