May 22, 2024
Search
Close this search box.
Search
Close this search box.
May 22, 2024
Search
Close this search box.

Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Answers to the Most Frequently Asked Questions About Teshuva

Elul is upon us and teshuva is on everyone’s minds. While this process is one that Jews everywhere attempt to implement each year, questions abound and we all must turn renewed attention to improving ourselves this year. To make the process easier, here are some answers to the most commonly asked questions about teshuva.

1) Can teshuva be done for any aveira?

We learn in Yuma (86a), “Great is repentance for it reaches up to the Throne of Glory.” The commentaries explain that one can be granted atonement even for the most egregious sins. Hashem provides the path for each and every one of us and it does not matter what category of infraction one has transgressed.

The Sefer Reishis Chachmah states that one can do teshuva for every sin. Of course, there are different steps and tikkunim that must be made to achieve atonement for the sin.

2) What are the main components of doing teshuva?

There are four main components to the teshuva process.

  1. a) Azivas HaChet—realizing that we have erred and abandoning the violation of that sin.
  2. b) Charata—regretting that we became involved in the commission of the sin and lost time and effort that could have been spent in our spiritual betterment.
  3. c) Kabbalah al Ha’Asid—resolving not to commit this sin again in the future.
  4. d) Viduy—the verbal confession of our sins before Hashem. Chazal have provided us with the formula in “Ashamnu, bagadnu, gazalnu…” The Chayei Adam notes that this is written in alphabetical order so that each word includes all the aveiros that begin with that letter, i.e., Ashamnu begins with an alef and indicates all aveiros that begin with the letter alef.

3) What happens if I have already given up on doing teshuva?

There is an opportunity for renewal every day in our life. Every morning we say “Elokai neshama shenasata bi” because every day each person gets his neshama back for a new day and another chance. Perhaps this is the day that will mark the beginning of a new life. The Rambam writes (Hilchos Teshuva 7:6): Teshuvah brings close those who were far removed. Previously, this person was despised by Hashem, disgusting and abominable. Now he is beloved, desirable and dear.

4) How do I know that I will be forgiven for my sins?

As we read in Unesaneh Tokef, Hashem is merciful and gracious, the forgiving Father. He waits our entire lives for us to do teshuvah. His greatest wish is for His wayward children to return. Hashem’s compassion is so great that He forgives even the most major transgressions.

Throughout the Talmud and Midrash there are various examples of individuals who committed the most serious transgressions yet they were given the opportunity to repent. For instance: Menashe, the king of Yehuda; R’ Elazar ben Dordaya; and Yakum Ish Tzraros. This is a source of chizuk and inspiration that there is hope. None of us have transgressed to the degree that they did.

5) Can I do teshuva on one sin, or does it have to be a total makeover?

We always aim for shleimus, completeness. However, in teshuva, every step a person takes towards kedusha—spiritual purity—is important. If a person works on one aveira, that is huge. If a person says, “I can’t stop speaking lashon hara altogether, but at least I will try to be more careful with my words and learn one law a day of shemiras halashon,” that is also commendable.

The Chofetz Chaim gives a mashol of a person going down the rapids on a raft that is out of control. Suddenly he sees a low-hanging branch, which he quickly grabs with his hands so he is able to save his life. “Eitz chaim hi lamachazikim bah,” cites the Chofetz Chaim. A person may not be able to grab on to the entire Torah and all the mitzvos, but he can at least be saved with a branch.

6) How do I motivate myself to do teshuva?

Everyone has an inner calling to do teshuva, no matter how far they’ve strayed. We all have an innate desire to be true to ourselves and to our calling.

We do not have to do this on our own. Hashem will help, as Chazal tell us (Shabbos 104a), “If one comes to purify himself he receives Divine assistance.”

When we do teshuva out of love, every sin is transformed into a mitzvah. When we think about the beautiful, upright life that we can lead, and the great reward in store for us, it is motivational.

7) What difference is there between teshuva bein adam l’chaveiro (between man and his fellow man) and teshuva bein adam laMakom (between man and Hashem)?

The Rambam in Hilchos Teshuva (2:9) says that teshuva and Yom HaKippurim are only mechaper on aveiros bein adam laMakom. But the aveiros bein adam lechavero—and the Rambam gives examples of those—are not forgiven until one makes things right with his friend and appeases him. Even if, for example, the individual has returned the money he took from his friend, he is still obligated to appease him and ask his forgiveness. People find it embarrassing to ask mechila, and indeed it is a humbling experience. However, one should not allow these feelings to discourage him, because part of the avodah (service) of teshuva is to humble oneself and go through a period of rectification.

The Baal Shem Tov comments that the words in Tehillim (121:5) “Hashem tzilcha” (Hashem is your shadow) implies a response in kind. If we are mochel and forgive the sins of others, Hashem will be mochel and forgive our sins.

8) What happens if I’ve already done teshuva in the past and I transgressed again?

The pasuk in Mishlei (24:16) tells us, “For though the righteous one may fall seven times, he will arise.” This is said about the tzaddikim. Never be discouraged. The yetzer is like a fly that hovers around without giving up. Failure is not fatal; it is simply an opportunity to begin again.

9) Is it ever too late to do teshuva?

Citing the words of Tehillim (150:4), “Halleluhu b’sof umachol,” the great R’ Yisroel of Rizhin says, in a play on words, “Even if a person praises Hashem b’sof—only at the end of his life, machol, he will be completely forgiven.” Every day in life is an opportunity for teshuva. It doesn’t matter how many years have passed, how old one is, or his past history.


Rabbi David Goldwasser is a professor of Judaic studies at Touro’s Lander College for Women.

Leave a Comment

Most Popular Articles