The first step in teshuvah (repentance) is regret. One must regret one’s transgression of the divine will and the distance this has placed between himself and G-d.
Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi once said: “True regret is the regret of the peasant from Shklov.”
He then explained: On a stormy day, a peasant from the vicinity of Shklov arrived at the Dnieper River and made to cross its waters in a small boat. Those who stood at the riverbank warned him against his folly. “Look at the winds, look at the waves,” they said, “you’ll never make it across.” But he paid no heed to their words. Halfway across the river, his boat capsized. Before he disappeared under the waves, he was heard to cry out: “What a fool I was! I should have listened to them! I shouldn’t have gone out!”
“To truly experience teshuvah,” concluded Rabbi Schneur Zalman, “is to experience the same degree of regret over one’s past actions as was experienced by the peasant from Shklov as the raging river swept him away.”
Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe by Yanki Tauber.