“I have strayed like a lost sheep — seek your servant.” (Tehillim 119:176)
Rebbe Nachman teaches us (Likutei Moharan I: 206) that when we sin, if we are immediately stirred to repent, we have not gone too far from the proper path. However, the longer we continue in our sins, the further we get from the proper path. There are many side paths we can end up on, causing us to become lost and confused. Each wrong side path that we take leads us further from the proper path, making it more difficult to return.
However, Hashem’s way is to call us as soon as we begin to stray from the proper path. According to the situation, Hashem calls with hints, a “louder” direct call, or with what appears to us as a kick or beating. Hashem cries out to us, “Foolish ones, how long will you love foolishness?” (Proverbs 1:22).
If we have not strayed far from the proper path, we can still recognize the voice of Hashem and the Torah, and can return easily. This can be compared to a shepherd. When a sheep strays, the shepherd immediately calls to it. If the sheep has not strayed too far, it recognizes the voice and returns.
However, if the sheep has strayed far from the path, is forgets the voice of its shepherd, and can no longer recognize it. Similarly, when we stray far off the path, having spent much time in our sin, traveling corrupt and mistaken paths, we can begin to forget the voice of Hashem, G-d forbid, making it difficult to return, to do t’shuva.
King David said, “I strayed like a lost sheep,” meaning, we are like sheep that have gone off the proper path. The verse ends, “Search for Your servant, for I have not forgotten Your mitzvot.” We need to cry out to Hashem, “Please have mercy on me! Hurry to search for me, while I still remember Your voice and Your Torah!”
If we grow old in our sins, it is difficult to find us, because we have forgotten the voice of Torah and mitzvot, and can no longer recognize the voice of Hashem. This is why, when we find ourselves off the proper path, we must ask Hashem to seek us quickly and return us to Him while we still recognize and remember His voice…
Based on Likutei Moharan and Hishtapkhut HaNefesh.