Wednesday, November 30, 2022 -
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As an idea, sin is not so popular

Repentance is the most profitable business in the world, for it is the only one which turns liabilities into assets.
— The Alter of Novorodock

It is a paradox. Yom Kippur says: G-d does not forgive the wrongs committed against people unless, first, the wrongdoer seeks the forgiveness of the victim. It is as if 
G-d says, “Don’t come to Me for your interpersonal failings before you fix things up with your friend, family member — whomever you wronged.” The implication is clear: For the other sins, the ones against G-d alone, you may come straight to G-d.

Here is the paradox. The end point of seeking and extending forgiveness is G-d, but the emphasis on the interpersonal aspect underplays or ignores the end point, the goal of forgiveness from G-d. In emphasizing the centrality of apologizing to and making amends with people whom one has wronged, the follow-through — the turning to G-d for finalizing the atonment for these wrongs — is deemphasized.

Still more. What about the sins against G-d alone? How much meaning does this carry today? My sense is that the idea of sin is not popular. The idea that there is such a thing as a flawed relationship with G-d that needs tending to does not comport with the times.

Yom Kippur is the time to examine one’s record regarding the many potential sins that preclude potential mitzvot. A few examples:


Do I set aside 10% of my net income? Even if I do, do I actually distribute it? Have I learned that there is a difference between certain tzedakah recipients that qualify under the 10% requirement, and limitless other worthy causes that do not qualify? Do I know, for example, that supporting the poor does qualify, and supporting symphony does not? Bottom line: Do I put in as much time on my tzedakah accounts as I do on my checkbook and portfolio?

Middot, character traits, such as trust in G-d (bitachon).

Do I understand that sins before G-d include my inner life. Am I harried? Do I panic? Does financial loss undermine my faith in my own future? Do health challenges undermine my self-confidence? Do I understand that psychological health is a requirement of religious health? What role does trust in G-d play in my religious health?


Do I understand the framework of Shabbos observance — its rootedness in the ancient Tabernacle, such that each Shabbos connects a Jew to G-d via G-d’s connector to the Jew from antiquity forward?It took 39 different types of labor to construct the Tabernacle. By refraining from each of these types of labor on Shabbos, its observance transcends even the construction of the holiest location on earth. That’s how high Shabbos observance is.

All this G-d scrutinizes on Yom Kippur. To say the same thing differently, these are the types of potential sins — and potential mitzvot — that one is to bring before oneself and before G-d on Yom Kippur.


I wrote the above on the morning of my eye surgery. After it, I am confined to bed 24/7 minus .25. I must lay on my side (the same side), without moving, 24 hours a day except for a 15-minute interruption each hour, when I may get up, eat, pray — anything, everything. It all has to be squeezed into 15 minutes.

Actually, this is kind of convenient, since, constricted as I am to writing the rest of this column in 15-minute intervals, I can blame any inadequacies on these crazy intervals to which I must confine my writing.

It’s actually not even 15 minutes. By the time one gets up, dresses, etc., it’s more like 12 minutes.

With that in mind, here goes:

The time-honored work, Orhot Zaddikim (“Ways of the Righteous”) has always held a special place in my soul not only because of its content, but because its author is anonymous. For some seven centuries, from the time the book first appeared, no one has discovered the name of its author. This means that the author succeeded in wholly excising attention from himself (herself?), an act of supreme humility, assigning complete priority to his perspectives on Torah over his own recognition. The book itself is testament to the purity of soul of its author.

In his chapter on repentance, he emphasizes the idea that suffering is punishment for sin — an idea even less popular than sin itself. However, at one point, he writes, who says one has sinned? Perhaps one is free of sin. If so, but if one also suffers, how is that to be explained?

He cites the Talmud that there is such a thing as “afflictions of love” — afflictions not prompted by one’s own sins, but by G-d’s love. What can this possibly mean? [12 minutes up; see you in 45 minutes.]

I’m back again.

Here are learned answers, none of which I need.

Nahmanides. Afflictions of love atone for sins one commits inadvertently, thus facilitating a full reward in the World to Come.

Rashi. Afflictions of love not only guarantee one’s deserved next-world reward but increase it.

Derech Hashem. A righteous person who accepts such afflictions atones for one’s entire generation.

Ran. Afflictions of love atone for the desire to sin, even if it is not committed.

Tzlach. Reward is in proportion to the difficulty of performing a mitzvah or resisting a sin. Afflictions of love increase the difficulty, thus increasing the reward.

The reason I do not need any of these explanations of “afflictions of love”is because I cannot conceive of a person, and certainly not myself, who never sins. Remember, such afflictions are prompted only by one who never sins.

Yom Kippur is upon us. The self-scrutiny is demanding. In proportion to the depth of that reorientation is the depth of the cleansing. [12 minutes up.]

Back again.

Revise that last phrase. Make it “the Divine cleansing of sin.”

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