How to be Forgiven of Sin

You shall seek G-d and you shall find Him, but you must search for Him wholeheartedly. In your distress, when all these things (sin) come upon you, in the end of days, you will return to the L-rd, your G-d, and listen to his voice. (Deuteronomy 4:29).

A man who had drifted away from religion came to a holy rabbi and gave him a long list of sins he had committed over the years, and told the holy rabbi that he had hoped by fasting frequently and punishing himself by sleeping on the ground and putting pebbles inside his shoes, he could be forgiven for his terrible deeds. He won¬dered whether all of his actions were sufficient to attain forgiveness for his sins.

The holy rabbi listened closely and studied the list of sins carefully. Then he remarked, “It appears that you have done a complete job. Truly a complete job.”

The young man was pleased that the rabbi appeared to have approved of his penance. “Then I am forgiven?” he asked.

“Not quite,” the holy rabbi said. “Is not the soul a guest in our body, deserving of our kind hospitality? Today it is here, tomorrow it is gone” (Leviticus Rabbah 34:3) The rabbi paused and thought for a moment then continued, “You began by committing sins to ruin your neshamah(soul). Having done that, you then directed your attention toward ruining your body as well. That is a complete job.”

The young man began to cry, “Rabbi, holy rabbi, I want to be forgiven of the terrible things I have done. I thought I was doing what is right, but now I see that I was wrong. What am I to do?”

The rabbi comforted the young man, “Begin a meal with words of Torah (Scriptures) and a benediction.” (Megillah 12b). The rabbi instructed the young man, “Eat three meals each day, pray from your heart and study the Holy Words. Remember that ‘through kindness and truth, sin is atoned’ (Proverbs 16:6) Do this and you will be forgiven by man and the Holy One, blessed be He.”

The young man looked upand asked, “how can this be?”

“We learn that ‘G-d created man in His own image’ (Genesis 1:27) Since man is created in the image of G-d, he has the ability to forgive and be divine in his deeds. For this reason we are taught, ‘Beloved is man wha was created in the divine image.’ (Mishna Avos 3:14)” answered the holy rabbi.

According to many great rabbis, atonement does not require self-torment and punishment. Rather, one should understand the gravity of transgressing the Divine will, appreciate how injurious this is to oneself, and make a concerted effort to refine his character so that he is no longer likely to repeat the improper behavior. Self-punishment can mislead one to think that he has achieved atonement, whereas nothing in his character may have changed.

An old Jewish teaching tells us that “great is repentance: it brings healing to the world.” (Yoma 86a) Let us all hope that we can bring about a healing in the world.

May all your tales end with Shalom (peace) – Gmar Chasimah Tova

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