Repentance and the Joke
By Avi Lazerson
There is a popular joke that has been
circulating in the emails that goes like this:
As the rabbi
began his lecture on repentance, he asked the class, "What
must we do before we can expect forgiveness from sin?"
a long silence, one of the men in attendance raised his hand and
Although this is really meant as a
joke, in every joke there is some reality. The reality that is in the
joke is that before a person can expect forgiveness, he/she must have
sinned. Without a sin, what is there to expect forgiveness from?
Although it might seem self apparent,
it is definitely not. Many people go through the High Holidays, Rosh
HaShanah and Yom Kippur, worrying about which synagogue they will
attend, the price of the seats, who to invite over, what to eat and
other pertinent details that pertain to the holidays. All of this
transpires without reflecting on sin.
The purpose of these holidays is to
reach an atonement for sin. But can we just come before G-d and
merely say “forgive me” without specifying the
transgression. Without acknowledgment of the sin (or sins) that was
done, we can not expect forgiveness.
Why is this?
G-d is delighted to forgive our sins,
but that is with the condition that we do sincerely regret sinning.
We can not expect forgiveness from our sins if we are planning to
continue sinning. Would you forgive someone who insulted you if they
planned on continuing addressing you with insulting behavior? Would
you forgive someone if they said that they think that they did
something or other to you but they were not certain? If they do not
think that they did you harm, what is there to forgive?
The first and foremost task to properly
prepare for the holidays is to do some self reflection. Consider what
actions were done that fell into the category of sin. Without
itemizing the sin (or sins) Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur lose most of
Once we come before the King of kings
with regret over the sins and transgressions of the past, then we can
expect forgiveness. But with out spending the time analyzing our
improper deeds, speech and thoughts, what can we expect? We must be
sincere in our reflections and in our regret. Just coming to the
synagogue to hear the cantor sing or to hear the rabbi's speech may
have a merit, but it is not the main point of the High Holidays.
There is a popular phrase in Hebrew:
“Ain devar shalem k'lev shabor” which means,
“there is nothing as whole as a broken heart”. To us, a
sin is a sign of human imperfection and failing; a negative trait
that is to be shunned. But to G-d, who is all perfect, He looks at a
person who sins as human and a person who admits his sin as positive,
and a person who both admits and regrets his sin as worthy. There is
nothing as whole in the eyes of G-d as a person, who due to his sins
is contrite and has a broken heart.
from the September 2011 Edition of the Jewish Magazine