Let My People Know

"No matter how far gone the sinner, penitence is possible"


To feel discomfort and explain it away with a shrug, or any number of verbal equivalents, may not lead to even the decision to change, let alone change itself. 

On the other hand, genuine regret for one's misdeeds and recognition of one's failings do not necessarily lead to the desired outcome either.

Instead, they can cause a deepening sense of despair and a fatalistic resignation. 

Rather than promoting positive change, such despondency, regarded in our tradition as one of the most serious afflictions of the soul, can cause one to sink even further. 

A person may come to feel so degraded, morally, religiously, or otherwise, that he decides to blot out altogether from his consciousness the source of his degradation. 

Such repression usually occurs when one takes up a life of instinctual pleasures or any of various pursuits designed to dull the senses, temporarily or permanently. 

It is a flight from depression. 

Alcohol, drugs, sex, and various forms of "entertainment" may obliterate feelings of discomfort or dissatisfaction, but nothing is solved. 

Rather, there is a distorted sense of relief from pain and the delusion that one can carry on as before.

Thus remorse alone, however decisive it may be initially, must be accompanied by something else: belief in the possibility of change. 

In this sense, the principle of teshuvah—that no matter what the starting point, no matter how far gone the sinner, penitence is possible—is itself an important source of reawakening and hope. 

Knowing that the door is always open and that there is a way through it, knowing that there is no irredeemable situation, can itself serve as a goad to teshuvah.

It is important to remember that resolutions are not always carried out.

Great obstacles lie hidden along the way. 

Routine and habit, which often create a person's predicament to begin with, do not disappear simply because that person has made up his mind to change. 

Even though it may not immediately be carried out, the decision is in itself an essential step. 

As long as it is not mere talk or self-deception (one can deceive oneself as readily as one can others), every positive decision, however small, is important. 

Indeed, in some cases a person's great turn may appear to be made suddenly, at a sharp angle and at high speed.
But usually such a turn is preceded by many less dramatic, less mature steps, small decisions that do not bear fruit, wishes never carried out. 

When the time comes, all these small moves coalesce into a single movement.

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz
From “The Meaning of Teshuvah,” p.7, in Teshuvah by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz