Having said that, teshuvah from fear is still a MILLION TIMES BETTER than not doing teshuvah at all.
So Teshuvah from fear IS a good thing. But it's just not the ideal.
The Kli Yakar explains the great advantage of doing teshuvah from love, rather than fear. (Please see the Kli Yakar on Parshat Bo, 10:1)
Teshuvah from fear often means that once the threat passes (or once a person feels the threat has passed), the person will often return to the original problematic behavior.
We see this in our own times.
For example, when facing a serious threat of divorce, major financial or property loss, prison, or having their children taken away, drug abusers will maintain sobriety for a certain amount of time...but then lapse. Not a temporary lapse, but a dive back into the old harmful habits.
Ka’asanim (people with a short fuse) will keep a lid on their tempers for a time, then explode. Some ka’asanim only lash out when they think no one will hear them. (Fear of public opinion.)
The list goes on.
So fear of punishment is a motivator, but not the ideal motivator. If that is a person’s only motivator, then they must maintain their state of fear in order to keep themselves in line.
Again, that’s not the ideal.
Teshuvah from love, says the Kli Yakar, ensures that you won’t return to the behavior.
Even once the threat of punishment passes (or appears to pass), you continue to embrace your newfound praiseworthy behaviors because you absolutely love the new you.
Or even more powerfully, you love Hashem and desire His Closeness.
To oversimplify the whole dynamic into a superficial little nutshell:
It’s the difference between a woman who prepares her husband’s favorite meal out of fear of his domineering temper and a woman who prepares her husband’s favorite meal out of her great love for him and her desire to nurture him and feel close to him, knowing that he loves her very much too.
Which relationship is more desirable for BOTH partners?
And which do you think Hashem prefers you see Him as:
- the domineering tyrant
- the loving partner?