He Who Has Sinned Can Teach

By Will Gotkin

In his book, Rebbes and Chassidim: What they said what they meant, Rabbi Abraham Twerski, M.D. quotes the following from King Solomon: “It is better to hear the rebuke of a wise man than one who hears the song of simpletons” (Ecclesiastes 7:5). Twerski writes that Rabbi Bunim of Pschis’che pointed out that this translation of the verse is inaccurate. Instead Rabbi Bunim says that it should be read: “It is better to hear the rebuke of a wise man who has heard the song of simpletons.” Rabbi Bunim explained that when a person who has spent his entire life studying Torah, praying, and pursuing spirituality preaches this as the correct lifestyle others may roll their eyes and say things like “Of course. What can you expect from someone who has never experienced the pleasures of life?” However, suppose someone who has indulged in earthly pleasures has come to realize their futility (Note: The Torah does not advocate an ascetic lifestyle, but it does teach us to utilize everything we do in the physical world for a spiritual purpose, including physical pleasures). This individual can say “I’ve been there and it’s all worthless!” Such a person is more likely to be heard.

A person who has not always been observant of Torah and mitzvos will likely find more of a listening ear among those who are non-observant than a person who has always been a practicing Jew. Perhaps this is one reason why the Talmud teaches that in the place of a baalteshuvah (one who has become observant), those who have been totally righteous their entire lives cannot stand.

This should be an encouraging message to all those who wish to deepen their commitment to Judaism. Our sins of the past should not make us ashamed. Rather, they should give us a sense of pride for how far we have come and remind us that we have the potential to make a big impact on our fellow Jews and the world.

Tzaddikim (those who have been righteous their entire life) can only serve Hashem within the realm of the permitted. However, the baalteshuvah can turn past sins into merits. He or she can serve Hashem in ways those who have always been righteous cannot. I mentioned in a previous article that the Lubavitcher Rebbe taught that one who experiences spiritual darkness returns to Hashem with an intensity much greater than that of a tzaddik. Such a person thereby elevates the negative acts they have committed, since their misdeeds become fuel for their return (See “A Perfectly Imperfect World”).

On a personal note, I have recently started my 8-month journey at a yeshiva in Jerusalem, Israel. Many of the bochurim (students) are baalei teshuvim, myself included. It is an exciting and inspiring place and I can only hope that I will be able to take the knowledge I gain out of this experience with me and use it to make a positive difference in the lives of others.

Originally posted here.

2 comments on “He Who Has Sinned Can Teach

  1. To Mr. Cohen #1: Excellent point, as always. (And do we expect any less of you, Mr. Cohen)?

    Regarding the four people who never committed any sins: Think of all the great people from our nation who are NOT on this list: the three Avos, Avrohom, Yitzchok and Yaakov; the other eleven sons of Yaakov Avinu; Moshe Rabbeinu and Aharon ha-Cohen; Dovid ha-Melech and Shlomo Ha-Melech. In fact, everyone from the Ushpizin is missing from this list.

    I had also heard that Kilav the son of Dovid ha-Melech was so holy that he wanted to just sit and learn Torah and was not interested in the kingship, so it went to Shlomo.

    Note that all of the people whom we think of as being especially “beloved” by the Borei Olam are missing from that list.

    Finally, think in terms of who is especially beloved by the Jewish people, in terms of whom we talk about in our medrashim and mayses and whom we name our children after. How many Jewish boys are named for Kilav, compared to how many are named for his father,Dovid?

    Maybe this list (and who is missing from it) comes to teach us that what is important is not being free of sin, but of taking on challenges and meeting them, and if we do fall sometimes, being able to pick ourselves up and do teshuva.

    Those great people who are missing from the list of those “free from sin” were active and vigorous on many different fronts: they married, raised children, waged wars, judged or ruled, led busy and interesting lives while serving G-d to the utmost.

    There was a Chasidishe mayseh that goes as follows: One Chasid said to another, “It’s almost Yom Kippur. What will we do about our aveiros?” The other Chasid replied,”For our aveiros we have teshuvah. The bigger question is, what about our mitzvos?”

  2. Tanach / Bible, Kohelet / Ecclesiastes, chapter 7, verse 20:

    Because there is no person in the world who is [always] righteous and does good and never sins.

    Babylonian Talmud, tractate Shabbat, page 55B, 10th line on page (with Rashi):

    Four [people] never committed any sins [literally, they only died because of the advice of the snake]: Binyamin son of Yaakov, Amram father of Moshe, Yishai father of David and Kileab son of David.

    Midrash Tehillim for Psalm 16, Paragraph 1 of 8:

    The Holy One Blessed Be He does not call any righteous person HOLY until he dies, because of the Evil Inclination torments a man in this world.

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