What are Thoughts of Repentance?
A thought of repentance is one's pondering in his or her heart that, "Even though I'm the most evil person in the universe, from this moment on, I want to change my ways and walk in the straight path according to Hashem's will."
The Gemara says – and Jewish religious law stipulates - that as soon as a person has a thought of repentance, he or she is deemed a perfect tzaddik! Even though a person has not yet actively performed a single mitzvah, and the only change in his or her life has been an invisible inner desire – Hashem gazes deep into that person's heart and mind and clearly sees their desire to change for the better. From that moment on, Hashem regards that person as a pious individual.
As long as we maintain the desire for repentance, or teshuva, Hashem continues to regard us as righteous individuals, even though we're still far from realizing our goals. Indeed, even if we're not yet working to improve our character - and we're still full of bad habits and bodily lusts with no idea whatsoever about the Hashem's ways and basic religious law – despite all this, if we cultivate an unequivocal desire is to improve ourselves, then Hashem considers regards us as complete tzaddikim. In any event, the road to spiritual improvement should be measured, gradual, and in accordance with proper instruction.
The above concept is a wonderful source of advice and encouragement for all of us. Even when we fall or fail, we can strengthen ourselves with a renewed resolve that from this moment on, we desire to walk in the path of righteousness. We must be courageous that no matter what, we'll never abandon our desire to be better and remain steadfast in our yearning to get close to Hashem and to do His will. As long as we cling to our aspirations of enhanced proximity to Hashem, Hashem continues to regard us as complete tzaddikim. As such, we benefit from Divine assistance in everything we do. Hashem's blessing and assistance enable us to succeed in all of our endeavors.
A Huge Benefit
When we never give up our desire and yearning to be better, we benefit in the following ways:
1. We literally work wonders with our prayers. Since Hashem and the Heavenly Court consider us tzaddikim, our prayers are always accepted.
2. Rebbe Nachman of Breslov says that desire is the main thing. Therefore, when we cultivate our desire to serve Hashem, we are doing what we're supposed to do. As such, we are assured of receiving a tikkun, or soul correction, in all of our actions, because our sages promise that Hashem will help us in the path we choose for ourselves.
3. When we learn the value of desire, we realize that a mere thought of teshuva, such as, "I want to do what Hashem wants me to do" is enough to alter a person's status from evil to righteous. This knowledge prevents us from becoming discouraged if we slip and fall, for all we have to do is to renew our resolve to serve Hashem with all our hearts, and we're back on our feet again!
Even if we fall or fail over and over again - and it's clear that we won't change overnight - we should never abandon our desires. As long as the flame of desire to get closer to Hashem flickers in our hearts, Hashem continues to regard us as righteous. Hashem judges us not so much according to where we are, but according to where we want to go. The desire in our hearts overrules our actions. Hashem knows that personal improvement is a long hard road, but He regards us as tzaddikim the minute we begin our journey of yearning to be better.
4. Rebbe Nachman of Breslov writes (Likutei Moharan, I: 261): "When a person falls from his spiritual level, the best advice is to start anew in the service of Hashem, as if he never served Hashem in his life. For a person must strengthen himself in the service of Hashem and not to be discouraged by anything in the world, only declare a new beginning each time." When we know that our desire to serve Hashem earns us the status of tzaddikim, we can summon the inner strength to begin anew, even after the most disastrous fall or failure.