Saturday, September 26, 2009
[prayer on Yom Kippur, 19th century Poland]
Another example of God’s unlimited love for us is the gift of repentance.
The prophet Ezekiel wrote:
As I live, saith the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel?
Again, when I say unto the wicked: Thou shalt surely die; if he turn from his sin, and do that which is lawful and right; if the wicked restore the pledge, give back that which he had taken by robbery, walk in the statutes of life, committing no iniquity; he shall surely live, he shall not die. None of his sins that he hath committed shall be remembered against him; he hath done that which is lawful and right; he shall surely live.
God gives us life. He breathes a soul into us. He gives us His beautiful and holy Torah. We should be crying tears of joy, love and gratitude. How we can sin is incomprehensible. Yet, if we do momentarily lose our minds and rebel against God, He does not reject us entirely. We are not doomed. God is still prepared to spare us if we sincerely repent.
No human government would ever have a policy like this. For example, if a robber were to go to the nearest police station, hand over the money he had taken, confess his crimes and sincerely promise to change, he would still go to prison. He is a criminal. He must be punished. Justice demands this. God, however, is more merciful than any human judge. This is mercy beyond human understanding.
The process of repentance, however, is not quick and easy. Repentance means completely changing ones attitude. It means going from a state of deliberately committing a sin to a state of completely abhorring the sin. It is surely far easier to control oneself in the first place and not sin rather than to sin and then repent. Repentance may be similar to addiction recovery. It is a great deal of work, depending on the depth of the sin. It may mean a lifetime of caution and avoiding dangerous situations. Substance abuse withdrawal can be fatal in some cases. Likewise, in an extreme case, the strain of repentance may actually be fatal, as explained in the Talmud Avodah Zarah 17a.
Just to give one example of what may be involved, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein answered the following question (Igres Moshe Orach Chaim chelek 4 siman 117): A woman had once worked as a secretary. While doing so, she had once spent a half hour hugging and kissing her boss. Now, several years later, after having married, she truly regretted her behavior and was certain that she should never repeat it. She asked what other steps she should take. Rabbi Feinstein advised her to daily remind herself of God’s omniscience, to daily recite Psalms and to daily recite a confession of sins.
Nevertheless, the opportunity to repent is available to all of us. We can escape the terrible consequences of sin. This is another amazing gift from our Creator.
Posted by jewish philosopher at 9:06 PM