Everybody knows, everybody knows, that there are two ways to better your life. You can improve yourself from fear or from love.
You can decide that you want to live by a higher standard from now on because you’re afraid of the consequences if you don’t. Or you would like to feel better or get more reward. That is very sweet.
But then there is the option to live a more holy life but to decide that, with no strings attached. You want a new way because that fits you best. Because that’s acknowledging the highest truth you know. You don’t love because it pays. True love is for free, without wanting to gain anything.
When you repent from fear, all your past sins are wiped out. It never happened. This is fantastic. (If you wronged others, of course, you first need to compensate for what you did to them and assure their forgiveness. But after that, G^d erases the sin.)
But, when you repent from love, it gets even better. All your guilt becomes merit. You didn’t go astray. You did everything exactly to bring you to where you are today. You actually already always, lived in keeping with your new you.
What does that mean?
It means that in the first case, you’re not ever again reminded of your old mistakes. They won’t bug you or bring you down. A clean past. No worry.
But in the second case, your old mistakes are with you all the time and they push you up, not down. Everything you ever did lead to who you are today. It was all for the best.
Meeting an old friend
You might run into an old friend who says: Look at you! I remember you quite differently. Don’t you pretend to me, I know exactly who you are.
Maybe, he spotted a trifle of arrogance that prompted him to bring you to more humility for your sake. Or maybe, he wasn’t feeling well and didn’t realize that such a remark could be hard to handle.
If you repented from fear, such a reminder can be unpleasant. The Rabbis teach we should never say such a thing. Even if your high school diploma has only straight A’s, who knows what would happen if you had to redo the tests? Even after a day. Let alone, after years. There are no guarantees.
But, if you repented from love, you say to your friend, thank you for reminding me. Yes, I’m so proud of my hard work. And happy with these memories. They help me realize and appreciate each day and every second how good I have it now. Thank you for the reminder. May I give you a hug?
So, if you’re ever unpleasantly reminded of old mistakes, decide to own them. Don’t run away from the past any longer but embrace it. Don’t float. Stand steady on a solid bed of memories. Thank you for reminding me.
Really, I was never obligated, once I found how to do everything from love. Obligations are for when we forget what we really would like to do, who we really like to be, who we really are. I don’t have to. I want.
Inspired by The Torah Commentary of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, 2013, Urim, Volume Genesis II, page 54. May the whole series appear in print soon.