Insights from Rabbi Gordon
So these are still some notes from past lessons, as I now happen to have a communist literature class that conflicts with my old schedule of Mon. nights at the Rabbi’s shiur. (In the future I’ll be doing write-ups from the recordings of Rabbi Gordon’s class thanks to asserted efforts by Hebrew lecturer, Tammi Benjamin.)
Somehow our class had lent itself to the subject of Tshuvah or repentance. (Get it lent itself--repentance, a Catholic thing, whatever--okay that was a pretty lame joke anyway and this is supposed to be a serious class I’m reviewing…) When person does complete Tshuvah, the Tshuvah is so powerful that the person’s particular sin from past is transcended into a merit on the individual’s part. “It’s like Hashem goes back in time and tinkers with the existence of the aveirah (sin) and now somehow it works out to be a merit on the individual’s record,” the rabbi explained.
The Talmud brings in Yecheskil: “when a rasha (a wicked person) departs from his evil behavior and does justice and righteousness, then by them he will live” (I hope I quoted this right.) This is what it means when we say in our blessings: ‘asher kidshanu b’mitzvosav…’ ‘who has sustained us in His Mitzvos…’ The implication of this and the word in for ‘in His Mitzvos’ is that people need to live for the Mitzvos and not die by them. (The only exception to this is when there’s an instance which involves what Judaism views as the 3 cardinal sins: murder, rape and idolatry: for each of these, death takes precedence over the act—for example if someone stuck a gun to you and said either you do one of these 3 things or I kill you, Halakhicly it is best to be killed).
Furthermore, the exhortation is to live within your Mitzvos. R. Chayim Vilozner asks, what does Yecheskil mean? Somehow the debate led to: ‘by’ them (as opposed to ‘in them’) would be referring to the aveirot (the restraints) rather than the positive Mitvos. So why does it say “in them?” This was followed by a deep discussion on the Hebrew ‘aleichem’ and ‘Bahem’ and questions about Yecheskil. As you can see I do not recall all of the details, but I remember it was resolved with: only Tshuvah can reverse the aveirahs (and not the tons of positive mitzvahs that went unperformed). But when a person does all the Mitvahs to the full extent (shleima), perfectly, then (if I’m not mistaken) the unperformed positive Mitzvahs can also be amended for.
The Rabbi later delved into the Kabbalistic Zohar and somehow tied in an analogy to the chariot of the patriarchs as a vehicle for Hashem’s presence, but I think this is enough for now.