A chassid once came to Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk with a sincere request, “Rebbe, teach me how to do teshuvah!

“I cannot teach you,” the Rebbe replied.

The exchange repeated itself several times; the chassid imploring of the Rebbe with all the sincerity he could muster, and the Rebbe refusing to assist him.

Finally, after the chassid broke down entirely, the Rebbe responded, “Did anyone have to teach you how to sin?”

“No,” the chassid answered, “My desire was aroused and I could not hold back, so I sinned.”

Replied the Rebbe, “The same applies regarding teshuvah. When your desire is aroused, and you cannot hold back, you will do teshuvah.”

The story relates to a halachic question that has been debated by our Rabbis. As explained in the sichah that follows, Minchas Chinuch1 advances the thesis that teshuvah is not a mitzvah. As the Rebbe explains, the inner meaning of that perspective is that teshuvah cannot be commanded. Instead, it is an expression of the innermost dimension of our being as Jews, our return to our true core, something that can only be motivated by our own free choice, what we really desire.

The Rebbe also explains two other perspectives regarding whether teshuvah is considered a mitzvah:

a) That teshuvah is not counted as a mitzvah because it is a “general mitzvah,” one that is all-encompassing in scope, and, therefore, not counted in the reckoning of the 613 individual mitzvos,2 and

b) That it should be counted as a mitzvah3 – that teshuvah and confession (vidui) are two dimensions of one mitzvah, teshuvah being the inner expression of the mitzvah and confession, the action that is necessary to perform.

Defining teshuvah as an individual mitzvah establishes a connection between it and our Torah observance as a whole. Teshuvah should not be an isolated experience, removing us from our day-to-day realities. Instead, it should serve as an impetus, motivating us to perform many good deeds and illuminate them with the light and fire of our inner soul.

Is Teshuvah a Mitzvah?


In his Sefer HaMitzvos (positive commandment 73), Rambam writes:

We have been commanded to acknowledge the transgressions and sins that we committed before the Almighty and to articulate them when4 repenting. [The following] constitutes the confession [to be recited].… This is [implied by the Torah’s] words…,5 “They shall confess the sins that they committed.”


כָּתַב הָרַמְבַּ"ם בְּסֵפֶר הַמִּצְווֹת (עֲשֵׂה עג): "שֶׁצִּוָּנוּ לְהִתְוַדּוֹת עַל הָעֲוֹנוֹת וְהַחֲטָאִים שֶׁחָטָאנוּ לִפְנֵי הָאֵ־ל וְלֵאמֹר אוֹתָם עִם הַתְּשׁוּבָהא, וְזֶהוּ הַוִּדּוּי כו' וְהוּא אָמְרוֹ כו' וְהִתְוַדּוּא* אֶת חַטָּאתָם אֲשֶׁר חָטְאוּ".

There is a well-known question: Why did Rambam include only the mitzvah of confession (vidui) in his enumeration of the mitzvos, but not the mitzvah of teshuvah?6

וִידוּעָה הַשְּׁאֵלָה – לָמָּה לֹא מָנָה הָרַמְבַּ"ם בְּמִנְיַן הַמִּצְוֹת אֶלָּא מִצְוַת הַוִּדּוּי, וְלֹא מָנָה מִצְוַת הַתְּשׁוּבָה.

Three explanations are offered in resolution:

וּמָצִינוּ בְּזֶה ג' בֵּאוּרִים:

a) The approach of Minchas Chinuch:7

Teshuvah is not a mitzvah…. This positive commandment, [i.e., confession,] is like many of the other 613 mitzvos…. There is no mitzvah [or obligation] to [confess], nor [does one transgress if he fails] to do so. It is only that when one performs it in the prescribed manner, it is considered a mitzvah. To cite an example – divorce or claims of civil liability8 .… The laws pertaining to those mitzvos are that if the person carries out [the necessary action in the prescribed manner], he will have performed a mitzvah. Similarly, [with regard to teshuvah,] the Torah prescribes that if a person will repent, he should do so in the following manner: He should confess…. In this way, his teshuvah will be accepted.… However, he is not considered to have nullified a mitzvah if he does not repent… because [repentance] is not a mitzvah at all, just like divorce and the like [are not mitzvos that must be performed]. The Torah [merely] prescribes laws for this mitzvah [so that] if one desires that atonement [be granted for] his sins, he should repent in the manner described.

א) שִׁיטַת הַמִּנְחַת חִנּוּךְב "דִּתְשׁוּבָה אֵינָהּ מִצְוָה . . מִצְוַת עֲשֵׂה זוֹ [דְּוִדּוּי] הָוֵי כְּהַרְבֵּה מִצְוֹת מֵהַתַּרְיַ"ג . . שֶׁאֵינָהּ מִצְוָה לַעֲשׂוֹת אוֹ שֶׁלֹּא לַעֲשׂוֹת רַק הָעֲשִׂיָּה עַל תֹּאַר כָּךְ וְכָךְ נֶחְשָׁב מִצְוָה, כְּמוֹ גֵּרוּשִׁין וְטוֹעֵן וְנִטְעָן . . דְּדִינֵי הַמִּצְוָה אִם יַעֲשֶׂה כָּךְ יִהְיֶה כָּךְ הָוֵי מִצְוָה, הָכָא נַמִי דְּהַתּוֹרָה אָמְרָה אִם יַעֲשֶׂה תְּשׁוּבָה יִהְיֶה עַל תֹּאַר כָּךְ לְהִתְוַדּוֹת כו' וּבְכָךְ תְּשׁוּבָתוֹ מְקֻבֶּלֶת . . אֲבָל אֵינוֹ מְבַטֵּל שׁוּם מִצְוָה אִם אֵינוֹ עוֹשֶׂה תְּשׁוּבָה . . כִּי זֶה אֵינוֹ מִצְוָה כְּלָל רַק כְּמוֹ גֵּרוּשִׁין וְהַדּוֹמֶה שֶׁהַתּוֹרָה כָּתְבָה דִּינֵי הַמִּצְוָה אִם יִרְצֶה שֶׁעֲוֹנוֹ יְכֻפַּר יַעֲשֶׂה תְּשׁוּבָה עַל תֹּאַר כָּךְ וְכָךְ".

Minchas Chinuch supports this understanding based on the precise wording used by Rambam9 at the beginning of Hilchos Teshuvah, “[Regarding] all the mitzvos of the Torah…when [a person] repents for a sin, he is obligated to confess before the Almighty, blessed be He…. This confession is a positive commandment.”

Minchas Chinuch comments, “His words imply that teshuvah is not a positive commandment,10 because he did not state, ‘It is a positive commandment to repent.’ Rather, [he states that] if one resolves to [repent], it is [then] a positive commandment to verbally confess.”

וּמְדַיֵּק כֵּן גַּם מִלְּשׁוֹן הָרַמְבַּ"םג בְּרֵישׁ הִלְכוֹת תְּשׁוּבָה שֶׁכָּתַב "כָּל מִצְוֹת שֶׁבַּתּוֹרָה כו' כְּשֶׁיַּעֲשֶׂה תְּשׁוּבָה וְיָשׁוּב מֵחֶטְאוֹ חַיָּב לְהִתְוַדּוֹת לִפְנֵי הָאֵ־ל בָּרוּךְ הוּא . . וִדּוּי זֶה מִצְוַת עֲשֵׂה כו'", דִּ"מְבֹאָר בִּדְבָרָיו דְּאֵין הַתְּשׁוּבָה מִצְוַת עֲשֵׂהד, דְּלֹא כָתַב מִצְוַת עֲשֵׂה שֶׁיַּעֲשֶׂה תְּשׁוּבָה רַק אִם בָּא לַעֲשׂוֹת, מִצְוַת עֲשֵׂה שֶׁיִּתְוַדֶּה בְּפִיו".

Selections from Likkutei Sichos (SIE)

Insights into the Weekly Parshah and festivals by the Lubavitcher Rebbe selected from the Likkutei Sichos series.

b) Others maintain that even according to Rambam, there is a mitzvah and an obligation to repent.11 It is possible to say that the commandment in the Torah for the mitzvah of teshuvah is included in the verse,12 “You shall circumcise the foreskin of your hearts and stiffen your necks no longer.” This means that we are dealing with an already existing state within our hearts and must remove the foreskin of our hearts and the stiffness of our necks that already exists.13 Nevertheless, this mitzvah is not included in the enumeration of the 613 mitzvos because it is one of the general commandments encompassing the entire Torah. Such commandments are not included in the enumeration of the 613 mitzvos, as Rambam states in his Sefer HaMitzvos, general principle 4.

This is the fundamental mitzvah of teshuvah, as Rambam writes,14 “What is meant by teshuvah? That the sinner abandon his sinfulness and remove it from his thoughts, making a firm decision in his heart never to perform it again.”

