Repent – for what?
August 22, 2019
Boruch Merkur in #1179, Editorial, Editorial, Moshiach & Geula, Moshiach & Geula, t'shuva

A perfect tzaddik has no negativity in him at all. Struggling with seeing how it applies to him, the tzaddik asks – repent for what?! * Someone pointed out to me a glaring stira to my recent editorial of two weeks ago , one that seems to directly contradict the Rebbe…

What do you do when you are faced with a kasha? Not just an academic, lamdishe kasha, but a dilemma that pertains to faith.

Do you try to ignore it? Try to snuff it out? Are you the type to repress and hide? Or do you face your inner dilemmas?

Someone pointed out to me a glaring stira to my editorial of two weeks ago (“A House Full of Angels”), one that seems to directly contradict the Rebbe.


This learned friend of mine drew my attention to the following story:

Once, a disciple of Rabbeinu Saadia Gaon came to his home and found him rolling on the ground in a fit of repentance and ascetic mortification. [Most versions have the Gaon rolling in snow.]

The student asked his master, “Rabbeinu, everyone knows that throughout your life you have never committed a sin of such magnitude to require such repentance.”

The Gaon responded: “What you say is true, but there was a specific event that brought this about. I met someone who elicited in me this kind of t’shuva.”

The Gaon told his disciple of how he was once hosted by a home owner in a village. No one there knew he was a Torah giant; nobody recognized him. Nevertheless, the host showed him great honor, sensing he was a distinguished person.

Prior to the tzaddik’s departure from the place, the host found out that his important guest was none other than Rabbeinu Saadia Gaon. Once he made this discovery, he approached the Gaon and fell before him to the ground, pouring out his heart in attempt to appease him, explaining to his great horror that he did not recognize the Gaon, to be able to honor him as befits someone so great.

The Gaon asked him: “What honor have you neglected me? Have you not treated me with the utmost respect, with all of your means?”

The man answered: “Rabbeinu, I gave you honor befitting a Torah scholar, but not the honor due to Rabbeinu Saadia Gaon.”

That experience prompted me to contemplate my own mortality, how I am flesh and blood, the Gaon told his student. This man honored me literally to his utmost capacity, yet he fell at my feet, at my mercy, feeling he did not honor me extravagantly enough, having discovered my identity.

How much more should I serve the Creator of the world, the great, mighty, and awesome G-d, the One Who forms all beings and Creator of all creations. G-d creates me ex nihilo, and I merit to comprehend every day more and more of His greatness and exaltedness, yisborech shmo. It is true that according to my prior understanding, my service was perhaps somewhat worthy, but relative to how I approach G-d today, yesterday’s service is totally negligible.

Every moment I am thus obligated to repent for my previous Divine service, which was not in line with G-d’s will, not befitting His greatness and exaltedness relative to my newfound knowledge and newly acquired understanding…

The Baal Shel Tov told this story to his disciples, and he concluded: That is how a Jew serves G-d. Every moment he disqualifies his former avoda, as well as the repentance achieved yesterday. Halevai we should merit even the tiniest speck, a drop in the ocean of that avoda.

All of this pertains to individual t’shuva, each person according to his virtue and intellect.

(Written in Rabbi Aharon Roth’s Taharas HaKodesh, maamer T’shuvas HaMishkal Ch. 3)


So here the Baal Shem Tov endorses Saadia Gaon and his approach to ongoing t’shuva, even for tzaddikim. But didn’t the Rebbe himself say – to cite your editorial – that

The revolutionary concept that t’shuva pertains even to tzaddikim emerged from the teachings of Chassidus. Prior to Chassidus, this idea was completely unknown. Everyone held that repentance is solely in response to sin and transgression. It’s clearly irrelevant to a tzaddik, who learns Torah and fulfills Mitzvos, especially a tzaddik gamur, a perfect tzaddik, who has no negativity in him at all (ein bo ra klal), as it says in Tanya. Struggling with seeing how it applies to him, the tzaddik asks – repent for what?!

Toras HaChassidus reveals that in whatever space a person is – even if he is a tzaddik gamur – he must know that he is “poor” and he must be totally battel, selflessly devoted to G-d, and return to Him through repentance.

(Toras Menachem Hisvaaduyos Vol. 29, pg. 156)

So there it is – a direct contradiction to the Rebbe’s teaching. Does it bother you? Is it a matter of faith?

It doesn’t bother me. I see the two approaches to t’shuva as totally different, though they both draw on the power of bittul. The Saadia Gaon T’shuva is clearly for the “sinful,” inadequate t’shuva of yesterday, given the reinvented selves of today. It is a movement away from the past into the future – t’shuva tataa. The t’shuva that Moshiach will bring out in tzaddikim is t’shuva ilaa, pure fire, d’veikus and devotion to Hashem, without any connection to past inadequacies, as the Rebbe says:

“Although the Maggid’s interpretation was genuine and truthful, it needed to be impassioned and fiery. Striving to attain this zeal characterizes the t’shuva of tzaddikim.”

And as it says in Shem MiShmuel (VaYishlach 2:4):

Moshiach ben Dovid will draw down such powerful Divine revelations that will illuminate the eyes of the Jewish people and implant in their hearts an incredible love of G-d, driving them to cleave to Him, to the point that even tzaddikim will find themselves unworthy from lack of Divine service. This characterizes “to bring the righteous to repentance.”

Following the t’shuva accomplished through Moshiach ben Yosef, everyone will become tzaddikim and everyone will take part in the mission “to bring the righteous to repentance.”

On this basis, the role of Moshiach ben Yosef resembles plowing to soften the earth in order to receive the seed through Moshiach ben Dovid.

This process is happening now, right before Elul, the month of t’shuva, and especially on the very threshold of Geula, when our hearts are being plowed and prepared for Moshiach to bring us to t’shuva ilaa:

Moshiach comes “to bring the righteous to repentance,” elevating tzaddikim to the level of supernal t’shuva, recognizing how the great Divine radiance is simply unfathomable … and all will be filled with powerful and joyous celebration. (Ibid)

Article originally appeared on Beis Moshiach Magazine (
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