No sin is so light that it may be overlooked. No sin is so heavy that it may not be repented of. –Moses Ibn Ezra
There are times when we might feel satisfied with our teshuvah, we have worked and reflected and surely that is enough. There are times when we feel that what we have done cannot be undone, and this weighs heavily on us and may sap our will to teshuvah.
But every morning we wake up to a new day, the morning prayer reminds God and us that we were born with a pure soul, that creation is remade each day, that there is always a way back however many imperfections we may embody.
Indeed our imperfections are part of our humanity. We are not angels, we have free will and that includes the ability to make choices which are not necessarily the best ones for us or for the world.
The word for “sin” is freighted with meaning that is not part of the Jewish understanding. “Hata’a” is a term used in archery for missing the mark that is aimed at – and the arrow landing elsewhere instead. Teshuvah – return – is about reorienting one’s aim to get closer to the target, albeit further on in our life than originally hoped for.
Reflection, regret, re-orienting ourselves will help us in the coming year to become more of our best selves. There is nothing in our way but ourselves.
Teshuvah – Repentance / Return to God is a curious phenomenon of Jewish tradition. It is an act of mercy which defies natural law, a phenomenon that does not exist outside of this religious and spiritual realm. For any other legal code, what happened – immutably happened, history is history. Expressions of regret by the perpetrator may be greatly appreciated, but they do not have the power to erase the guilt or bury the act of transgression. In fact, human justice embodies this very principle. Once a crime has been committed, the mere expression of regret and repentance is not sufficient to protect the criminal from conviction, (though it might be a mitigating factor when meting out punishment).
Repentance, then, and its ability to wipe the slate clean and return a person to a state of purity and innocence belongs not to the realms of justice or of law, but to that of mercy. God, in infinite mercy redeems our undeserving selves from the results of our actions, relying on our change of heart (“the cancellation of will”) to effect a change in history (“the cancellation of the act”). So Teshuvah is not ever to be seen as a right, rather it is a privilege given to us by a merciful God.
And rabbinic tradition does not leave it there. The Talmud tells us (Kiddushin) that teshuvah me’ahava (repentance out of love; i.e., heartfelt regret) results in the transgressions being transmuted into merits, whereas teshuvah miyir’a (repentance out of fear) results in transgressions being transmuted into shegagot – unintentional lapses, for which forgiveness is effectively automatic as blame does not attach in the same way as deliberate acts of transgression.
Think of that: Repentance that is done out of love – real true regret for our actions – not only seems to erase them from the book of punishment, it actually is said to transform them into positive merits.