As the Alter Rebbe writes in Iggeres HaTeshuvah,15

The mitzvah of teshuvah according to the Torah is merely the abandonment of sin…, i.e., to [firmly and] wholeheartedly decide in one’s heart not to repeat his foolish conduct again, [not] to rebel against G‑d’s sovereignty, and not to violate the mitzvos of the King, Heaven forbid, be they positive commandments or negative commandments.

Thus, teshuvah is nothing more than acceptance of the mitzvos – that one resolves to carry out all 613 mitzvos. If so, it is one of the general commandments because it does not have a new and specific act associated with it that is not included in fulfillment of the other mitzvos. To use Rambam’s wording,16 “[With this charge,] He did not command [us] to do anything other than what we already knew [from other commandments.]”

ב) גַּם לְהָרַמְבַּ"ם יֵשׁ מִצְוָה וְחִיּוּב לַעֲשׂוֹת תְּשׁוּבָהה [וְיֵשׁ לוֹמַר שֶׁהַצִּוּוּי בַּתּוֹרָה עַל מִצְוַת הַתְּשׁוּבָה נִכְלָל בַּכָּתוּבו "וּמַלְתֶּם אֵת עָרְלַת לְבַבְכֶם וְעָרְפְּכֶם לֹא תַקְשׁוּ עוֹד", שֶׁפֵּרוּשׁוֹ – צִוּוּי לָמוּל אֶת הַלֵּב וּלְהָסִיר אֶת קַשְׁיוּת הָעֹרֶף שֶׁיֶּשְׁנָם כְּבָרז ], אֶלָּא שֶׁמִּצְוָה זוֹ אֵינָהּ נִמְנֵית בְּמִנְיַן תַּרְיַ"ג מִצְוֹת, לְפִי שֶׁהִיא מֵהַ"צִּוּוּיִים הַכּוֹלְלִים הַתּוֹרָה כֻלָּהּ" (שֶׁאֵינָם בְּמִנְיַן תַּרְיַ"ג מִצְוֹת, כְּמוֹ שֶׁבֵּאֵר הָרַמְבַּ"ם בְּסֵפֶר הַמִּצְווֹת שֶׁלּוֹ, שֹׁרֶשׁ רְבִיעִי). דַּהֲרֵי עִקַּר הַתְּשׁוּבָה הוּא, כְּמוֹ שֶׁכָּתַב הָרַמְבַּ"םח, "וּמַה הִיא הַתְּשׁוּבָה הוּא שֶׁיַּעֲזוֹב הַחוֹטֵא חֶטְאוֹ וִיסִירוֹ מִמַּחֲשַׁבְתּוֹ וְיִגְמוֹר בְּלִבּוֹ שֶׁלֹּא יַעֲשֵׂהוּ עוֹד", וּבִלְשׁוֹן רַבֵּינוּ הַזָּקֵן בְּאִגֶּרֶת הַתְּשׁוּבָהט "מִצְוַת הַתְּשׁוּבָה מִן הַתּוֹרָה הִיא עֲזִיבַת הַחֵטְא בִּלְבָד . . דְּהַיְנוּ שֶׁיִּגְמוֹר בְּלִבּוֹ בְּלֵב שָׁלֵם לְבַל יָשׁוּב עוֹד לְכִסְלָה לִמְרוֹד בְּמַלְכוּתוֹ יִתְבָּרֵךְ וְלֹא יַעֲבוֹר עוֹד מִצְוַת הַמֶּלֶךְ חַס וְשָׁלוֹם הֵן בְּמִצְווֹת עֲשֵׂה הֵן בְּמִצְווֹת לֹא תַעֲשֶׂה". וְנִמְצָא, שֶׁאֵין הַתְּשׁוּבָה אֶלָּא עִנְיָן שֶׁל קַבָּלַת מִצְוַת (שֶׁמְּקַבֵּל עָלָיו לְקַיֵּם תַּרְיַ"ג מִצְוֹת), וְאִם כֵּן הִיא מֵ"הַצִּוּוּיִים הַכּוֹלְלִים", כִּי אֵין בָּהּ חִדּוּשׁ וּ"מַעֲשֵׂה מְיֻחָד" שֶׁאֵינוֹ נִכְלָל בְּקִיּוּם שְׁאָר הַמִּצְווֹת, וּבִלְשׁוֹן הָרַמְבַּ"םי "לֹא צִוָּה לַעֲשׂוֹת דָּבָר זוּלַת מַה שֶּׁיָּדַעְנוּ".

For this reason, Rambam only counted confession as one of the 613 mitzvos. The reason is that confession – i.e., the obligation to verbally express the resolve in one’s heart to abandon sin17 – is a specific act that is not included in the other mitzvos of the Torah.

וְלָכֵן יִמְנֶה הָרַמְבַּ"ם רַק מִצְוַת וִדּוּי בְּמִנְיַן הַמִּצְוֹת, כִּי וִדּוּי (דְּהַיְנוּ הַחִיּוּב לְבַטֵּא בִּשְׂפָתָיו גְּמִירַת הַלֵּב לַעֲזוֹב כו'יא ) הוּא "מַעֲשֶׂה מְיֻחָד" שֶׁאֵינוֹ נִכְלָל בִּשְׁאָר מִצְוֹת הַתּוֹרָה.

c) Kiryas Sefer18 cites Rambam’s wording in the heading of Hilchos Teshuvahnote that these headings were also written by Rambam19 – “that a sinner repent for his sin before G‑d and confess,” and explains that “teshuvah and confession are one mitzvah.20 There can be no confession without teshuvah, since a person who confesses without resolving in his heart to repent for his sin resembles a person who immerses [in a mikveh to attain purity] while holding [the corpse of] a creeping animal.”21 (Rambam states this analogy in ch. 2 of Hilchos Teshuvah.)22 Thus, regret and repentance are the initial stages and “confession concludes the act of teshuvah.”

ג) בְּקִרְיַת סֵפֶריב מַעְתִּיק לְשׁוֹן הָרַמְבַּ"ם בַּכּוֹתֶרֶת לְהִלְכוֹת תְּשׁוּבָה (שֶׁגַּם הֵן נִכְתְּבוּ עַל יְדֵי הָרַמְבַּ"םיג ) "שֶׁיָּשׁוּב הַחוֹטֵא מֵחֶטְאוֹ לִפְנֵי ה' וְיִתְוַדֶּה", וּמְפָרֵשׁ: "הַתְּשׁוּבָה וְהַוִּדּוּי מִצְוָה אֶחָדיד הִיא שֶׁאֵין וִדּוּי בְּלִי תְּשׁוּבָה כִּי מִי שֶׁמִּתְוַדֶּה וְאֵינוֹ גוֹמֵר בְּלִבּוֹ לָשׁוּב מֵחַטָּאתוֹ הוּא כְּטוֹבֵל וְשֶׁרֶץ בְּיָדוֹ (כְּהוּבָא בְּרַמְבַּ"ם בְּהִלְכוֹת תְּשׁוּבָה פֶּרֶק בטו ) וְהַוִּדּוּי הוּא גְּמַר הַתְּשׁוּבָה".

To explain his position: Teshuvah and confession are two essential elements of a single mitzvah. Teshuvah is the mitzvah’s component of thought, i.e., the resolve in one’s heart to abandon sin (in Rambam’s words,11 “not to perform it again”), and confession is the component of speech, to quote Rambam,11 “to verbally express and state the matters that he resolved in his heart.” According to this conception, the mitzvah of confession includes the obligation to repent23 because confession is meaningless without heartfelt repentance.

בֵּאוּר דְּבָרָיו: תְּשׁוּבָה וּוִדּוּי הֵם שְׁנֵי חֲלָקִים שֶׁל מִצְוָה אַחַת – תְּשׁוּבָה הִיא חֵלֶק הַמַּחֲשָׁבָה שֶׁבָּהּ, הַגְּמִירָה בְּלֵב לַעֲזוֹב ("שֶׁלֹּא יַעֲשֵׂהוּ עוֹד"טז ), וּוִדּוּי הוּא חֵלֶק הַדִּבּוּר, בִּלְשׁוֹן הָרַמְבַּ"םח שֶׁ"צָּרִיךְ לְהִתְוַדּוֹת בִּשְׂפָתָיו וְלוֹמַר עִנְיָנוֹת אֵלּוּ שֶׁגָּמַר בְּלִבּוֹ", הַיְנוּ לְבַטֵּא בִּשְׂפָתָיו מַה שֶּׁנִּגְמַר בְּלִבּוֹ. וְעַל פִּי זֶה מוּבָן, שֶׁמִּצְוַת וִדּוּי כּוֹלֶלֶת הַחוֹבָה לָשׁוּביז, שֶׁהֲרֵי בְּלִי הַתְּשׁוּבָה בְּלֵב אֵין תֹּכֶן לְוִדּוּי.

On this basis, we can understand the reason Rambam19 uses the analogy cited above, “One who confesses verbally without resolving in his heart to abandon [sin] is like one who immerses [in a mikveh] while holding [the corpse of] a creeping animal, in which instance the immersion will not be effective for him until he casts it away.” On the surface, it is hard to understand the necessity of citing this analogy. Rambam could have simply said that confession without abandoning sin is not effective.

