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What About Sin and Repentance

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The 7 Universal Noahide Laws
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Trying To Grasp God
What About Sin and Repentance
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The Experience of a Noahide
Noahides: Public Law 102-14
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If you want to understand the Bible, you need to learn Hebrew. There's no way to get the full meaning in translation.

For example, the Torah uses 10 different names for God. Each "name" refers to a unique aspect of God's essence: all-knowing, all-powerful, prime mover, merciful, etc. But in English, these names are all translated the same, and much of the depth is lost.

Worse yet, biblical translation promotes misconceptions. For example, you'll read a translation and come across the word "sin." Uh-oh. Sin, evil, punishment. But the Hebrew word Chet does not mean sin at all. Chet appears in the Bible in reference to an arrow, which missed the target. There is nothing inherently "bad" about the arrow (or the archer). Rather, a mistake was made -- due to a lack of focus, concentration or skill.

From here we learn that human beings are essentially good. Nobody wants to sin. We may occasionally make a mistake, lose focus, and miss the target. But in essence we want to do good. This is a great lesson in self-esteem. Simply adjust your aim and try again!

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The joy of Sukkot (Festival of Booths)is the joy of reconciliation. It flows directly from repentance and atonement. In fact Rabbeinu Yona in his work Sha'arei Teshuva points out that this joy is an integral part of repentance. There are two ways to repent:

1. Out of fear. The sinner comes to his senses and realizes that he will have to face the consequences of his shortcomings. He tries desperately to get out of having to "face the music" by repenting his sins. There is not necessarily any joy involved in the accomplishment of such repentance. It was not his sins themselves that upset such a penitent; it was their anticipated consequences. He may sincerely regret having committed his sins, but he would be even happier if he could have his cake and eat it too. If he could be shown how to sin with impunity he would gladly do so.

2. Out of love. The sinner is upset more by the fact that he lost his close connection with God through his sins than he is by the thought of the punishment. The loss of God's love and trust is the greatest possible punishment in his eyes. His repentance is an attempt to be restored to God's favor so that he might feel the power of God's love once again. When such repentance is accepted it is the cause of the greatest joy. Once again the penitent basks in the warmth of God's love. Once again he is God's favored child.

But not only does the joy of repentance alter the very nature and quality of the repentance itself, it also determines what that repentance can accomplish.

Reish Lakish said: Great is the power of repentance for because of it willful transgressions are considered for the penitent as inadvertent errors, as it is written, Return, O Israel, unto the Lord your God, for you have stumbled in your iniquity. (Hosea 14:2)

Now iniquity (avon in Hebrew) is a willful sin, and yet the verse refers to it as stumbling, which is an inadvertent act.

But Reish Lakish himself has stated: Great is the power of repentance, for because of it willful transgressions are counted for the penitent as merits, as it is written, And if the wicked man turns away from his wickedness and behaves with justice and righteousness, he shall live on account of them (Ezekiel 33:19). There is no contradiction here; the second statement refers to repentance done out of love, the first one to repentance done out of fear. (Talmud, Yuma, 86b)

The depth of the Gaon's statement about celebrating the return of the "clouds of glory" rather than their first appearance is to be found in the above passage of the Talmud.

The "clouds of glory" could only return if the sin of the Golden Calf was not only nullified, but also transformed into an act that brought Israel and God even closer than they were to each other prior to the commission of the sin. This required the second type of repentance, the repentance of love. The symbol for this type of repentance is the joy of Sukkot; thus the "clouds of glory" returned on Sukkot.

The first thing we do on Yom Kippur right after reading Kol Nidrei, is to publicly say the following verse: Forgive the entire congregation of the Children of Israel and the stranger amongst them; for the entire people sinned unintentionally. (Numbers 15:26).

Our aim as a congregation on Yom Kippur is to reach the level of repentance out of fear so that all our transgressions can be viewed as unintentional. On Sukkot we aim higher. We aim for repentance out of love to turn our transgressions into merits aided by the joy of Sukkot.


This idea is the very antithesis of Judaism. Jewish tradition teaches that the purpose of life in this world is the attainment of perfection through the exercise of free will. As we do not know how to attain spiritual perfection, God gave us commandments. The Zohar explains that the 613 commandments (and the 7 Universal Noahide Laws) are God's 'etzot', pieces of advice, or guideposts to perfection. The offer of this advice was the total extent of God's interference in our ultimate fate.

God designed reality so that the reward for attaining perfection is embedded in the very structure of existence. The ultimate reward is basking in the joy of God's Presence. Each Mitzvah that a Jew (or Noahide) does through the exercise of his free will alters his very essence and moves him closer to perfection. Every move in the direction of perfection is also a move towards God's presence.

The full observance of all the commandments in the highest possible way translates directly into the level of perfection required to arrive in God's Presence. Jews (and Noahides) redeem themselves through the performance of mitzvot and create their own reward.

