A manual of Jewish belief (a guide to real Judaism) for the thinking individual.

Copyright © 1977 by R' Avi Shafran

[Web Page Last Revised: Tuesday, June 29, 2004 02:34 PM ]


Chapter 16. The Nature of Sin and Repentance

All of the commandments, both positive and negative (do's and don't's) have reasons. We do not know them, except perhaps an inkling of a few of them. The complete reasons for even those few are kept hidden from us. The reason for the Jewish dietary laws is not, as has been speculated, because of their advantage as regards health and the prevention of disease. The fact of the matter is that the oral intake of certain foods triggers a spiritual effect on the eater, making an unseen but very real difference in his psychological makeup, increasing his tendency towards sin and harming his ability to perceive certain ideas clearly. The immediate result of sin is a small but effectual distortion of outlook. All sins mar the sinner's soul. We mentioned previously that man's unconscious desires can and do bias his judgment. So do past sins he has committed; they too corrupt his clarity of judgment and perception, making things seem different than they really are.

There is yet another factor involved in the perpetration of a sin. It is the "mutiny factor". This term refers to the psychological harm which results from the fact that the sinner is knowingly disobeying G~d's orders. We have already mentioned that any man who sins deliberately in any way should thereby prove himself a non-believer. For, if he really thought that the Creator of the universe was watching his every move, he surely would never have sinned.

This is, to a certain extent, correct. But, as we will discuss later, there are lines to be drawn everywhere.

There are levels of belief. There is of course a "minimum daily requirement" of faith, without which one is considered an atheist. But, on the other hand, few believers reach the level of faith where G~d's presence is realized with a vividness like even that of another man's presence (the reader will recall the blessing of Rabbi Yochanan which we quoted in chapter 12). The reason for this lack of realization of G~d is very simple. G~d is invisible. This fact gives man's id a "golden" opportunity to unconsciously ignore Him. It is unfortunate but true that most of us fear man's watching more than we do G~d's, heaving sighs of relief when escaping with our sins undetected by our human associates (remember chapter 13?).

So, though we believe, our sins prove that we rebel against G~d and deny Him our full realization of His presence. This is what we shall call the "mutiny factor", namely, the psychological result of the deliberate sinner's display of arrogance in the committing of a sin.

When a person regrets a sin and is truly sorry that he did what he did, it is only logical that G~d should forgive him and cancel the results of this second ingredient of sin, the "mutiny factor". After all, this part of the offense consisted of the sinner's denial of realization of G~d, so now that he acknowledges G~d and promises to obey Him, it is very fitting that his previous arrogance should be negated by his new conviction.

But the first factor entailed in the committing of a sin should not, through the rules of common sense, be reverted to its previous status just because of the sinner's repentance. That is, if the action of committing a sin causes a definite and real change in the psyche of the sinner, even his subsequent sincere regret should not help restore his previous unmarred mental state.

However, in truth, even this side of sin is affected by sincere repentance. The Talmud states that "repentance is an illogical concept". If the Talmud is referring to the "mutiny factor" then it is not understood what is so illogical about repentance reverting the sinner's status back to normal. So the Talmud must be referring to the other side of sin, namely its real effect on the sinner's soul. The Talmud is saying that even that definite effect is wiped away by a miracle of sorts when the sinner experiences true remorse and resolves never to do what he has done again. And the Talmud itself, in another place, expresses this very thought more clearly. It states: "the removal of the will to sin again by the individual is considered by G~d like the removal of the committed sin".

This of course only applies in the case of complete sincere repentance, when the sinner has regretted his actions and confessed to G~d (the Christian concept of confession to another human is completely absent from Jewish theology). The Talmud, adds that the true test of a repentant sinner is his reaction (or better, lack of one) upon finding himself in the exact same circumstances in which he previously sinned. In addition, if the sin was a wrong against another person then the sinner must ask him for forgiveness. Once these conditions have been met the truly wonderful and strangely beautiful concept of Repentance takes effect. G~d considers it as if the original sin had never happened with no reservations. He lovingly welcomes the repentant sinner once more to the ranks of the spiritually pure.

* * *

Previous Chapter - Next Chapter

Return to: Introduction - Table of Contents - Other Divrei Torah - Chateau Mezcal