[וְעַל פִּי זֶה מוּבָן הַטַּעַם שֶׁהֵבִיא הָרַמְבַּ"םטו דֻּגְמָא לְ"מִתְוַדֶּה בִּדְבָרִים וְלֹא גָמַר בְּלִבּוֹ לַעֲזוֹב – הֲרֵי זֶה דוֹמֶה לְטוֹבֵל וְשֶׁרֶץ בְּיָדוֹ שֶׁאֵין הַטְּבִילָה מוֹעֶלֶת לוֹ עַד שֶׁיַּשְׁלִיךְ הַשֶּׁרֶץ", דְּלִכְאוֹרָה, מַהוּ הַצֹּרֶךְ בְּדֻגְמָא זוֹ, וַהֲוָה לֵיהּ לְמֵימַר סְתָם שֶׁוִּדּוּי בְּלִי עֲזִיבַת הַחֵטְא אֵינוֹ מוֹעִיל.

However, the analogy Rambam uses explains the nature of the effect of teshuvah. There are certain side factors that can prevent an immersion from being effective, for example, an intervening substance24 separating between a portion of the person’s body and the mikveh’s waters or the fact that the prescribed time of a person’s impurity has not elapsed.25 However, these are merely side factors necessary for immersion.26 By contrast, holding a creeping animal’s corpse during immersion is the polar opposite of immersion. When a person holds an impure object, it is impossible for him to undergo immersion, which leads to a directly opposite state, his departure from impurity and achieving a state of purity. Similar concepts apply regarding one who “confesses verbally, but does not resolve in his heart to abandon [sin].” Thus, teshuvah – distancing oneself from sin – and confession are one act of purification from the impurity of sin.

אֶלָּא שֶׁדֻּגְמָא זוֹ מְבַאֶרֶת גֶּדֶר הַתְּשׁוּבָה: כְּשֵׁם שֶׁ"טּוֹבֵל וְשֶׁרֶץ בְּיָדוֹ" אֵין כַּאן עִנְיָן צְדָדִי הַגּוֹרֵם שֶׁהַטְּבִילָה לֹא תוֹעִיל (כְּמוֹ חֲצִיצָהיח, אוֹ מְחֻסַּר זְמַן וְכַיּוֹצֵא בָזֶה, שֶׁהֵם תְּנָאִים צְדָדִיִּים שֶׁהַטְּבִילָה זְקוּקָה לָהֶםיט ), אֶלָּא זֶהוּ הֵפֶךְ עִנְיַן הַטְּבִילָה, דְּכַאֲשֶׁר הָאָדָם נֶאֱחָז בְּטֻמְאָה, אִי אֶפְשָׁר שֶׁבְּאוֹתָהּ שָׁעָה יִהְיֶה אֶצְלוֹ הַהֵפֶךְ שֶׁלָּהּ (טְבִילָה)עֲזִיבַת הַטֻּמְאָה, לִטַּהֵר מִטֻּמְאָה, כֵּן הוּא בַּנּוֹגֵעַ לְ"הַמִּתְוַדֶּה בִּדְבָרִים וְלֹא גָמַר בְּלִבּוֹ לַעֲזוֹב" – שֶׁהַתְּשׁוּבָה וְהַוִּדּוּי הֵם מַעֲשֶׂה אֶחָד שֶׁל טָהֳרָה מִטֻּמְאַת הַחֵטְא].

According to the above, the fundamental dimension of the mitzvah is repentance – the resolve in one’s heart to abandon sin. Confession is merely a result of that resolve and the verbal expression of it. The reason why Rambam mentions only confession in Sefer HaMitzvos without referring to the obligation to repent is that when a mitzvah has two components – one pertaining to thought and the other to speech or action, the component relating to speech or action27 is counted as a mitzvah and not the component relating to thought.

וְהַטַּעַם שֶׁבְּסֵפֶר הַמִּצְוֹת הִזְכִּיר הָרַמְבַּ"ם רַק מִצְוַת וִדּוּי (וְלֹא הִזְכִּיר הַחוֹבָה לַעֲשׂוֹת תְּשׁוּבָה) – דְּלִכְאוֹרָה, עַל פִּי הַנַּ"ל, הֲרֵי עִקַּר הַמִּצְוָה הִיא הַתְּשׁוּבָה (גְּמִירַת הַלֵּב לַעֲזוֹב), וְהַוִּדּוּי הוּא רַק תּוֹצָאָה מִגְּמִירַת הַלֵּב וּבִטּוּיָהּ בְּפֶה – הוּא לְפִי שֶׁמִּצְוָה שֶׁיֵּשׁ בָּהּ שְׁנֵי חֲלָקִים, מַחֲשָׁבָה, וְדִבּוּר אוֹ מַעֲשֶׂה, נִמְנֶה בְּמִנְיַן הַמִּצְוֹת עִנְיַן הַדִּבּוּר (וְהַמַּעֲשֶׂה) שֶׁבָּהּכ, וְלֹא עִנְיַן הַמַּחֲשָׁבָה שֶׁבָּהּ.

Take, for example, the mitzvah of prayer. It involves two components: Divine service of the heart – as our Sages28 state, “What is service of the heart? It is prayer” – and saying the words of prayer. True, the fundamental dimension of prayer is not saying the words, but rather the thought and the intent of the heart, to the extent that “prayer without intent” – i.e., at least a general intent that one is praying to G‑d, as reflected in the charge,29 “Know before Whom you are standing,” or the like – “does not constitute prayer.”30 As explained in another source,31 Rambam’s precise wording in Hilchos Tefilah,32 The obligation [implied by] this mitzvah is that a person humbly entreat [G‑d] and pray every day,” indicates that the definition of the mitzvah of prayer is the expression of a specific feeling through one’s words. If the feeling of supplication is lacking, the recitation of the words of prayer is meaningless.

Nevertheless, prayer is considered a mitzvah of speech.33 Indeed, the straightforward meaning of the word “pray” is to utter words of prayer. Thus, in the enumeration of the mitzvos at the beginning of the Mishneh Torah,34 Rambam states that the mitzvah is “to pray to Him.” Similarly, at the beginning of Hilchos Tefilah, he writes, “It is a positive commandment to pray every day” because when enumerating the mitzvos, reciting the words of prayer is what is counted as a mitzvah, not the intent motivating the prayer.35

וּלְדֻגְמָא – מִצְוַת תְּפִלָּה, שֶׁמֻּרְכֶּבֶת מִשְּׁנֵי חֲלָקִים – עֲבוֹדָה שֶׁבְּלֵב (כְּמַאֲמַר חַזַ"לכא "אֵיזוֹ הִיא עֲבוֹדָה שֶׁהִיא בְּלֵב . . זוֹ תְּפִלָּה") וְדִבּוּר הַתְּפִלָּה. וְאַף עַל פִּי שֶׁעִקַּר עִנְיַן הַתְּפִלָּה הוּא (לֹא הַדִּבּוּר, אֶלָּא) הַמַּחֲשָׁבָה וְכַוָּנַת הַלֵּב [וְעַד שֶׁ"תְּפִלָּה שֶׁאֵינָהּ בְּכַוָּנָה [הַיְנוּ הַכַּוָּנָה הַכְּלָלִית כְּגוֹן דַּע לִפְנֵי מִי אַתָּה עוֹמֵד וְכַיּוֹצֵא בָזֶה] אֵינָהּ תְּפִלָּה"כב ; וּבְמָקוֹם אַחֵר נִתְבָּאֵרכג דִּיּוּק לְשׁוֹן הָרַמְבַּ"ם בְּהִלְכוֹת תְּפִלָּהכד "חִיּוּב מִצְוָה זוֹ כָּךְ הוּא שֶׁיְּהֵא אָדָם מִתְחַנֵּן וּמִתְפַּלֵּל בְּכָל יוֹם כו'", שֶׁגִּדְרָהּ שֶׁל מִצְוַת תְּפִלָּה הוּא – בִּטּוּי שֶׁל רֶגֶשׁ מְסֻיָּם בְּדִבּוּר, וּבְלִי הֶרְגֵּשׁ שֶׁל "תְּחִנָּה" אֵין מַשְׁמָעוּת בַּאֲמִירַת תֵּבוֹת הַתְּפִלָּה] – מִכָּל מָקוֹם נֶחְשֶׁבֶת מִצְוַת תְּפִלָּה כְּמִצְוָה שֶׁבְּדִבּוּרכה, וְזֶהוּ פַּשְׁטוּת פֵּרוּשׁ הַלָּשׁוֹן "יִתְפַּלֵּל" – שֶׁקָּאֵי עַל הַדִּבּוּר שֶׁבִּתְפִלָּה. וּבְמִנְיַן הַמִּצְוֹת שֶׁבְּרֵישׁ סֵפֶר הַיָּדכו נָקַט הָרַמְבַּ"ם "לְהִתְפַּלֵּל אֵלָיו" (וְכֵן בְּרֵישׁ הִלְכוֹת תְּפִלָּה "מִצְוַת עֲשֵׂה לְהִתְפַּלֵּל בְּכָל יוֹם") – כִּי בְּמִנְיַן הַמִּצְוֹת מוֹנִים אֶת עִנְיַן הַדִּבּוּר שֶׁבִּתְפִלָּה, וְלֹא אֶת הַכַּוָּנָה שֶׁבָּהּכז.

Which of the Three Conceptions Is Most Appropriate?


From the standpoint of nigleh, the Torah’s revealed, legal tradition, the third of the three conceptions described above appears most appropriate. There is a difficulty with the approach of Minchas Chinuch – that, according to Rambam, there is no obligation to repent – because in his heading to Hilchos Teshuvah, Rambam explicitly states that this section of laws contains, “One positive commandment – that a sinner repent for his sin before G‑d and confess.” Thus, Rambam clearly maintains that there is a commandment to repent for sin. The Alter Rebbe adopts that same position in his Iggeres HaTeshuvah,12 stating, “According to Scriptural Law, the mitzvah36 of teshuvah is merely the abandonment of sin.” Thus – following Rambam’s approach (as indicated by his further statements in that source),37 there is a Scriptural command to repent for sin.


וְהִנֵּה עַל דֶּרֶךְ הַנִּגְלֶה, מִג' בֵּאוּרִים הַנַּ"ל – נִרְאֶה יוֹתֵר הַבֵּאוּר הַשְּׁלִישִׁי.

דְּהִנֵּה עַל שִׁיטַת הַמִּנְחַת חִנּוּךְ שֶׁלְּהָרַמְבַּ"ם אֵין חוֹבָה לַעֲשׂוֹת תְּשׁוּבָה – קָשֶׁה, שֶׁהֲרֵי בַּכּוֹתֶרֶת לְהִלְכוֹת תְּשׁוּבָה מְפֹרָשׁ (כַּנַּ"ל) "מִצְוַת עֲשֵׂה אַחַת, וְהוּא שֶׁיָּשׁוּב הַחוֹטֵא מֵחֶטְאוֹ לִפְנֵי ה' וְיִתְוַדֶּה", הֲרֵי שֶׁגַּם לְהָרַמְבַּ"ם יֵשׁ מִצְוָה לָשׁוּב מֵחֶטְאוֹ. וְכֵן נָקַט גַּם רַבֵּינוּ הַזָּקֵן בְּאִגֶּרֶת הַתְּשׁוּבָה שֶׁלּוֹט ,שֶׁכָּתַב "מִצְוַתכח הַתְּשׁוּבָה מִן הַתּוֹרָה הִיא עֲזִיבַת הַחֵטְא בִּלְבָד", הֲרֵי שֶׁיֵּשׁ מִצְוָה מִן הַתּוֹרָה לָשׁוּב מֵחֶטְאוֹ (וְקָאֵי שָׁם בְּשִׁיטַת הָרַמְבַּ"ם, כִּדְמוּכָח מֵהֶמְשֵׁךְ דְּבָרָיוכט ).

The second explanation given above – that teshuvah is one of the general commandments that do not involve a specific action – also seems somewhat forced because teshuvah involves not only abandoning sin, i.e., a resolution regarding one’s future conduct, but also regretting one’s past misdeeds, as Rambam writes,11 “What is meant by teshuvah? That the sinner should abandon his sinfulness… and also regret [his] past [misdeeds].” This aspect, regret over one’s past is “a specific act” that “would not be known from other mitzvos.”13

וְגַם הַבֵּאוּר הַב' הַנַּ"ל (שֶׁתְּשׁוּבָה הִיא מֵהַצִּוּוּיִים הַכּוֹלְלִים שֶׁאֵין בָּהֶם "מַעֲשֶׂה מְיֻחָד") – דָּחוּק לִכְאוֹרָה, כִּי בִּתְשׁוּבָה צָרִיךְ לִהְיוֹת לֹא רַק עֲזִיבַת הַחֵטְא (קַבָּלָה עַל לְהַבָּא) אֶלָּא גַּם חֲרָטָה עַל הֶעָבָר, וּכְמוֹ שֶׁכָּתַב הָרַמְבַּ"םח "וּמַה הִיא הַתְּשׁוּבָה הוּא שֶׁיַּעֲזוֹב הַחוֹטֵא חֶטְאוֹ כו' וְכֵן יִתְנַחֵם עַל שֶׁעָבַר", וַהֲרֵי חֲרָטָה עַל הֶעָבָר הוּא "מַעֲשֶׂה מְיֻחָד" שֶׁאֵין יוֹדְעִים אוֹתוֹ מִמִּצְוֹת אֲחֵרוֹת?

If pressed, it could be said that regret over one’s past is an element of the acceptance of desired conduct in the future, for if one is not pained over his past misconduct and does not regret it, that is proof that his acceptance and resolve to conduct himself fittingly in the future is lacking. Thus, it could be said that regret is not a specific act since it is a necessary component of the resolve to conduct oneself fittingly in the future. However, this explanation is extremely tenuous, because in the laws of teshuvah that the Shulchan Aruch38 outlines, when explaining how a sinner can regain his status and become an acceptable witness, all that is mentioned is the resolve to conduct oneself fittingly in the future. It can be inferred from this that it is possible to make a whole-hearted resolution to carry out G‑d’s commandments in the future without feeling pain or regret over the past. This is also evident from the wording Rambam uses, “and also experience regret over [his] past,” i.e., it is not a condition and a component of abandoning sin, but rather a separate matter.39

בְּדֹחַק יֵשׁ לוֹמַר שֶׁחֲרָטָה עַל הֶעָבָר הִיא פְּרָט בְּקַבָּלָה עַל לְהַבָּא, דְּאִם אֵינוֹ מִצְטַעֵר עַל הֶעָבָר וְאֵינוֹ מִתְחָרֵט עָלָיו הֲרֵי זוֹ הוֹכָחָה שֶׁחָסֵר בְּקַבָּלָתוֹ וְהַחְלָטָתוֹ עַל לְהַבָּא, וְלָכֵן אֵין הַחֲרָטָה נֶחְשֶׁבֶת "מַעֲשֶׂה מְיֻחָד" (כֵּיוָן שֶׁמֻּכְרַחַת הִיא לְהַקַּבָּלָה עַל לְהַבָּא). אֲבָל זֶהוּ דֹּחַק גָּדוֹל, כִּי בְּדִינֵי הַתְּשׁוּבָה הַמְבֹאָרִים בְּשֻׁלְחָן עָרוּךְל, שֶׁעַל יָדָם רָשָׁע נַעֲשֶׂה כָּשֵׁר לְעֵדוּת, נִזְכֶּרֶת רַק קַבָּלָה עַל לְהַבָּא, וּמַשְׁמַע מִזֶּה שֶׁאֶפְשָׁר לִגְמוֹר בְּלֵב שָׁלֵם שֶׁמִּכַּאן וּלְהַבָּא יְקַיֵּם מִצְווֹת ה' מִבְּלִי לְהַרְגִּישׁ צַעַר וַחֲרָטָה עַל הֶעָבָר. וְכֵן מוֹרֶה פַּשְׁטוּת לְשׁוֹן הָרַמְבַּ"ם "וְכֵן יִתְנַחֵם עַל שֶׁעָבַר", שֶׁאֵינוֹ תְּנַאי וּפְרָט בַּעֲזִיבַת הַחֵטְא, אֶלָּא עִנְיָן נוֹסָףלא.

(From a deeper perspective, it can be said that even abandoning sin, i.e., making a firm resolve within one’s heart regarding his future conduct, is also something that “is not known from other mitzvos,” because an inner resolve motivated by teshuvah is different from an ordinary resolve to accept the yoke of G‑d’s sovereignty.)

[וּבְעֹמֶק יוֹתֵר נִרְאֶה לוֹמַר, שֶׁגַּם עֲזִיבַת הַחֵטְא (גְּמִירַת וְקַבָּלַת הַלֵּב עַל לְהַבָּא) נֶחְשֶׁבֶת כְּדָבָר שֶׁלֹּא "יָדַעְנוּ" מִמִּצְווֹת אֲחֵרוֹת, כִּי אֵינָהּ דּוֹמָה הַקַּבָּלָה שֶׁבִּתְשׁוּבָה לְקַבָּלַת עֹל מַלְכוּת שָׁמַיִם סְתָם].

Therefore, the third conception mentioned above appears most appropriate, i.e., the reason teshuvah is not included in the enumeration of the mitzvos is because it is something experienced in the heart. Accordingly, when enumerating the mitzvos, only the dimension of speech in this mitzvah, i.e., the mitzvah of confession, is counted. However, when seen as a whole, the mitzvah includes not only confession, but also teshuvah.

