Thursday, September 11, 2003
A parable of teshuvah, for Elul:
It is said of the four who entered the Garden, and gazed: one died; one went mad; one became apostate; and one departed in peace. What did they see?
At the entrance to the Garden stands an angel, and he brandishes a whirling, flaming sword. For what purpose does he wield this sword?
For our righteous deeds, we are promised a share in the world to come. But for our transgressions, we are punished in the world to come. How can this be? For who among us is wholly righteous?
Some have said that when righteousness outweighs villainy, he merits a share, but when it is less, he is judged wanting. But can the man who steals from the orphan atone by giving to the widow?
We are our deeds. Our righteous deeds adorn us; our transgressions are blemishes. The dead approach the garden, and the angel faces them with the sword. And with a burning stroke, he cuts out the blemishes of their transgressions, and leaves their flesh gaping. For we are told, that none with a blemish may approach the Lord (Vayikra 21:23), and none with a blemish may be offered (Vayikra 22:20).
But their flesh gapes, for there is no Experience in the next world, no way for souls to heal the wounds of the angel's sword.
And this, perhaps, is what the four saw there, the maimed and crippled souls stumbling in Paradise.
The tongues that gossiped, the lips that spoke falsely, the eyes that coveted: cut out.
The hands that struck in anger, the fingers that stole, the legs that ran to do evil: lopped off.
And the poor souls who huddled in the dark, who buried themselves in their caves, so fearful of evil that they hesitated to do good; pale souls who pass almost unnoticed through the byways of the garden, they live in the poor houses that their deeds built while they lived.
Who would not die, go mad, or lose their faith, gazing at stumps of the saved?
Achim! The flaming sword is waiting for you, not at the end but now, and you weild it yourselves. Cut out these blemishes while the wounds have time to heal, the limbs to grow anew, in righteous activity!
(But do I listen to my own words? . . . )