Teshuvah Text for Elul Lunch & Learn
Teshuvah – Chapter One
If a person transgresses any of the mitzvot of the Torah, whether a positive command or a negative command – whether willingly or inadvertently – when he repents, and returns from his sin, he must confess before God, blessed be He, as [Numbers 5:6-7] states: “If a man or a woman commit any of the sins of man… they must confess the sin that they committed.”
This refers to a verbal confession. This confession is a positive command.
How does one confess: He states: “I implore You, God, I sinned, I transgressed, I committed iniquity before You by doing the following. Behold, I regret and am embarrassed for my deeds. I promise never to repeat this act again.”
These are the essential elements of the confessional prayer. Whoever confesses profusely and elaborates on these matters is worthy of praise.
Those who bring sin offerings or guilt offerings must also [confess their sins] when they bring their sacrifices for their inadvertent or willful transgressions. Their sacrifices will not atone for their sins until they repent and make a verbal confession as [Leviticus 5:5] states: “He shall confess the sin he has committed upon it.”
Similarly, those obligated to be executed or lashed by the court do not attain atonement through their death or lashing unless they repent and confess. Similarly, someone who injures a colleague or damages his property, does not attain atonement, even though he pays him what he owes until he confesses and makes a commitment never to do such a thing again as implied by the phrase [Numbers, loc. cit..], “any of the sins of man.”
Since the goat sent [to Azazel] atones for all of Israel, the High Priest confesses upon it as a spokesman for all of Israel as [Leviticus 16:21] states: “He shall confess upon it all the sins of the children of Israel.”
The goat sent to Azazel atones for all the transgressions in the Torah, the severe and the lighter [sins]; those violated intentionally and those transgressed inadvertently; those which [the transgressor] became conscious of and those which he was not conscious of. All are atoned for by the goat sent [to Azazel].
This applies only if one repents. If one does not repent, the goat only atones for the light [sins].
Which are light sins and which are severe ones? The severe sins are those for which one is liable for execution by the court or karet. False and unnecessary oaths are also considered severe sins even though they are not [punished by] karet. [The violation of] the other prohibitions and [the failure to perform] positive commandments that are not punishable by karet are considered light [sins].
At present, when the Temple does not exist and there is no altar of atonement, there remains nothing else aside from Teshuvah.
Teshuvah atones for all sins. Even a person who was wicked his whole life and repented in his final moments will not be reminded of any aspect of his wickedness as [Ezekiel 33:12] states “the wickedness of the evil one will not cause him to stumble on the day he repents his wickedness.”
The essence of Yom Kippur atones for those who repent as [Leviticus 16:30] states: “This day will atone for you.”
Even though Teshuvah atones for all [sins] and the essence of Yom Kippur brings atonement, [there are different levels of sin and hence, differences in the degree of atonement.] There are sins that can be atoned for immediately and other sins which can only be atoned for over the course of time. What is implied?
If a person violates a positive command which is not punishable by karet and repents, he will not leave that place before he is forgiven. Concerning these sins, [Jeremiah 3:22] states: “Return, faithless children! I will heal your rebellious acts.”
If a person violates a prohibition that is not punishable by karet or execution by the court and repents, Teshuvah has a tentative effect and Yom Kippur brings atonement as [Leviticus, loc. cit. states “This day will atone for you.”
If a person violates [sins punishable by] karet or execution by the court and repents, Teshuvah and Yom Kippur have a tentative effect and the sufferings which come upon him complete the atonement. He will never achieve complete atonement until he endures suffering for concerning these [sins, Psalms 89:33] states: “I will punish their transgression with a rod.”
When does the above apply: When the desecration of God’s name is not involved in the transgression. However, a person who desecrated God’s name, even though he repented, Yom Kippur arrived while he continued his repentance, and he experienced suffering, will not be granted complete atonement until he dies. The three: repentance, Yom Kippur, and suffering have a tentative effect and death atones as [Isaiah 22:14] states: “It was revealed in my ears [by] the Lord of Hosts, surely this iniquity will not be atoned for until you die.”
Steps for Teshuvah
Based on the teachings of Moses Maimonides
- Recognize what you have done wrong.
- Take responsibility for your actions.
Acknowledge this responsibility to yourself.
Acknowledge this responsibility to others.
- Take steps to repair the situation.
- Take steps to grow and learn from the situation.
- When you find yourself in the same situation again,
make a different choice.
Rabbi Bunam said to his followers: Our great transgression is not that we commit sins – temptation is strong and our strength is slight! No, our transgression is that at every instant we can turn to God – and we do not turn!
These are the people I’ve wronged;
I will apologize and request their pardon:
|Before the end
of Yom Kippur
(check off when I’ve made my apology)
These are the changes I hope to effect in my behavior:
These are the problems I’ve seen in the world about which I have not done enough:
Based on a worksheet from Rabbi Mark Hurvitz