וְלָכֵן נִרְאֶה בֵּאוּר הַג' הַנַּ"ל, שֶׁהַטַּעַם שֶׁהַתְּשׁוּבָה אֵינָהּ נִמְנֵית בְּמִנְיַן הַמִּצְוֹת הוּא לְפִי שֶׁהִיא עִנְיָן שֶׁבְּלֵב, וּבְמִנְיַן הַמִּצְוֹת נִמְנֶה רַק חֵלֶק הַדִּבּוּר שֶׁבְּמִצְוָה זוֹ, דְּהַיְנוּ מִצְוַת וִדּוּי.

Nevertheless, since all three conceptions are explanations based on the Torah’s logic, it can be said that our Sages’ maxim,40 “These and these are the words of the living G‑d,” applies to all of them. As explained many times,41 every opinion in Torah scholarship, even an opinion that is not accepted as halachah, is relevant to our Divine service. Although the actual halachah is decided according to one opinion, that is only because in actual practice it is impossible to conduct oneself according to two opposing opinions. However, with regard to the spiritual dimension of the mitzvos and our intent when observing them, there is room for all perspectives.

אָמְנָם, מִכֵּיוָן שֶׁג' בֵּאוּרִים אֵלֶּה הֵם סְבָרוֹת בַּתּוֹרָה, יֵשׁ לוֹמַר שֶׁחָלִים עֲלֵיהֶם דִּבְרֵי חַזַ"ללב "אֵלּוּ וָאֵלּוּ דִּבְרֵי אֱלֹקִים חַיִּים", וּכְמוֹ שֶׁנִּתְבָּאֵר כַּמָּה פְּעָמִים, שֶׁכָּל דֵּעָה בַּתּוֹרָה (גַּם דֵּעָה שֶׁלַּהֲלָכָה נִדְחֲתָה) יֵשׁ לָהּ מָקוֹם בַּעֲבוֹדַת ה'. דְּזֶה שֶׁנִּפְסְקָה הַהֲלָכָה כְּדֵעָה א' הוּא רַק לְהַהַנְהָגָה בְּמַעֲשֶׂה, שֶׁאִי אֶפְשָׁר לִנְהוֹג לְמַעֲשֶׂה כִּשְׁתֵּי דֵעוֹת סוֹתְרוֹת, אֲבָל בַּנּוֹגֵעַ לְרוּחָנִיּוּת הַמִּצְוֹת, יֵשׁ מָקוֹם לְכָל הַדֵּעוֹת.

Similarly, the spiritual import of teshuvah includes and allows for the application of all these three approaches: a) that teshuvah is not a mitzvah, as stated by Minchas Chinuch,42 b) that it is one of the general, all-inclusive commandments, and c) that it is an individual mitzvah like all the mitzvos.43 (The reason it is not included in the enumeration of the mitzvos is because it has two components and it is the component of speech that is counted and not the component of teshuvah, which is a feeling within the heart.)

וְכֵן בְּנִדּוֹן דִּידָן, שֶׁג' הַשִּׁיטוֹת הַנַּ"ל בְּעִנְיַן הַתְּשׁוּבָה – (א) תְּשׁוּבָה אֵינָהּ מִצְוָה (כְּשִׁיטַת הַמִּנְחַת חִנּוּךְלג ), (ב) הִיא מֵהַצִּוּוּיִים הַכּוֹלְלִים, (ג) הִיא מִצְוָה פְּרָטִית כְּכָל הַמִּצְווֹתלד (וְזֶה שֶׁאֵינָהּ נִמְנֵית בְּמִנְיַן הַמִּצְווֹת הוּא מִפְּנֵי שֶׁנִּמְנֶה חֵלֶק הַדִּבּוּר שֶׁבָּהּ וְלֹא עִנְיַן הַתְּשׁוּבָה שֶׁבְּלֵב) – יֵשׁ לָהֶם מָקוֹם עַל פִּי תֹּכֶן הָרוּחָנִי שֶׁבְּמִצְוַת תְּשׁוּבָה.

Body and Soul


The spiritual parallels to the three conceptions mentioned can be understood by first explaining our Sages’ statement that the 248 positive commandments and the 365 negative commandments correspond to the 248 limbs of the body44 and its 365 giddim.45 As is well known, just as the body possesses 248 limbs and 365 giddim, so too, there exists “613 [corresponding] powers and sources of vitality”46 within the soul. When a person is whole, flawless in the observance of all the 613 mitzvos – which correspond to the 248 limbs and 365 giddim – then, “all the limbs of his soul are whole and perfect…. However, if he is lacking [in the observance of] one mitzvah or [if he created] a blemish [through] its [violation,] he is [considered as] lacking a limb.”47


וְיוּבַן זֶה בְּהֶקְדֵּם בֵּאוּר מַאֲמַר רַזַ"ל שֶׁרְמַ"ח מִצְוֹת עֲשֵׂה וּשְׁסָ"ה מִצְוֹת לֹא תַעֲשֶׂה הֵם כְּנֶגֶד רְמַ"ח אֵבָרִיםלה וּשְׁסָ"ה גִידִיםלו. וְיָדוּעַ, דִּכְשֵׁם שֶׁהַגּוּף מִתְחַלֵּק לִרְמַ"ח אֵבָרִים וּשְׁסָ"ה גִידִים, כָּךְ יֵשׁ כְּנֶגְדָּם "תַּרְיַ"ג מִינֵי כֹּחוֹת וְחַיּוּת"לז בַּנְּשָׁמָה. וְכַאֲשֶׁר הָאָדָם הוּא שָׁלֵם בִּשְׁמִירַת כָּל הַתַּרְיַ"ג מִצְוֹת (שֶׁהֵם כְּנֶגֶד רְמַ"ח אֵבָרִים וּשְׁסָ"ה גִידִים), אָז הוּא "תָּמִים וְשָׁלֵם בְּכָל אֵבְרֵי הַנֶּפֶשׁ . . מַה שֶּׁאֵין כֵּן אִם חִסַּר מִצְוָה א' אוֹ פָּגַם בָּהּ הֲרֵי נַעֲשָׂה מְחֻסַּר אֵבֶר"לח.

This enables us to understand the nature of the mitzvah of teshuvah. It is “on a higher level than all the mitzvos.” Therefore, it has the power “to [heal any] blemish or compensate for [any] lack”44 caused within the limbs and vitality of the soul. Teshuvah stemming from the depths of one’s heart touches the soul’s very essence, which is the source of the vitality of the limbs of the soul. That level is not – and cannot – be affected by the blemish of sin. To quote the Alter Rebbe,48 “even at the time of sin, it – i.e., the soul’s essence – was faithful to Him.” Therefore, from that level, new vitality is drawn down to the damaged limb of the soul, healing the blemish and the lack.49

וְזֶהוּ עִנְיָנָהּ שֶׁל מִצְוַת תְּשׁוּבָה, שֶׁ"הִיאלח בְּמַדְרֵגָה עֶלְיוֹנָה יוֹתֵר מִכָּל הַמִּצְוֹת", שֶׁלָּכֵן בְּכֹחַה "לְמַלֹּאת הַפְּגַם וְהַחִסָּרוֹן" שֶׁנַּעֲשָׂה בְּאֵבְרֵי (וְחַיּוּת) הַנְּשָׁמָה. וְהַיְנוּ, לְפִי שֶׁעַל יְדֵי הַתְּשׁוּבָה מֵעוּמְקָא דְלִבָּא מַגִּיעִים לְעֶצֶם הַנֶּפֶשׁ, שֶׁהוּא מְקוֹר הַחַיּוּת שֶׁל אֵבְרֵי הַנְּשָׁמָה [וְשָׁם מֵעִקָּרָא לֹא מַגִּיעַ פְּגַם שֶׁל חֲטָאִים, וּבִלְשׁוֹן אַדְמוּ"ר הַזָּקֵןלט דְּ"גַם בִּשְׁעַת הַחֵטְא הָיְתָה בְאָמְנָה אִתּוֹ יִתְבָּרֵךְ"], וְלָכֵן נִמְשָׁךְ מִשָּׁם חַיּוּת חָדָשׁ לְהָאֵבֶר הַפָּגוּם, לְמַלֹּאת הַפְּגַם וְהַחִסָּרוֹןמ.

On this basis, it is possible to explain the conception that the mitzvah of teshuvah is one of the general commandments and, therefore, is not included in the enumeration of the mitzvos. To explain: The reason the general commandments are not included in the enumeration of the mitzvos is that only the mitzvos that correspond to specific limbs of the soul are included in that enumeration. The general mitzvos that include all the mitzvos correspond to a transcendent level within the soul that defies enumeration. To refer to a similar concept: The Alter Rebbe explains50 the difference between the Torah and the mitzvos by describing the mitzvos as “limbs,” while describing the Torah – the source for all the mitzvoswith the analogy of blood, “which brings vitality to all the limbs equally in an encompassing manner.”51

Similarly, the mitzvah of teshuvah is on a higher level than all the mitzvos because its nature is that it injects new vitality into the blemished limbs of the soul. Thus, it is not enumerated among the mitzvos – which correspond to the specific limbs of the soul – but transcends them, inasmuch as it relates to the blood and the general vitality of the soul.

