Parashat Naso- The Power of Teshuba
The Torah in Parashat Naso speaks of the case of a thief who falsely denies his crime on oath and then wishes to repent. In such an instance, the Torah instructs, "Ve’heshib Et Ashamo Be’rosho Va’hamishito Yosef Alav" (5:7). Literally, this means, "He shall return what he is guilty of, its principal, and then add onto it one-fifth." The meaning of the Pasuk is clear – the penitent criminal must repay the stolen sum plus an additional fifth – but the Torah’s formulation seems puzzling. It calls the stolen money "Ashamo" (literally, "his guilt"), and refers to the principal sum as "Be’rosho" (literally, "at its head"). In light of this unusual wording, scholars throughout the ages have unearthed deeper layers of meaning underlying the text of this Pasuk.
One approach connects this Pasuk to the Gemara’s comment in Masechet Aboda Zara (5). The Gemara there states that every Misva we perform produces an angel that "walks in front of us" to the next world, whereas every sin we commit creates an angel that "embraces us" and leads us to punishment, Heaven forbid. The Maharsha (Rav Shmuel Eidels, 1555-1631) explains this passage by drawing an analogy to a king who sends two servants – one to bring someone to his feast, and another to bring someone to the gallows. The messenger bringing the man to the party walks in front of the man to lead the way, confident that the man follows him. The servant leading the man to the gallows, however, must hold him tight to prevent him from escaping. Similarly, the angels we create through our Misvot lead the way for us to Gan Eden, confident that we follow them. But if, Heaven forbid, we create angels by committing sins, they will hold us tight and bring us to our punishment, preventing us from escaping.
The process of Teshuba, however, has the ability to change the angel’s mission. The Gemara elsewhere teaches that Teshuba Mi’yir’a – repentance done out of fear – has the ability to "downgrade" our sins to unintentional violations, but "Teshuba Me’ahaba" – repentance out of love for Hashem – transforms our sins into sources of merit. If we repent with sincerity, out of genuine love for our Creator which leads us to regret our wrongdoing, the misdeeds on our record are changed to Misvot. And thus the angel taking us to be punished instead leads us to our reward.
It has been suggested that this is the meaning of the phrase, "Ve’heshib Et Ashamo Be’rosho," which can be read as, "He moves his guilt in front of him." After one commits a sin, he has the ability to "move" his "guilt" – the angel – to his front. The angel which was created through his sin can change roles and move in front of him to lead him toward his reward, as the sin is transformed into a Misva.
And thus this section of Parashat Naso is not just outlining the procedure for one who committed theft and denied it on oath. It conveys a message relevant to each and every one of us, as we are all guilty of mistakes of one kind or another. The Torah here teaches us never to despair, to never think that we are held captive by the wrongs of our past. Even if now we are held in the clutches of the angel, and bear a heavy burden of guilt, G-d in His infinite mercy allows us the opportunity to release ourselves from its grasp, and change its role into an angel bringing us reward, as long as we repent sincerely and out of a deep sense of love and gratitude to the Almighty. The angel does not allow us to escape – unless we repent with sincerity and make a genuine effort to lovingly return to the faithful service of Hashem, in which case it "lets us go" and leads us to our reward.