One aspect that repeatedly whomps me in the face is Judaism's true attitude toward teshuvah.
It is NOT all or nothing!
Judaism focuses on the good in people & the good that people do.
Who is the Real You? Judaism vs. Everyone Else
Generations of the church attitude & their gospels convinced people that humanity is born in sin & can only be cleansed by the belief in the proclaimed divinity of a long-dead corpse.
Likewise, the world of psychology focuses on what's wrong with people, not what's right with people.
One psychologist woke up to psychology's innate negativity when he realized that he labeled psychologically healthy people as "asymptomatic" or "does not display any obvious dysfunction."
What blah & dismissive & cynical terms for a person who is doing really well!
("does not display any obvious dysfunction"—as if the dysfunction actually exists, but the person succeeds in masking in really well—how incredibly cynical & negative!)
Even the well-intended Alcoholics Anonymous insists that no matter how long a person remains sober, he is forevermore "an alcoholic."
Even if you avoided a drink for 15 years (or you drank but not enough to get drunk—maybe you poured the rest down the drain), you still must see yourself overall as "an alcoholic."
What about all your other wonderful qualities? Why does your addiction (or former addiction) to one substance get to define who you are overall?
In wider society, any unwanted behavior in another person—even only one time—is thought to reveal their "real" self.
Likewise, a person is only considered honest & telling the "real" story when he reveals the negative aspects.
This makes it difficult for people to engage in a genuine cheshbon hanefesh. How can they admit their faults when any fault supposedly indicates their "real" self?
Meaning, if someone discovers a strong streak of envy or craving for attention & honor or dominance, then according to his society, those ugly traits determine his "real" self.
Who's going to risk that?
Well, some people do, actually—and then they drown in self-hatred & self-loathing, which then makes them treat others badly (though many initially cover it up with a socially acceptable veneer, but their self-loathing leaks out in other ways).
In other words, discovering their faults makes them indulge in those faults even MORE.
Any reassurance to the contrary gets dismissed as being "fake" or "naïve" or "Pollyannish" and so on.
However, the true-blue Jewish view is that your ugly aspects are davka NOT the real you—they're merely a superficial shell, a klippah, covering the REAL YOU.
The REAL YOU is your beautiful pristine neshamah, who only wants to do good.
Woefully Incomplete Pick-'n'-Choose Teshuvah: So Effective & Meaningful, It Seems Blasphemous (But It's Not)
He married the awful idol-worshiping gentile, Izavel (Jezebel) & worshiped idols himself.
He allowed his wife to persecute the holiest people in the Nation—the Neviim/Prophets.
Then there was that whole bloody fiasco with Navot and the stolen vineyard—like a mafia hit.
The worship of the Baal occult flourished under King Achav's leadership.
In fact, King Achav's rule introduced idol worship into Yisrael via Queen Izavel.
How can that be, you might ask?
After all, idols existed long before King Achav.
The difference lay in those in Am Yisrael who originally utilized idols did so in their worship of Hashem, not in the worship of the fake gods.
But under King Achav, immersion in the actual occult of idolatry occurred.
In general, King Achav proved weak & capricious, and when the Navi Michaihu tried to help him, King Achav reframed Michaihu as a personal enemy.
The list goes on and on.
Yet the Me'am Lo'ez (Melachim I:21:25-26) recalls a great rav from the Talmud who spent 6 months teaching about the wickedness of King Achav until one night, King Achav came to the rav in a dream.
"What did I ever do to you that you malign me this way?"
Well, um...how about "you messed up Am Yisrael so badly, we suffer the reverberations until today"?
The spirit of King Achav went on to protest the rav's teaching of only the first part of verse 25: "There was none like Achav who sold himself to do what was evil in the Eyes of Hashem..."
But what of the continuation of that same verse?
"...that Izavel his wife led him astray."
The rav understood the point, that left to his own devices, King Achav would never have been so awful, and he changed his shiurim to teach about the good aspects of King Achav.
That is a shocking revelation.
After all, King Achav CHOSE Izavel as his wife!
He knowingly & purposely refused to take one of the thousands of completely suitable girls from Am Yisrael, and instead knowingly & purposefully took an idol-worshiping gentile as his wife, to rule over Am Yisrael—and he gets a break because she "led him astray"?
How else was such an awful decision supposed to turn out?
Yet this is exactly what Chazal concludes!
Yes, King Achav was awful & wicked—but it's not completely his fault.
Even though he knowingly MADE the bad decision that led to his being led astray, she shares blame in his wickedness.
The Me'am Lo'ez goes on to say (page 461):
Ahab was unusual in that he excelled both in good and in evil.
It goes on to explain that King Achav remained vaguely aware that his servant Ovadiah hid 100 Neviim & provided for them from the royal kitchen.