R' Moshe Chaim Luzatto, in his work Derech Hashem, Part 1, explains that not only was reality designed this way, but that this was the only way in which it could have been designed. To bask in God's Presence, the ultimate reward, you must be able to connect to Him. But you can only connect to perfection to the extent that you yourself approach perfection. One of the essential ingredients of perfection is independence. God exists independently. He is not a creation, so His existence and His essence are one and the same.


Explains the Derech Hashem; this sort of independence must be present in anyone who wants to attach himself to God. To attach yourself to God you must resemble God. In the physical world opposites may attract, but spiritually the good and the evil repel each other. To attach yourself to God, you must resemble Him in His attributes of goodness. But if human perfection is not earned, then the human possessor of the perfection doesn't have it independently. God is independently good and the human being desirous of attaching himself to Him is not, and this difference in the quality of independence prevents the degree of attachment necessary to fully enjoy basking in the Divine Presence from coming about. Man can only enjoy his reward, attachment to God, to the extent that he has created his own perfection and is therefore independently good.

This makes the idea of Original Sin a non-starter in Jewish thought. If sin is original to man, then he cannot get rid of it no matter how hard he works at it. The only way to rid oneself of Original Sin is to be 'saved' by God, the very opposite of independence. But lacking independence, man is unable to attach himself to God, making the idea of rewarding him, the purpose of all creation impossible to attain.


To understand the answer to this we must understand the Jewish concept of sin.

God created man out of two pre-manufactured parts; a neshama, or soul, and a guf, or a body. By its nature, man's soul is drawn to ideas and to spirituality. It is transparent to God's Divine light, stimulated by holiness, and designed to enjoy it. On the other hand, man's body, by its very nature is drawn to the material. It is insensitive to ideas and to spirituality, and can only be stimulated by and therefore is only able to enjoy physical sensation. Neither of these pre-manufactured parts have anything to do with man's choices. They were made this way by God.

But each one was fashioned with the capacity to overpower and transform the other. If the soul overpowers the body, it will transform the body so that it also becomes sensitive to spirituality and to ideas, and it will acquire the same capacity to be inspired by a beautiful insight, as it presently has to be stimulated by a juicy steak. If the body overpowers the soul, it also has the ability to transform it in a more limited way, and can endow the soul with sensitivity to physical stimulation.



Man through the exercise of his free will accomplishes the transformation in either direction. Having been created as a mixture of body and soul, man is in an existential state of conflict. His soul pulls him toward spirituality, ideas and God's presence, while his body draws him toward materialism and sensation, away from God's presence. Both the body and the soul are parts of man and each addresses him as 'I'. It is man's job to decide who he really is, soul or body.

His decisions really work. If he decides he is a soul, he will actually be one. He will follow the dictates of his soul and transform his body through the observance of mitzvoth so that it also becomes soul-like. If he decides he is a body he will really be a body, as his body will transform a large part of his soul into something that is body-like.

The body, being material, dies. The soul, being immaterial lives forever. When man was originally created, he was placed midway between the soul and body and the first man Adam, had the capacity to transform himself from body-soul to soul-soul while he was still alive by carrying out God's commandment and refraining from pursuing sensation. This is not the place to delve into the depths of the first sin. It is sufficient to state that the Torah portrays it in terms of a pursuit of physical sensation; and the woman perceived that the tree was good for eating and that it was a delight to the eyes and that the tree was desirable as a means to wisdom... (Genesis 3:6)

Thus in committing this first sin, man chose to define himself as a body rather than a soul. His 'I' was no longer balanced perfectly in the middle between the two, and he became through his action more body-body than body-soul.

Despite this tilt in the direction of the body, the option to transform himself into soul-soul had to remain open; otherwise there would have been no more point for existence to continue. To keep it open in the context of the new reality that resulted from the first sin, God had to introduce death into man's natural life cycle.



At the time of his sin Adam had the ability to transform himself without dying. Transformation, however, is a two way street. As he chose to follow his body, part of his soul became body-like, and the existential balance in man was tipped in the direction of the body. If this change in balance were allowed to express itself, when man faced his next test, his body would be marginally more powerful and would be able to overpower his soul that much more easily.

Just like a single mitzvah would have been enough to fulfill human destiny, a single sin was potentially enough to destroy it. In order to save man, and allow the battle between body and soul to continue on equal terms, God was forced to remove the body's power to transform the soul instantaneously. But as the world is balanced, the removal of this power from the body also meant that the soul would lose its ability to instantaneously transform the body.

To maintain the battle at full strength throughout man's life, God ordered that as the soul grew ever more powerful with each mitzvah, this increased power should be stored in the soul in the form of potential energy. It would only be allowed to become kinetic energy at the time of the Resurrection. At this time, which also initiates life in the world to come, all the potential energy accumulated in man's soul during his lifetime would be released to transform his resurrected body and turn it into soul. In the meantime, as the soul could not presently transform the body man would have to die.