Why Cry to Me?

Reb Yaakov David, the chief justice of the rabbinic court of Koznitz and a senior student of Reb Shlomo Leib of Linchna, once visited Reb Menachem Mendel of Kotsk. After some time, their conversation turned to Reb Shlomo.

“I am a great admirer of your teacher,” the Kotsker Rebbe said, “but there is one thing about him that I do not understand.”

Reb Yaakov David said, “I do not pretend to be my teacher’s equal, but perhaps I can explain that which confuses you. Please, share it with me.”

“Excellent,” Menachem Mendel said. “Reb Shlomo is forever calling out to God, asking God to send the Messiah. This is true?”

“Yes, this is very true. My rebbe’s passion for messianic redemption is greater than all of ours put together.”

“Good. So here is my dilemma: If the rebbe is so concerned with messianic redemption, why does he entreat God? Better to call to the Jews and urge them toward teshuvah. After all, when Moshe Rabbeinu called out to God at the shore of the Red Sea, God said to him: ‘Why do you cry out to Me? Speak to the Children of Israel …!'” (Exodus 14:15).

Reb Yaakov David smiled and said nothing.

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Teshuvah (literally, “turn”): The Hebrew word for repentance. There are two kinds of repentance. Repentance motivated by fear of punishment lessens the severity of the punishment; repentance motivated by love of God transforms sins into merits, for the sins were catalysts to repentance. Thus the sages taught, “The place occupied by one who sins and returns out of love cannot be attained even by the saint who has never sinned at all” (Berachot 34b).

There are two types of faith: self-powered and other-powered. The first means that salvation (redemption, liberation, realization, etc.) is up to you. The second means that salvation is a gift of grace, and there is nothing you can do to earn it or bring it about.

Which is true? Reb Shlomo Leib sides with the former; Menachem Mendel sides with the latter. Reb Yaakov David just smiles. As chief justice he is skilled at seeing both sides of a case, and in this case both sides are true. Ultimately, awakening is a gift, but it is one for which you must prepare. This preparation is called teshuvah, “turning.” You must choose to turn from evil and do good (Psalm 34:14). The turning is in your power and your power alone. But the results of this turning are not yours to control. This is where the other-power comes in. You choose to change, and then God gifts you with change.

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Published in: on October 3, 2009 at 1:00 am  Leave a Comment  

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