I know, you don’t get the standard stuff on this blog, right? So anyway, I was listening to a Rav Ofer Erez CD about teshuva, when he brought a story he’d read from the famed Iraqi kabbalist, Rav Yehuda Fetaya. Rav Fetaya was involved in a lot of ‘other worldy’ stuff in his lifetime, and he was one of the go-to ravs for exorcisms, and other stuff that sounds like the script of a horror movie, but actually was happening on a fairly regular basis, a hundred odd years’ ago.
Rav Fetaya wrote a book called ‘Minchat Yehuda’, and in that book he described one of the meetings he had with demonic spirits in Baghdad, where he lived. Rav Fetaya was on such a high level, that he could actually see these spirits whenever they showed up, and one time, he noticed a bunch of them kind of ‘hanging out’ close by, and he called them over to question them about what they were doing.
The spirits told the Rav that they’d been sent to unleash destruction on certain swathes of the Baghdad Jewish community. The Rav then asked them how they knew who to bother – how did they know they had the right gal or girl to assail with difficulties, God should protect us from all such things?
The spirits replied that a person’s sins are engraved on their forehead, and they literally shine off their forehead like a big, flashing neon sign saying ‘come and do horrible things to me, I really deserve it.’ The spirits would read the sins written on the person’s forehead, then dole out appropriate suffering and hardships.
‘Ah,’ Rav Fetaya wanted to know, ‘but what happens if a person makes teshuva in the meantime? Do the sins disappear, or do you still end up punishing a now-innocent person?’
Teshuva takes a long time
The spirits replied that it takes a long time for a person to really make teshuva – sometimes, it can take years for the last of the sins to fade into oblivion, especially for the sins involving deep, serious inner work. But as soon as a person took the first step of making teshuva, ie, stating that they at WANTED to make teshuva, even if they couldn’t fix all the damage they’d caused ASAP, then a bat kol (Heavenly voice) would come out of Heaven, and proclaim that the spirits couldn’t come anywhere near these baal teshuvas, or cause them any harm.
God Himself was mamash looking after them, and protecting them.
And so it is with us.
Sometimes, we can start to get so down and despairing about our sins, especially the ones that are not easy to resolve, like having a bad temper, lacking emuna, or judging others (and ourself…) so harshly. Our yetzers start telling us that we’re really wasting our time, I mean, DO YOU REALLY KNOW JUST HOW BAD YOU ARE?! AND JUST HOW MUCH OF A MESS YOU’VE MADE OF THINGS?! IT’S IMPOSSIBLE TO START CLEANING THIS STUFF UP!!
Of course, our yetzers are lying. As soon as we take the first step of making teshuva, which is simply to WANT to be better, to WANT to do things differently, to WANT to fix all the stuff we’ve broken and continue to break, spiritually-speaking we’re already in a completely different space.
God is looking after us, and the ‘bad stuff’ doesn’t have permission to touch us with a barge pole.
I found this idea so profoundly comforting.
In the next few posts, I want to get into a deeper exploration of some of the things related to making teshuva, which will hopefully take us neatly up to Yom Kippur. In the next post, we’ll take a look at something related to teshuva, but also related to what we were discussing before Rosh Hashana in the posts on forgiveness, namely the halachic requirement on appeasing your fellow.