וְעַל פִּי זֶה מוּבָן טַעַם הַשִּׁיטָה שֶׁמִּצְוַת תְּשׁוּבָה הִיא מֵהַצִּוּוּיִים הַכּוֹלְלִים וְאֵינָהּ נִמְנֵית בְּמִנְיַן הַמִּצְווֹת, כִּי הַטַּעַם שֶׁצִּוּוּיִים כּוֹלְלִים לֹא נִמְנוּ בְּמִנְיַן הַמִּצְווֹת הוּא לְפִי שֶׁבְּמִנְיַן הַמִּצְווֹת נִמְנוּ רַק מִצְווֹת שֶׁהֵם כְּנֶגֶד אֵבָרִים פְּרָטִיִּים שֶׁל הַנְּשָׁמָה, וְלֹא צִוּוּיִים הַכּוֹלְלִים כָּל הַמִּצְווֹת כֻּלָּן. וְעַל דֶּרֶךְ בֵּאוּר אַדְמוּ"ר הַזָּקֵןמא, בְּהַחִלּוּק בֵּין תּוֹרָה וּמִצְוֹת, דְּמִצְוֹת נִקְרָאוֹת "אֵבָרִים", וְאִלּוּ הַתּוֹרָה, שֶׁהִיא הַמָּקוֹר שֶׁל כָּל הַמִּצְוֹת, "הִיא בְּחִינַת הַדָּם הַמַּמְשִׁיךְ חַיּוּת לְכָל הָאֵבָרִין בְּשָׁוֶה בִּכְלָלוּתָן"מב. וְכֵן הוּא בַּנּוֹגֵעַ לְמִצְוַת הַתְּשׁוּבָה, שֶׁ"הִיא בְּמַדְרֵגָה עֶלְיוֹנָה יוֹתֵר מִכָּל הַמִּצְוֹת", כִּי עִנְיָנָהּ לְהַמְשִׁיךְ חַיּוּת חָדָשׁ בְּ"אֵבֶר" הַנִּפְגָּם, הֲרֵי אֵינָהּ בְּמִנְיַן הַמִּצְוֹת (שֶׁכְּנֶגֶד אֵבְרֵי הַנֶּפֶשׁ) אֶלָּא לְמַעְלָה מֵהֶם (וְהִיא שַׁיֶּכֶת לְ"דַם" וְחַיּוּת הַנֶּפֶשׁ).

It can be explained that the reason why only the mitzvah of teshuvah is not enumerated as one of the mitzvos – but the mitzvah of confession is – is that the power possessed by teshuvah to heal the blemish of the limbs of the soul comes from the person’s decision and the arousal stemming from the depths of his heart, which touches his soul’s very essence, as explained before.46 Divine service of this nature relates to the experience of teshuvah within one’s heart and not to verbal confession.52

וְהַטַּעַם שֶׁרַק מִצְוַת הַתְּשׁוּבָה לֹא נִמְנֵית בְּמִנְיַן הַמִּצְווֹת (אֲבָל מִצְוַת וִדּוּי הִיא בְּמִנְיַן הַמִּצְוֹת) – יֵשׁ לוֹמַר, כִּי כֹּחַ הַתְּשׁוּבָה לְמַלֹּאת הַפְּגַם בְּאֵבְרֵי הַנְּשָׁמָה, הוּא עַל יְדֵי הַהַחְלָטָה וְהַהִתְעוֹרְרוּת מֵעוּמְקָא דְלִבָּאמ, שֶׁהִיא מַגַּעַת בְּעֶצֶם הַנֶּפֶשׁ (כַּנַּ"ל), וְעִנְיָן זֶה שַׁיָּךְ לְעִנְיַן הַתְּשׁוּבָה (שֶׁבְּלֵב) וְלֹא לְוִדּוּי דְּבָרִיםמג.

Above the Possibility of Commanding


Based on this explanation, it is also possible to offer an explanation according to an inner, mystic conception regarding the approach of Minchas Chinuch that teshuvah is not a mitzvah at all. As explained above, the potential for teshuvah to remedy a blemish and a deficiency in the limbs of the soul is because teshuvah relates to the essence of the soul, the source for the vitality of the limbs of the soul. Matters that relate to the essence of the soul are dependent solely on a person’s free choice. When a person does something because he is forced to do so, the inner dimension of his soul is not involved. His action is no more than an external deed. It follows that the lesser the external compulsion, the more of his inner self is invested in the action. Something that stems from the essence of the soul as it transcends all the soul’s powers is motivated solely by the person’s free choice, without any external influence.53


עַל פִּי הַקְדָּמָה זוֹ יֵשׁ לְבָאֵר (עַל פִּי פְּנִימִיּוּת הָעִנְיָנִים) גַּם טַעַם שִׁיטַת הַמִּנְחַת חִנּוּךְ שֶׁתְּשׁוּבָה אֵינָהּ מִצְוָה כְּלָל:

כָּאָמוּר לְעֵיל, הַכֹּחַ שֶׁבִּתְשׁוּבָה לְמַלֹּאת הַפְּגַם וְהַחִסָּרוֹן שֶׁבְּאֵבְרֵי הַנֶּפֶשׁ הוּא לְפִי שֶׁתְּשׁוּבָה מַגִּיעָה בְּעֶצֶם הַנֶּפֶשׁ, מְקוֹר הַחַיּוּת שֶׁל אֵבְרֵי הַנֶּפֶשׁ, כַּנַּ"ל – וְעִנְיָנִים הַבָּאִים מֵעֶצֶם הַנֶּפֶשׁ תְּלוּיִים אַךְ וְרַק בִּבְחִירַת הָאָדָם. דְּכַאֲשֶׁר אָדָם עוֹשֶׂה דָּבָר מִפְּנֵי הַהֶכְרֵחַ הֲרֵי אֵין פְּנִימִיּוּת נַפְשׁוֹ בַּעֲשִׂיָּה זוֹ, וְהִיא רַק עֲשִׂיָּה חִיצוֹנִית בִּלְבָד. וּמוּבָן, שֶׁכְּכֹל שֶׁמִּתְמַעֵט הַהֶכְרֵחַ מִבְּחוּץ, יֵשׁ יוֹתֵר פְּנִימִיּוּת בְּהָעֲשִׂיָּה. וְעִנְיָן שֶׁבָּא מֵעֶצֶם הַנֶּפֶשׁ מַמָּשׁ, שֶׁלְּמַעְלָה מִכָּל הַכֹּחוֹת וכו', הוּא מִפְּנֵי שֶׁבָּא כֻלּוֹ אַךְ וְרַק מִבְּחִירַת הָאָדָם, מִבְּלִי סִבָּה מִבְּחוּץמד.

To cite a parallel concept mentioned in another source:54 A similar reason also explains the tremendous rejoicing that accompanied drawing the water for the water libation on the festival of Sukkos. The great happiness came because, “[the drawing of the water stems] from a halachah conveyed to Moshe at Sinai… that is not explicitly mentioned in the Written Law and it is merely associated with a verse by the Sages.”55 Since the rejoicing was not motivated by an explicit command, it surpassed the rejoicing associated with the festivals which is mandated by Scriptural Law.56 Following the same motif, the rejoicing associated with the hakafos of Shemini Atzeres and Simchas Torah, which are not even an obligation of Rabbinic Law, but merely an established Jewish custom, is much greater (as is the prevailing Jewish practice) even than the rejoicing that accompanied drawing the water for the water libation.

וְעַל דֶּרֶךְ מַה שֶּׁנִּתְבָּאֵר בְּמָקוֹם אַחֵרמה, שֶׁזֶּהוּ גַּם הַטַּעַם לְגֹדֶל הַשִּׂמְחָה שֶׁל נִסּוּךְ הַמַּיִם בְּחַג הַסֻּכּוֹת שֶׁ"הוּאמו הֲלָכָה לְמֹשֶׁה מִסִּינַי . . שֶׁאֵינוֹ מְפֹרָשׁ בְּהֶדְיָא בַּתּוֹרָה שֶׁבִּכְתָב רַק רַבָּנָן אַסְמְכוּהָ אַקְּרָאֵי", שֶׁהִיא גְּדוֹלָה יוֹתֵר מִשִּׂמְחַת יוֹם טוֹב שֶׁהוּא חִיּוּב מִן הַתּוֹרָה; וְהַשִּׂמְחָה שֶׁל הַקָּפוֹת בִּשְׁמִינִי עֲצֶרֶת וְשִׂמְחַת תּוֹרָה, שֶׁאֵינוֹ אֲפִלּוּ חִיּוּב מִדִּבְרֵי סוֹפְרִים אֶלָּא מִנְהַג יִשְׂרָאֵל, גָּדְלָה עוֹד יוֹתֵר (כְּמִנְהַג יִשְׂרָאֵל) אֲפִלּוּ מִשִּׂמְחַת בֵּית הַשּׁוֹאֵבָה,

The rationale for this is explained as follows: The deeper and greater the rejoicing, the lesser the strength of the obligation. When there is an obligation incumbent upon a person, that obligation itself is like an external factor that compels him, as it were, to do what he is commanded. Therefore, as the strength of the obligation is lessened, the more inward is the source of the happiness in the heart and the deeper its roots within the soul.