Also, King Achav on his own refused to take revenge against Navot's refusal to hand over his vineyard, even though the refusal bothered the king a lot.
It was only due to Queen Izavel that the king sinned (sins which included worshiping Baal with enthusiasm & gifting the Baal priests generous donations on a daily basis).
King Achav certainly brought this all on himself!
Yet Chazal finds a zechut in him, saying that the really bad stuff wasn't the "real" Achav.
The bad stuff resulted from the bad Izavel influence over Achav—it's not a reflection of who he REALLY is.
This is so mind-bending because the Tanach does label King Achav's actions as "ra" (wicked)—yet he is not considered as intrinsically bad as he seems.
Even though he actively brought the bad influence into his life, nonetheless...
And that's not all.
A very big lesson in teshuvah looms in the next few verses.
King Achav's Partial Teshuvah Reaped Great Benefits
Though the king initially argues with Eliyahu HaNavi, trying to place blame on the Navi, King Achav eventually submits to the truth and...does teshuvah.
The king donned sackcloth and even called of King Yehoshafat of Yehudah to come give King Achav lashes 3 times a day for 40 days.
The king went about barefoot, also walking quietly & slowly (as opposed to pomp & striding around).
The Me'am Lo'ez states that King Achav repented with a full heart—not in fear of punishment, but out of sincere regret.
However, King Achav did not regret ALL his bad deeds.
He only did teshuvah on certain sins, like the murder of Navot and the unlawful acquisition of Navot's vineyards.
He also stopped the persecution of the Neviim and all members of Yisrael who wished to worship only Hashem.
But he continued to allow idolatry!
He allowed it within his kingdom and continued to worship it himself!
So he did not repent for his OTHER sins.
And yet the Me'am Lo'ez states "Ahab made a sincere effort to mend his ways" (Melachim I:22:1).
In 21:28-29, Hashem discusses the situation with Eliyahu HaNavi, noting how King Achav humbled himself before Hashem, which causes Hashem to transfer a big portion of punishment from King Achav to King Achav's son & future king of Yisrael (who will end up also being pretty awful).
King Achav will still need to suffer certain consequences for his continued awful actions, but his teshuvah on a couple of specific issues still impacted him for the good.
This is amazing.
And this provides an amazing lesson for all of us.
Being Imperfect Works Too!
Imperfect teshuvah IS accepted by Hashem!
Doing teshuvah on some sins while still indulging in others is still considered meaningful—by Hashem.
That sounds almost blasphemous, but there it is in Chazal in black 'n' white.
Unfortunately, most of us encounter friends, family members, and even advisors who dismiss imperfect or partial teshuvah.
"That's it? That's not enough."
True! It's NOT "enough."
But it's STILL REALLY GOOD.
"Not enough" is still MEANINGFUL.
We even tell ourselves, "Well, I can't do the whole thing, so why bother? Such a little bit doesn't matter."
This very much resembles the people who figure that since they already broke their diet by eating 7 cookies, they might as well indulge in pizza, doughnuts, and a candy-bar milkshake.
Throw caution to the wind!
Or people who hold their tongue in 2 trying circumstances, but lash out in the other 14 trying circumstances, will decide that the 2 victories hold no meaning.
"Why bother?" they say. "I'm a failure at this."
They see the 14 fails as their real self, their real score, while seeing the 2 victories as irrelevant—almost accidents.
But Judaism says...no.
ANY teshuvah is still MEANINGFUL.
The 2 times you managed to hold your tongue?
You get reward.
You sweetened din!
You proved the other 14 fails don't represent the real you.
In fact, according to Torah Judaism, you (and your advisors & friends) should say to yourself:
"Hey, look how good you really are. Those 2 victories show your true colors. And even though it was so hard...if you did it twice, you can do it again. Eventually, you'll succeed more than you fail. And then, b'ezrat Hashem, you'll only succeed."
This is how people should talk to you, how you should talk to yourself, and how you should talk to others.
The very act of WANTING to do the right thing weighs heavily in your favor!
And you see this repeated all throughout Chazal.
Hope for Us!
We learn that Hashem seeks to focus on how our good deeds outweigh our bad deeds.
We are defined by our good deeds.
We are defined by our good intentions.
Hashem takes into account influences (even influences we brought upon ourselves) & other circumstances when judging us.
This is why, by the way, though King Shaul & King Asa made some major fatal errors, Chazal remembers them overall as basically good people who were good kings.
Probably no one reading this has done anything nearly as bad as King Achav.
So if his partial, imperfect teshuvah can be accepted & utilized to sweeten din, then all the more so ANY kind of teshuvah done by a basically good person (even if you don't see yourself that way) like you.
Regarding King Asa: