Categorized | Jewish Religion

Tis the season to seek to be forgiven

By Michael R. Mantell, PhD

Dr. Michael Mantell

Dr. Michael Mantell

SAN DIEGO — According to Jewish tradition, on the tenth day of the Hebrew month Tishri, Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the second set of tablets of the Ten Commandments after Hashem forgave the Jews for the sin of worshipping the golden calf.  That day is called Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, and is the most solemn day of the Jewish calendar.

While the High Holidays are still a short time away, it’s never too early to begin to turn inward and reflect on how we can best make use of these days of health for our souls.

We set this day aside each year for Jews, as individuals and as a nation, to be spiritually cleansed through repentance.  We ask forgiveness of one another and then, and only then, do we ask forgiveness from Hashem.

This is the “season” of repentance and penitence.  In fact, the ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are called the “Ten Days of Penitence.”  In Hebrew, these days are referred to as Asseret Yemey Tshuva, which means the ten days of return.

These are indeed days when the American people, and the world more generally, are focused on issues of repentance, forgiveness, truth, ethics and values.  Our Jewish heritage introduced these concepts to the world.  On Yom Kippur, in particular, we most sharply focus our minds and hearts on these gifts and attempt to grow, elevate and refine ourselves like we do on no other day.  The summons to court arrives for Jews throughout the world on Yom Kippur.  It is, after all, our Day of Judgement.

We believe that lying is a most despicable spiritual flaw.  According to one important Jewish source, originally published in 1812 and translated in 1995, Cheshbon ha-Nefesh, “At first lying stems from the pursuit of permitted pleasure, money, prestige or the esteem of men.  It then progresses towards the pursuits of prohibited pleasures.  At the end, it becomes an acquired inclination of its own – lying for the sake of lying!”

The text adds, “…in the end, falsehood has no base on which to stand.  And if the liar should later speak truthfully, no one believes him any longer.  This is the punishment of those who are haughty, hypocritical, deceitful or who cheat others – they are discovered and exposed, first by one friend and then by another, until their lies are publicized and they become full of shame, debased and hated by all.”

The text further adds, “…one must, from the very beginning [of its appearance], search for the root of this illness and root it out by applying the disciplines of humility, righteousness and silence.  Afterwards, one must include the discipline of truth – by committing himself to the positive precept of loving truth – even when doing so will cause him to forgo some monetary pleasure or presumed honor…”

In summary, the Jewish view is clear from this source, “There is no one more repulsive, despicable and abominable than the person who mocks, who cheats, who deceives and who flatters.”

“Repentance,” according to the Jewish view as described in the source Duties of the Heart, “is rectifying your service to the Creator, after you have sinned against Him….”

There are three kinds of repentance.  The first involves the person who usually does not have the opportunity to transgress, when whenever he does have that chance, he takes it.  He feels disgraced and regrets what he has done after his transgression.  This person repents with his mouth, but not with his heart – with words but not with deeds.

The second person repents in his heart and in his deeds.  He still tends towards things against G-d and deep within him, he still wants to sin.   His repentance insures forgiveness only when he is able to stay completely away from sin.

The third person uses reason to prevail over his desires, does soul-searching on a regular basis, feels genuine awe of his Creator and is genuinely contrite in His presence.  He always has his transgressions in front of him and is remorseful about them until the day he dies.  He earns true forgiveness.

There are four elements to repentance from the Jewish point of view.  First, we must feel remorseful for our transgressions.  This indicates that we regard our action as shameful.

Second, we must abstain from our transgressions.  This is proof that we believe in reward and punishment.

Third, we should confess and ask to be forgiven for our transgressions.  This is an indication of submission before G-d. Confessing to a neighbor and asking for forgiveness typically results in that neighbor seeing you as truly remorseful and increases the likelihood of your neighbor forgiving you.  Confession to Hashem brings on Divine forgiveness.

Finally, we must resolve in our heart and mind to never commit the transgression again.  This shows that you truly recognize the gravity of what you did.

The text, Duties of the Heart, ends with a fervent plea:  “Dear brother, Now that I have explained your obligation to repent and have shown you how to repent, you have no excuse for failing to repent.  Any defense you offer will be rejected.”

“What will you say to G-d tomorrow?  Will you say, ‘I didn’t know that I had to repent?’  You did know!  Will you say, ‘I confess to what I did, but I didn’t know how to repent?’  How will you answer the question we are asked in the hereafter, ‘Why did you not repent?’  Prepare your answer while you still have time.  But remember, brother, that your response will be measured by your deed, not by your words.”

“Wake up from your sleep, foolish brother, and have pity on your soul, the precious treasure the Creator entrusted to you.  How much longer will you wait before you repent?  You have wasted your life so far gratifying your passion, like a runaway servant.  Should you not return and spend the rest of your life pleasing your Creator?  You know that life is short, and what is left of your life is even shorter.”

Someone once said, that eating crow is never pleasant – no matter how much mustard and ketchup you put on it.  But usually the sooner you eat it the less unpleasant it is to the taste.  Forgiveness is the “oil of relationships.”  Forgiveness allows us to erase, to give up resentment, to wipe the slate clean and to give up all claims on one who has hurt us.

There is a proper Jewish way to repent, to ask for forgiveness and to earn that forgiveness.  On Yom Kippur, especially, choose the right role models.  Take your lead from thousands of years of Jewish tradition.  Some folks in our nation’s capitol would do well to do the same.

Dr Michael Mantell, based in San Diego, provides coaching to business leaders, athletes, individuals and families to reach breakthrough levels of success and significance in their professional and personal lives. Mantell may be contacted via [email protected]

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