וּמְבֹאָר בְּזֶה, דְּהִיא הַנּוֹתֶנֶת – שֶׁכְּכֹל שֶׁהַשִּׂמְחָה עֲמֻקָּה וּגְדוֹלָה יוֹתֵר, כָּךְ מִתְמַעֵט תֹּקֶף הַחִיּוּב, כִּי כַּאֲשֶׁר יֵשׁ צִוּוּי עַל הָאָדָם, הֲרֵי זֶה גוּפָא כְּמוֹ סִבָּה מִבְּחוּץ שֶׁכְּאִלּוּ מַכְרִיחָה אוֹתוֹ לַעֲשׂוֹת מַה שֶּׁנִּצְטַוָּה. וְלָכֵן כְּכֹל שֶׁמִּתְמַעֵט תֹּקֶף הַחִיּוּב, הֲרֵי הַשִּׂמְחָה שֶׁבְּלֵב הִיא פְּנִימִית יוֹתֵר וּמְקוֹרָהּ בְּעֹמֶק הַנֶּפֶשׁ.

Similar concepts apply regarding teshuvah. Since complete and true teshuvah comes from the very essence of the soul – for only that inner core is the source from which new vitality is drawn down to heal the blemish in the limbs of the soul – therefore, there is no commandment for this mitzvah.57 Only when a person turns to G‑d in teshuvah while motivated solely by his free choice – not even because he seeks to fulfill the commandment of the Torah – does he show that his teshuvah stems from the depths of his heart and the very essence of his soul.

וְכֵן הוּא בְּעִנְיַן הַתְּשׁוּבָה, דְּכֵיוָן שֶׁתְּשׁוּבָה שְׁלֵמָה וַאֲמִתִּית בָּאָה מֵעֶצֶם הַנֶּפֶשׁ (שֶׁרַק מִשָּׁם נִמְשָׁךְ חַיּוּת חָדָשׁ לְמַלֹּאת הַפְּגַם בְּאֵבְרֵי הַנֶּפֶשׁ), לָכֵן אֵין צִוּוּי עַל מִצְוָה זוֹמז, כִּי רַק כְּשֶׁהָאָדָם עוֹשֶׂה תְּשׁוּבָה בִּבְחִירָתוֹ הַחָפְשִׁית לְגַמְרֵי (אֲפִלּוּ לֹא מֵחֲמַת צִוּוּי הַתּוֹרָה), הֲרֵי זוֹ רְאָיָה שֶׁהַתְּשׁוּבָה הִיא מֵעוּמְקָא דְלִבָּא וְעֶצֶם הַנֶּפֶשׁ מַמָּשׁ.

On this basis, it is possible to clarify the reason why Rambam included the explanation of the fundamental principle of free choice specifically in Hilchos Teshuvah.58 Seemingly, since it is, “A great fundamental principle… the pillar of the Torah and [its] mitzv[os],59 i.e., the pillar of the entire Torah and all its mitzvos, it would appear more appropriate to have included these explanations in Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah where Rambam discusses Judaism’s fundamental principles of faith. Nevertheless, he focuses on it in Hilchos Teshuvah because free choice is intrinsically related with turning to G‑d in teshuvah, since complete teshuvah is possible only when it stems from the essence of the soul, as explained above. An indication that a person’s actions or feelings stem from the essence of his soul is when they entirely result from his free choice, without any external influence.60 By contrast, when it comes to other mitzvos, free choice is relevant only with regard to the concepts of reward and punishment,61 as explained in another source.62

[וְעַל פִּי זֶה יֵשׁ לְבָאֵר גַּם הַטַּעַם שֶׁהָרַמְבַּ"ם הִכְנִיס הָ"עִקָּר" דִּבְחִירָה חָפְשִׁית בְּהִלְכוֹת תְּשׁוּבָה דַּוְקָאמח, אַף עַל פִּי שֶׁהוּא "עִקָּר גָּדוֹל . . וְהוּא עַמּוּד הַתּוֹרָה וְהַמִּצְוָה"מט, הַיְנוּ עַמּוּד כָּל הַתּוֹרָה וּמִצְוֹת, וְלִכְאוֹרָה הֲוָה לֵיהּ לַהֲבִיאוֹ בְּהִלְכוֹת יְסוֹדֵי הַתּוֹרָה – כִּי עִנְיַן הַבְּחִירָה חָפְשִׁית שַׁיָּךְ לְגוּף עֲשִׂיַּת הַתְּשׁוּבָה, לְפִי שֶׁתְּשׁוּבָה שְׁלֵמָה הִיא כְּשֶׁבָּאָה מֵעֶצֶם הַנֶּפֶשׁ כַּנַּ"ל, וְהַבְּחִינָה עַל עִנְיָן הַבָּא מֵעֶצֶם הַנֶּפֶשׁ הִיא – כְּשֶׁבָּא כְּתוֹצָאָה מִבְּחִירָה חָפְשִׁית לְגַמְרֵי, בְּלִי סִבָּה מִבְּחוּץנ (מַה שֶּׁאֵין כֵּן בִּשְׁאָר הַמִּצְוֹת, שֶׁעִנְיַן הַבְּחִירָה נוֹגֵעַ רַק לְעִנְיַן שָׂכָר וְעֹנֶשׁנא ), וּכְמוֹ שֶׁנִּתְבָּאֵר בְּמָקוֹם אַחֵרנב ].

Connecting Our Inner Essence with Our Conscious Selves


Nevertheless, the conception of Rambam and the Alter Rebbe is that, according to halachah, teshuvah is a mitzvah, and moreover, an individual mitzvah, included in the enumeration of the mitzvos, i.e., as part of the mitzvah of confession, teshuvah being the component of thought of that mitzvah, and confession, the component of speech, as explained above, secs. 1 and 2.


אַף עַל פִּי כֵן שִׁיטַת הָרַמְבַּ"ם (וְאַדְמוּ"ר הַזָּקֵן) לַהֲלָכָה הִיא שֶׁתְּשׁוּבָה הִיאמִצְוָה, וְעוֹד זֹאת – שֶׁהִיא מִצְוָה פְּרָטִית הַנִּמְנֵית בְּמִנְיַן הַמִּצְווֹתלד (שֶׁהִיא חֵלֶק מִמִּצְוַת וִדּוּי, אֶלָּא שֶׁזּוֹ בְּמַחֲשָׁבָה וְזוֹ בְּדִבּוּר, כַּנַּ"ל).

To clarify how teshuvah can simultaneously reflect the essential will of the soul that is above association with a particular mitzvah and also be counted as a particular mitzvah: As explained in several sources,63 our Sages’64 expression, “teshuvah and good deeds,” is interpreted to mean that, through teshuvah, the actions a person carries out become “good and bright deeds,” because teshuvah introduces vitality to the observance of the Torah and its mitzvos. This is not an additional element of teshuvah. Instead, it is the ultimate purpose and goal of teshuvah – to bring a person additional vitality in his Divine service of observing the Torah and its mitzvos.

וְיֵשׁ לוֹמַר הַבֵּאוּר בְּזֶה:

מְבֹאָר בְּכַמָּה מְקוֹמוֹתנג בְּפֵרוּשׁ לְשׁוֹן חַזַ"ל "תְּשׁוּבָה וּמַעֲשִׂים טוֹבִים" – שֶׁעַל יְדֵי הַתְּשׁוּבָה נַעֲשִׂים מַעֲשֵׂי הָאָדָם "מַעֲשִׂים טוֹבִים וּמְאִירִים", כִּי הַתְּשׁוּבָה מַכְנִיסָה חַיּוּת בְּקִיּוּם הַתּוֹרָה וְהַמִּצְווֹת. וְאֵין זֶה דָּבָר נוֹסָף בְּעִנְיַן הַתְּשׁוּבָה, אֶלָּא זוֹהִי הַתַּכְלִית וְהַמַּטָּרָה שֶׁל תְּשׁוּבָה – לְהָבִיא אֶת הָאָדָם לְתוֹסֶפֶת חַיּוּת בַּעֲבוֹדָתוֹ בְּקִיּוּם הַתּוֹרָה וְהַמִּצְווֹת.

The intent is that65 the nature of teshuvah is such that it can possibly motivate a person to desire to flee from this world – a world that is “mostly, indeed, almost entirely evil,” “[one] in which the wicked prevail.”66 After a person has stumbled and become involved with the evil of the world and then realized its pettiness, when he turns to G‑d in teshuvah, he may be aroused to flee from the world, which is “death and evil” and desire to return to G‑d in the most simple sense.67 As indicated by the verse, “the spirit will return to G‑d Who endowed it,”68 he may desire death, as we see with regard to the teshuvah of Rabbi Elazar ben Durdaya,69 who “lowered his head between his knees and wept exceedingly, until his soul expired.” He felt such great regret for his evil actions that he was motivated by a desire to separate himself from the evil of this world, to the extent that his soul expired.

כְּלוֹמַרנד : תְּכוּנַת הַתְּשׁוּבָה הִיא, שֶׁיְּכוֹלָה לְהָבִיא אֶת הָאָדָם לִידֵי רָצוֹן "לִבְרוֹחַ" מֵעוֹלָם הַזֶּה (שֶׁרֻבּוֹ כְּכֻלּוֹ רָע וְהָרְשָׁעִים גּוֹבְרִים בּוֹנה ). דִּלְאַחֲרֵי שֶׁהָאָדָם נִכְשַׁל בְּהָרָע שֶׁבָּעוֹלָם וּמַרְגִּישׁ גֹּדֶל פְּחִיתוּתוֹ, הֲרֵי בַּעֲשִׂיַּת תְּשׁוּבָה מִתְעוֹרֵר בּוֹ הָרָצוֹן לִבְרוֹחַ מִן הָעוֹלָם שֶׁהוּא מָוֶת וְרָע וְלָשׁוּב אֶל ה' כִּפְשׁוּטוֹ, "וְהָרוּחַ תָּשׁוּב אֶל הָאֱלֹקִים אֲשֶׁר נְתָנָהּ"נו. וְכִדְמָצִינוּ בִּתְשׁוּבַת רַבִּי אֶלְעָזָר בֶּן דּוּרְדַיָּאנז, שֶׁ"הִנִּיחַ רֹאשׁוֹ בֵּין בִּרְכָּיו וְגָעָה בִּבְכִיָּה עַד שֶׁיָּצְתָה נִשְׁמָתוֹ", שֶׁהִתְחָרֵט כָּל כָּךְ עַל מַעֲשֵׂי הָרָע שֶׁלּוֹ, וְנִתְעוֹרְרָה בּוֹ הַתְּשׁוּקָה לְהִפָּרֵד מֵהָרָע שֶׁבָּעוֹלָם הַזֶּה, עַד שֶׁ"יָּצְתָה נִשְׁמָתוֹ".

Therefore, with their expression, “teshuvah and good deeds,” our Sages emphasized that teshuvah must introduce light and vitality to one’s good deeds. The teshuvah of Rabbi Elazar ben Durdaya was an exception.70 Instead, the desirable form of teshuvah must not lead to a person’s soul departing the world. On the contrary, it should arouse a person to desire and seek to increase his involvement in the Torah and the performance of good deeds while living in this world.71

וְלָכֵן הִדְגִּישׁוּ חַזַ"ל שֶׁתְּשׁוּבָה צְרִיכָה לִהְיוֹת בְּאֹפֶן שֶׁמַּכְנִיסָה "אוֹר וְחַיּוּת" בְּמַעֲשִׂים טוֹבִים, כִּי תְּשׁוּבַת רַבִּי אֶלְעָזָר בֶּן דּוּרְדַיָּא הָיְתָה רַק הוֹרָאַת שָׁעָהנח, אֲבָל דֶּרֶךְ הַתְּשׁוּבָה צָרִיךְ לִהְיוֹת בְּאֹפֶן שֶׁלֹּא תָבִיא אֶת הָאָדָם לִידֵי יְצִיאַת נִשְׁמָתוֹ מִן הָעוֹלָם, אֶלָּא אַדְּרַבָּה, תְּשׁוּבָה צְרִיכָה לְעוֹרֵר בָּאָדָם תְּשׁוּקָה וְחֵפֶץ לְהוֹסִיף בַּתּוֹרָה וּמַעֲשִׂים טוֹבִים בִּהְיוֹתוֹ נְשָׁמָה בְּגוּף דַּוְקָאנט.

Even regarding the teshuvah of Rabbi Elazar ben Durdaya, there is a well-known statement of the Arizal:72

It is difficult to understand how he [merited to] enter the World to Come since he did not amass good deeds [during his lifetime…. The mitzvos that a person performs in this world serve as garments for the soul in the World to Come.] With what would [the soul of Rabbi Elazar ben Durdaya] be clothed, for a person cannot enter that realm if he does not have a garment fashioned from [his] good deeds…? However, he was a reincarnation of Yochanan the Kohen Gadol, who served in that position for 80 years and ultimately became a Sadducee….73 The garment that Yochanan the Kohen Gadol fashioned from all the good deeds that he amassed in those 80 years was taken by Rabbi Elazar.

From these statements, it is evident that the feelings of teshuvah alone are not powerful enough to enable a person to enter the World to Come, but rather good deeds are necessary.

[וְגַם בַּנּוֹגֵעַ לִתְשׁוּבַת רַבִּי אֶלְעָזָר בֶּן דּוּרְדַיָּא, יָדוּעַ מַה שֶּׁכָּתַב הָאֲרִיזַ"לס "וְקָשֶׁה אַחַר שֶׁלֹּא סִגֵּל מַעֲשִׂים טוֹבִים הַאֵיךְ בָּא לָעוֹלָם הַבָּא . . בַּמֶּה יִתְכַּסֶּה שֶׁאֵין אָדָם יָכוֹל לִכָּנֵס שָׁמָּה אִם לֹא יִהְיֶה לוֹ לְבוּשׁ הַנַּעֲשֶׂה מִמַּעֲשִׂים טוֹבִים . . אֶלָּא זֶהוּ גִּלְגּוּל יוֹחָנָן כֹּהֵן גָּדוֹל שֶׁשִּׁמֵּשׁ פ' שָׁנָה בִּכְהֻנָּה גְדוֹלָה וּלְבַסּוֹף נַעֲשָׂה צְדוֹקִי . . הַלְּבוּשׁ שֶׁעָשָׂה יוֹחָנָן כֹּהֵן גָּדוֹל בְּכָל הַמַּעֲשִׂים טוֹבִים אֲשֶׁר סִגֵּל פ' שָׁנִים לְקָחוֹ רַבִּי אֶלְעָזָר" – הֲרֵי שֶׁרֶגֶשׁ הַתְּשׁוּבָה לְבָד אֵין בְּכֹחוֹ לְהַכְנִיס אֶת הָאָדָם לָעוֹלָם הַבָּא, וּצְרִיכִים דַּוְקָא מַעֲשִׂים טוֹבִים].

This is the inner reason why even teshuvah in one’s heart is a specific mitzvah: This emphasizes that even though in essence the nature of teshuvah transcends all the mitzvos – and indeed, transcends the entire concept of being commanded, as explained above – nevertheless, teshuvah should not remain on a level above individual mitzvos, i.e., it should not be limited to feeling regret and a general and encompassing desire to return to G‑d. Instead, the excitement of teshuvah must motivate a person to additional vitality in the observance of individual mitzvos, and in this way, heal the blemishes in the limbs of his soul. Teshuvah thus leads to good deeds.

וְזֶהוּ גַּם הַטַּעַם הַפְּנִימִי שֶׁגַּם הַתְּשׁוּבָה שֶׁבְּלֵב הִיא מִצְוָה פְּרָטִית – כִּי בְּזֶה בָּא לִידֵי הַדְגָּשָׁה, דְּאַף עַל פִּי שֶׁעֶצֶם עִנְיָנָהּ וְגִדְרָהּ הוּא לְמַעְלָה מִכָּל הַמִּצְווֹת (וּלְמַעְלָה מֵעִנְיַן הַצִּוּוּי בִּכְלָל, כַּנַּ"ל), מִכָּל מָקוֹם, אֵין תְּשׁוּבָה צְרִיכָה לִהְיוֹת בְּאֹפֶן שֶׁנִּשְׁאֲרָה "לְמַעְלָה" מִמִּצְוֹת פְּרָטִיּוֹת, דְּהַיְנוּ רֶגֶשׁ שֶׁל חֲרָטָה וְרָצוֹן לָשׁוּב אֶל ה' בְּאֹפֶן "כְּלָלִי", אֶלָּא הַהִתְלַהֲבוּת דִּתְשׁוּבָה צְרִיכָה לִהְיוֹת בְּאֹפֶן שֶׁתָּבִיא אֶת הָאָדָם לִידֵי תּוֹסֶפֶת חַיּוּת בְּקִיּוּם מִצְווֹת פְּרָטִיּוֹת (וְעַל יְדֵי זֶה – לְתַקֵּן הַפְּגַם שֶׁבְּאֵבְרֵי הַנֶּפֶשׁ), "תְּשׁוּבָה וּמַעֲשִׂים טוֹבִים" דַּוְקָא.

Adapted from sichos delivered on the 20th of Av and Shabbos Parshas Eikev, 5728 (1968)
Likkutei Sichos, Volume 38, P. 18ff.

(משיחות כ׳ מנ״א וש״פ עקב תשכ״ח)
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