Tuesday, August 25, 2020
Fifth Day of Elul 5780
The Talmud teaches: “The person who has made t’shuvah stands in a place where not even a purely righteous person can stand” (B. Berachot 34b). The statement is understood to mean that t’shuvah not only cleanses a person of sin, it actually places that person above those who have never sinned at all. It is one of Jewish tradition’s most paradoxical statements about repentance, and it is one of the most difficult for us to believe. Yet, it is essential.
Why do we not believe the statement? It is because we learn from a young age that the mistakes we make leave a permanent mark on us. When we feel guilty or ashamed of things we have done wrong, we tend to believe that there is an accuser who will always remember our mistakes and bring it as evidence against us. For many of us, the accuser we imagine is actually ourselves. We ourselves are the person whose accusations we fear the most.
Jewish tradition wisely understands how unhealthy this is. We will never be able to grow and become better people if we can never forgive ourselves, if we can never believe that we can be better. If we believe that we are forever guilty, we will also believe that trying to change is futile. We will believe that we are somehow bad by our nature.
Do you see how counterproductive this belief is? If you think that you cannot improve yourself because you believe that your past wrongs make it impossible for you to be better, then what chance do you have? What chance does anyone have? If you believe that only a “perfectly righteous person” is deserving of being a good person, then no one would ever improve, find forgiveness, or believe themselves to be good. No one would ever be good.
You have to believe that it is possible for human beings to learn from their mistakes, find forgiveness, and become better. Not only that, you also have to believe that once you have gone through this experience of changing, you will be better than you were before because the experience will have taught you how to change. You will be standing in a better place.
Practice for this day:
Think of a past mistake in your life, even one from long ago, that makes you feel guilty to this day. In your mind, weigh the pros and cons of continuing to feel guilty. What benefit do you get from your feelings of guilt? How do your feelings of inadequacy and shame hold you down? How would you benefit if you were able to release your guilty feelings and feel forgiven? What benefit would you get from feeling that you had overcome your past mistake?
Write down your past mistake and whether you want to feel forgiven: