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Thought for the Day: Ba'alei T'shuva Must Take Special Precautions To Remain Standing Higher

It is said that R' Berel Wein says that while not all of his stories happened, they are all true.  Whether or not he actually said, that I agree with the sentiment.  And so...

A ba'al tshuva who lived in Bnei Brak (transplanted from America somewhere) was once interviewed by a reporter for the non-religious Israeli press.  She pointed to a group of children who had never been outside of their religious neighborhood and asked him, "Who is more tempted to leave the confines of this sheltered neighborhood; you or them?"  He surprised her by answering, "They have a much bigger nisayon than I do!  They think there is something interesting out there, but I've been there and know that there is nothing of value there at all."

This story pleases us because it validates our surface understanding of Chazal's statement that in place that ba'alei t'shuva stand, not even the wholly righteous can stand.  (And don't forget the added benefit of a nice shtuch to the non-religious press!)  However, there is one wee little problem... the Rabeinu Yona on Avos.  Rabeinu Yona there explains that a tzadikim g'murim do not need to stand with the tight discipline required of a ba'al t'shuva.  A ba'al t'shuva needs those extra restrictions because he has a revealed weakness and must therefore take extra precautions in those areas where he has already suffered a misstep.

I have heard that Rabeinu Yona explained as arguing on the usual understanding.  I always felt, though, that it was not so much of an argument as another dimension.  I have now found support for that feeling in the Rambam, Hilchos T'shuva, Chapter 4.  The Rambam in Halacha 5 there discusses things that hinder t'shuva and ends by noting that all Jews must be on the vigil and constantly conduct themselves according to the dictates of Hilchos Dei'os -- and all the more so ba'alei t'shuva! (Emphasis mine, of course.)  With all that, the Rambam in Chapter 7, Halacha 3 extols the exalted level of the ba'al t'shuva, as noted by Chazal, that in a place where ba'alei t'shuva stand, not even the wholly righteous can stand.  Anyone who has davened at Brisk as long as I have knows that the Rambam does not contradict himself.  So what's p'shat?

To be a ba'al t'shuva requires two prerequisites.  One, obviously, is to to t'shuva.  The other, equally obvious actually, is that he must have sinned; otherwise he would have nothing for which to do t'shuva.  The work to do t'shuva has brought him to a higher level.  The fact that he has sinned reveals a weakness.  True, it is that weakness which allowed him to ascend to the level of a ba'al t'shuva, but equally true is that he has a weakness.

The ba'al tshuva stands higher and more disciplined than that tzadik gamur.  Higher by virtue of his victory in triumphing over the evil within.  More disciplined to guard that vulnerable area of his spiritual sheath.


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