By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz
The Gemara in Maseches Avodah Zarah (8a) relates that on the day that Adam Harishon was created, when the sun set and it became dark, having never seen this occurrence before, Adam remarked that it was because of his sin that the world turned black. He feared that the world was about to be destroyed and would return to the tohu vavohu that existed before creation. The Gemara relates that Adam and Chava cried the whole night and engaged in taanis. [This may be understood according to the Gemara in Maseches Taanis 16a, which says that the main component of a taanis, fast, is teshuvah.] In the morning, when the sky began lighting up again, Adam said that it is the way of the world – the sun sets in the evening and rises in the morning. He was so overjoyed with his discovery that he brought a korban.
I learned this Gemara and didn’t understand it. If Adam was up all night crying and doing teshuvah, then when he saw the sky begin to brighten, why didn’t he think that his teshuvah was accepted and that the world would remain constantly bright? Why did he immediately conclude that day and night are the nature of the world?
If he was up all night crying over his sin, appreciating the magnitude of what he had done and seeking forgiveness, why didn’t he think that Hashem had accepted his remorse and was returning light to the world?
Perhaps we can explain that teshuvah is a chiddush in the briah. Originally, when Hashem created the world, it was to be without teshuvah. It was only when He saw that the world wouldn’t last if it was based purely upon middas hadin that rachamim was added. In the original plan, there was no teshuvah. If a person sinned, he would die.
When Adam was up that first night of creation crying and fasting, he wasn’t praying that his sin be forgotten and its negative impact be erased. He was crying over his sin and he was fasting because he thought that the darkness meant that the world was coming to an end. He was broken over what he had done. He was doing teshuvah lishmah. He was repenting over his aveirah, because he realized the gravity of his actions and regretted what he had done.
As the Rambam writes in the first halacha of Hilchos Teshuvah, it is a mitzvas asei for a person who sins to be misvadeh to Hashem. The Rambam describes the mitzvah of vidui as a person admitting that he sinned, stating, “Chotosi, avisi, poshati,” and then expressing regret for what he did (“veharei nichamti uboshti bemaasai“) and promising to never commit that sin again (“ule’olam eini chozer ledovor zeh“).
This is the teshuvah that Adam was engaged in that entire first night.
Thus, when Adam saw the light beginning to return to the world, it didn’t dawn upon him that his act of contrition was capable of erasing the stain of his aveirah. When Adam and Chava saw the light, they assumed that it was simply part of nature for there to be periods of light and periods of darkness. They had no inkling that teshuvah had the ability to erase the effects of sin.
I found a proof to this explanation in the Medrash Rabbah (Bereishis 22), where we are told that after Kayin had killed Hevel, Adam met Kayin and asked him what happened when Hakadosh Boruch Hu judged him for the crime that he had committed. Kayin responded to Adam that he did teshuvah and was spared from death.
The Medrash says that upon hearing that, Adam began banging himself on the head and saying, “Kach hee kocha shel teshuvah ve’anochi lo yodati. I never knew the power of teshuvah. I never knew that it is so great that it can overturn a punishment of death.”
He immediately stood up and proclaimed, “Mizmor Shir Leyom HaShabbos.”
The Medrash bears out our idea that Adam did not appreciate the strength of teshuvah. Though he himself had previously done teshuvah and repented for his sin, the Medrash states clearly that he was not aware of the power of teshuvah. When Kayin recounted his experience, Adam was astounded to learn that teshuvah had the ability to temper the punishment for aveiros.
Adam knew that he was created to serve Hashem. He knew that aveiros create a chasm between man and his Creator. He didn’t know that teshuvah was powerful enough to take down the barriers created by chet. He knew that chet minimizes a person’s abilities and introduces tumah in the place of kedushah, but he didn’t know that teshuvah had the ability to return a person to his original holy state.
When Kayin revealed to Adam the koach of teshuvah, he said Mizmor Shir Leyom HaShabbos, which extols the virtue of teshuvah. When Adam stated, “tov lehodos laShem,” he was teaching future generations that it is a good idea lehodos laShem, to admit when they do an aveirah and to fulfill the obligation of doing teshuvah, because then they will be forgiven and will want lezameir leshimcha elyon, to sing the praises of Hashem out of the joy that their sins have been expunged, and lehagid baboker chasdecha, to sing in the morning of the kindness of Hashem. This is referring to the morning of Shabbos, the second day of Adam’s life, when he worried that the world had turned to darkness and would be destroyed. Because of Hashem’s kindness in instituting the gift of teshuvah, there is light in the world every day and it is not destroyed because of our aveiros or the aveirah of Adam. The posuk concludes, “ve’emunascha baleilos,” with Adam teaching us that one can go to sleep confident in the knowledge that the sun will rise in the morning and that the world will not be darkened and destroyed because of our sins.
We, in our day, are well aware of the gift of teshuvah with which Hakadosh Boruch Hu created the world. We have seen how, in the succeeding generations, beginning with Adam, and continuing with Kayin throughout Tanach and until this very day, teshuvah has saved man from destruction. It is not a chiddush to us that repenting has the ability to obliterate the mark of destruction which chet causes in the briah. To us, the knowledge that teshuvah has the power to return a person to his pre-chet state is so elementary that we take it for granted.
And that is the problem. We take it for granted and do not appreciate it. We don’t properly value the period of Elul during which Hashem is closer to us and more accepting of our teshuvah. Instead of engaging in acts of contrition as we approach the Yomim Noraim, we often procrastinate and leave teshuvah for tomorrow.
Tomorrow is coming. Rosh Hashanah, the day on which we are all judged for the way we conducted ourselves over the past year is upon us. The Yom Hadin, when everything pertaining to our lives in the coming year will be decided, is almost here.
Let us take advantage of the gift that Adam Harishon discovered. It behooves us to spend the remaining time leading up to Rosh Hashanah engaged in teshuvah and maasim tovim, so that we will merit a kesivah vachasimah tovah besifron shel tzaddikim gemurim. Amein.