"and you will return to G‑d your L-rd…"

"A man should not say, 'When I come to that world, I will then beg mercy of the King and return before Him' for 'there is neither deed nor design, neither knowledge nor wisdom in She'ol'1." (Ecclesiastes 9:10) Rather, one should strive in this world…for once one leaves this world to be judged by the strong judgment of Purgatory — there is neither method nor wisdom to escape from judgment…" (Zohar)
...one can go from the depths of impurity to the heights of holiness in an instant.

When it comes to the matter of teshuva, there is a great difference between this world and the next. In this world, one can go from the depths of impurity to the heights of holiness in an instant. "There is he that acquires his World in one moment," says the Talmud. (Avoda Zara 17a)

[…in an instant, as Rebbe — compiler of the Mishna — commented on the teshuva of Rabbi Elazar son of Durdaya, a relentless hedonist and remorseless sinner: "One who betroths a woman on the condition that he is completely righteous, she is considered betrothed…." (Kidushin 49b) When Rabbi Elazar son of Durdaya was finally inspired to teshuva he asked the mountains and valleys, heaven and earth, the sun and the moon to pray for him. They all replied2 that they had their own issues. Said he, "The matter is dependent upon me alone." He then placed his head between his knees and cried until his soul departed. A heavenly voice proclaimed: "R' Elazar son of Durdaya is fit for the life of the World to Come." Rebbe cried and said: "There is he that acquires his World over many years and there is he that acquires his World in one moment."

The teshuva of Rabbi Elazar is often seen as the quintessential case of teshuva. (see Tanya chapter 43)]

Not so in the world to come. After death, teshuva achieves nothing. The sinner must undergo various purification processes including Purgatory before he can merit ascent into the Garden of Eden.

But in this world he can absolve himself of the need for any such purification in one moment: a moment in which he effects sincere teshuva in his heart and thereby acquires a place in the next world to take pleasure in the radiance of the Divine.

What is the reason for this difference?

Briefly, it may be explained as follows. This world is created through the attribute of kindness, as in the verse: "the world is built of kindness" (Psalms 89:3) whereas the spiritual world is created through gevura, severity. the soul is only privy to a filtered and veiled level of light

For in the world to come, the Divine radiance is revealed in a manner that can be apprehended by creatures. The soul is thus able to take pleasure in an awareness of the Divine. However, the soul is only privy to a filtered and veiled level of light, since a direct and unadorned light would not be palatable to a finite creature such as the soul. Thus the world to come is seen as a world of gevura--restriction and filtering. The degree of revelation in the world to come is called mimalei kol almin, a light that fills the worlds, and in the language of Kabbala: 'ohr pnimi', a light that enters and adapts to its recipient.

In this world, on the other hand, Divinity cannot be apprehended. For its light is a higher light; it is not adapted in a manner that would allow the creatures of this world to apprehend it. This light is called sovev kol almin, a light that "surrounds" the world because it cannot be absorbed by it. In the language of Kabbala: 'ohr makif', the surrounding light, one that transcends any rules or boundaries.

[The spiritual world is one of clarity and awareness of G‑d, but it is an awareness of a mere reflection of G‑d, since an awareness of G‑d's essence is impossible. In the physical world, by contrast there is very little awareness of G‑d. G‑d is nearly entirely concealed, even His radiance. However, the physical world is host to the light of the essence of G‑d — albeit in a completely concealed manner — and one can access that energy through Torah and teshuva.

Generally in Chasidut it is explained that specifically the physical world that hosts the essence of G‑d because it takes the essence of G‑d to create to create physical reality. The spiritual realms are created from emanations of Divinity, not G‑d's essence. Here, the Tzemach Tzedek sees the presence of the essence of G‑d in the fact that we are capable of raising the "fallen sparks of Tohu" and turning darkness to light—an endeavor that would be impossible without the presence of G‑d's essence.] "I saw a backward world. The lofty ones are below and the lowly ones are above."

To delve into this deeper. The world to come is called a refined world, as in the Talmudic phrase, "you have seen a refined world." (Pesachim 50a)

[The Talmud relates the following incident: R' Yosef son of R' Yehoshua son of Levi once took ill and fell into a coma. When he returned, his father asked him, "What did you see?" He replied, "I saw a backward world. The lofty ones are below and the lowly ones are above." His father said to him, "My son, you have seen a clear world." That is, what appears in this world to be lofty is often revealed to be lowly in the world of clarity.]

It is a world where all has found its place, where nebulous potential has acquired distinct features. Like the limbs of the body — head, hands, feet, even hair and nails — each one is distinct from the other. The foot cannot become a head.

By contrast, this world exists in a pre-refined state. And it is the task of man to bring order to it through elevating the sparks of pure good that have "fallen" from the world of Tohu and are enmeshed in darkness.

Now the ability to refine and elevate the sparks of holiness stems from the power of the transcendent light of sovev kol almin, which is an expression of the Ein Sof, the essence of G‑d. And because this world operates on the level of transcendence—beyond natural channels — it is possible to turn darkness to light by drawing from the level where darkness and light are equal.

This idea is expressed in the statement: "He who told oil to burn will tell vinegar to burn" (Taanis 25a) or the opposite phenomenon expressed in the verse, "He who turns the rock into a stream of water."3 (Cf. Psalms (114:8)

[Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa, one of the sages of the Mishna, was an extraordinarily pious individual. He was also extremely poor. The Talmud tells of various occasions when he and his family were visited by miraculous phenomenon, as in the following story. One Friday evening, at twilight, Rabbi Chanina noticed that his daughter seemed sad. "My daughter," he said, "why are you sad?" She replied, "I mistook a container of vinegar for a container of oil and I lit the Shabbat lamp with it." He said to her, "My daughter, why does it bother you? He who told oil to burn will tell vinegar to burn." And, indeed, the flame burned throughout the entire Shabbat.] He who causes the properties of oil to produce fire can cause the properties of vinegar to produce fire.

This can be compared to the seminal drop, which while in the mother's womb has the G‑d-given capacity to develop into a complete body with 248 limbs and 365 sinews etc. Now just as G‑d gives it the capacity to develop a head from one particular aspect of it, He can just as easily cause a foot to develop from that aspect.

Similarly in the realm of vegetation. G‑d places the power of growth in the earth. This power stems from the energy of the various permutations of the letters of the words "tadshei ha'aretz" — "let the earth sprout forth…," which are present in the earth always (as stated in Tanya part II in the name of the Baal Shem Tov of blessed memory). This power allows the earth to produce a fine fruit from a seed. And just as He gave the power to produce a fruit from a seed to begin with, He can turn things around and cause an inferior seed to produce high quality fruits, as is known.

This is the meaning of "He who told…," i.e. He who causes the properties of oil to produce fire can cause the properties of vinegar to produce fire. This is possible because this world exists in a pre-refined state and is therefore host to sovev kol almin, which can achieve anything. The world to come, however, is already refined and is therefore compared to a fully grown child or apple, which contain only a minimal amount of life-force by which it remains in existence. The power of formation, however, which formed it, is already gone. Each aspect is therefore set and fixed.

Similarly, in the world to come all is fixed and teshuva is therefore inconsequential there. One cannot be transformed from one level to the next. Thus if a person leaves this world with soiled "clothing," surrounded by meaningless thoughts, words and deeds, he must undergo various cleansing processes. This world, however, where sovev is present for the purpose of elevating the sparks, one is capable of achieving transformation and healing through teshuva.

May the Almighty indeed return us in complete teshuva before Him, for He desires teshuva

Adapted by Rabbi Yosef Marcus from a discourse in Derech Mitzvotecha, pp. 78-80
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