Shema and Penitence
By Rabbi Dovid E. Eidensohn
We want to cover two Torah teachings. One is the passage in Shema ואהבת את השם אלקיך. Why is there the word את? Let it just say “Love HaShem”?
The second Torah teaching is the Zohar in the beginning of Yisro. The Zohar quotes Yisro as saying “Now I know that HaShem is the true G‑d.” For some reason after the disciples of Rebbe Shimon compliment him strongly on his teaching, they become very emotional, even discussing what life will be like when Rabbi Shimon dies, and concluding that his teachings will descend from the other world.
Let us answer the first passage why there is the word ESS. The rabbis ask this question and explain that The ESS is added to require us to love one’s rebbe or Torah teacher. Now that seems to be an incredible thing. Can a human being, even a teacher of Torah, be put in the same passage as HaShem?
First the answer to the first question why we are commanded not just to love HaShem but to love ESS meaning an additional thing. What additional thing is there that we are commanded to love? The rabbis say we are commanded to love HaShem and His Torah scholars. But a Torah scholar is far removed from HaShem. What does all of this mean?
Let us imagine that there is a beginning Torah student, and he has a very great rabbi. If we tell this student to love his rebbe, he has no problems with it. Because the rebbe is a person and his powers and problems are known and understood by people, even the beginning Torah student, with at least basic understanding.
However, when HaShem commands us to love HaShem, we have a problem. None of us including Moshe Rabbeinu ever saw HaShem. Moshe prayed to see HaShem and was shown a bit of HaShem’s tephilin. But not HaShem himself. Of course, even if HaShem wanted to show Himself to us, who among us has the eyes and the brain to absorb what he sees? Nobody, not even the greatest angel. Therefore, how can we love something we cannot possibly even see, not totally and not part of Him?
Therefore, the ESS is added to include rabbis and Torah scholars. Because as we love our rabbis and Torah scholars, Torah enters our hearts and heads, and once Torah enters our soul, the Torah brings with it miraculously, the love of HaShem. That is why there is a Torah. We cannot know HaShem, but if we know Torah, the Torah brings us, to some degree, depending on how well we learn, to know HaShem and love and fear Him. Thus, when the Torah tells us to love HaShem, it must add that we must do this by loving rabbis and Torah scholars. Then Torah enters our hearts and our souls, and we can come from loving Torah to loving HaShem.
Now we turn to our next question. Why does the Zohar make such amazing comments when Rabbi Shimon tells us about Yisro? It is because he was once the greatest pagan and then saw the truth and worshipped HaShem. To understand this we must understand a rule taught by the Kabbalists, that when HaShem created Adam He created his lofty soul and prepared him for the greatest holiness. But there was something else. He prepared Adam for the greatest Tumo and evil. Before Adam was brought by HaShem into this world and the Garden of Eden, Adam had to pass down from the high heavens, and on the way, he was accosted by an angel of evil, designed to tempt mortals and bring them to sin. It seems that this woman become pregnant from Adam! After Adam came into the world and was in the Garden of Eden, got expelled because of the snake and Eve, Adam refused to go near his wife for a long time. He lived alone and every night that same evil angel came to Adam and made him do terrible sins, giving birth to many evil demons. What do we learn from this? We learn from this that HaShem created people to achieve the highest heavens only after they pass through the greatest temptations and evils.
This is why the Zohar was so enthused about Yisro when he confessed that he was once the greatest pagan but now strongly believes in HaShem. Yisro without being a pagan is “light from light” which is less powerful than “Light from darkness.” But the pure darkness of being the greatest pagan in the world has a power to reveal the greatest light. For this the Zohar waxes greatly enthusiastic when Rebbe Shimon revealed that Yisro who was once the greatest pagan but repented that belief, was able to find the greatest levels. Yisro was “light from darkness” which is greater than “Light from light.” Yisro merited to be the father-in-law of Moshe, and merited to have the Ten Commandments and the Torah revealed in his parsha, Parshas Yisro. He achieved this mighty level because of his earlier worship of the idols more than others did. The Torah is filled with darkness and the pious enter the darkness with penitence, with Teshuva, and struggle until they turn the black denseness into the greatest and holiest light. Thus all of us are afflicted with darkness and sin to some degree, and when we determine to repent, our darkness turns to the greatest light. For this a human being was created, to struggle with darkness and to repent and then to merit light from darkness, the highest level.
This does not mean that HaShem requires all people to sin terribly in order to merit paradise and higher levels. Some people are tempted and conquer the temptation and they are tsaddikim who don’t sin and maybe never sinned. The gemora and the Ari z”l said that some people only died because it was decreed on all people to die, but they had never sinned. But everybody has temptations. Some resist and some fail. But everyone can repent and find Paradise.