“In looking back, we focus on our blemishes and faults, not in order to wallow in guilt, but to use our flaws for leverage in an effort to progress.
Not all deficiencies can be remedied, but some can and must be.
As the holy Zohar tells us, ba’alei teshuvah (those who becomes religiously observant) are even more exalted than the saints, “for they are drawn to Him with greater force.”
Evil deeds, once recognized, become a constant goad and encouragement to reform.
In this sense, they become virtues.
Whoever has been remiss and sinned against society or other individuals must repay and restore what he can, be it money or otherwise.
Whoever has been remiss, even slightly, and thereby caused others to sin must, through his own virtue, bring them back to the right path.
Whoever has been unwittingly remiss must consciously make amends; and whatever damage has been caused by wrong-headedness must be rectified by right-headedness.
Life itself, including both past and present, must be seen as a single whole.
And it is the task of ba’alei teshuvah, at whatever age or stage, to live in such a way as to be able to say, “Happy is our old age, for it has atoned for our youth.” (Talmud, Sukkah 53a)
From “The Relation to the Past,” p. 56-57, in Teshuvah by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz