What’s the Scoop on Modern Repentance?
Benyamin Rosentzweig // Raleigh-Durham, NC
As Jews all over the world conclude their Yom Kippur fast, CTeener Benyamin Rosentzweig reflects on the wonder of Teshuvah, ancient fasts, and repentance in a modern world.
The concept of Teshuvah is far simpler than it seems, and it's way less difficult to understand than you may have imagined. Tanya defines Teshuvah as simply "stepping away from sin," or just ceasing from a sin for the reason of serving Hashem. That is Teshuvah, everything else is atonement, not repentance. To give an analogy, repentance would be when a son does something against his father's will and feels bad, so he tells his father he's sorry and knows he won't do it again. All of the father's anger melts away in an instant, and he feels closer to his child than ever before. This is how Hashem feels when we tell him we regret sinning, with all being instantly forgiven . The repenting is completed, and now all that's left is to atone and cleanse ourselves.
In the old days, this was done through fasting, but Tanya makes it clear that this is no longer practical in our generation. The concept of fasting as a way of atonement has to do with the idea that suffering is Hashem’s mandated atonement. In ancient times, fasting circumvented the fear of a far less appealing option. However, modern humans are generally not strong enough to fast for the incredibly long times that the scriptures prescribe for various sins, so today’s Jews are taught to atone in other ways.
Instead, the Tanya tells us that we should give charity. One way to do this is by giving an amount equal to that we would spend on each day’s food (estimated at $15 per day) in recognition of each day we would have spent fasting. Even using this metric, it is tricky to know exactly how much we owe in the strict halachic sense. Because of this, we often cannot (and should not) put an exact dollar value on this amount.
What do we do for sins that prescribe tens of days of fasting, or for repeated offenses that can stretch into thousands of dollars? We can't give that much money! Simply be as generous as you can, not only with your money, but perhaps more importantly with your time, wisdom, friendship, love, or care. The goal is simply to be generous in every part of our lives.
This Yom Tov season, instead of worrying about repenting for all of the sins of the prior year, I encourage you to focus on being the best you can by serving Hashem and showing generosity. Shana Tova!