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How Does 'Forgiveness' Work?

How Does 'Forgiveness' Work?



Lately I have been having a lot of confusion trying to figure out if and how G‑d can forgive people of their sins. Suppose someone sins by killing another person or setting someone's house on fire, and then that person genuinely repents and desires to do all that he/she can to repair the damage. Suppose G‑d and also the victims of the sin forgive the sinner. But the person who was killed is still dead and the house burnt still needs to be built! How can the person be forgiven if the effects of his or her crime still exist?


Much of your quandary arises from confusing two related issues: forgiveness and healing.

If one of my children would spill red paint from her social studies project all over the living room carpet and them come crying to me, saying, "Daddy, I made a big mistake! I feel so bad!" —I would probably forgive her pretty fast. But I would still ask her to clean up the paint.

Which means: I haven't held out on forgiving her until she cleaned up the mess. I've forgiven her entirely. It's just that it's her mess, so she has to clean it up.

So, too, whenever a person messes up in this world, it causes damage to the world, to the soul and to the body. A Jew may spend the first fifty years of her life eating non-kosher food, so that every cell of her body is made of a substance that imprisons the Jewish soul. In one moment, she may regret and ask forgiveness—and she will be completely forgiven. But now she must be careful to keep the kosher laws so that all those cells be changed over to kosher ones.

We call this "tikkun", which means repair—a type of healing of the soul, the body and the world. Not always can it be achieved in a single lifetime. We may have to return again and again until the tikkun is achieved. A tzaddik can often assist a person to find the proper tikkun for specific sins. But, as I said, the first step is to feel true regret and determine to abandon the sin altogether. That alone is enough to procure forgiveness.

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Jared October 23, 2017

Thank you for sharing. I appreciate the insight provided by the comments here as well. Reply

Arlene Appebaum Tucson September 5, 2017

I want to forgive the woman who killed my daughter in a car accident. I believe it wasn't an accident. When you do something that you know is wrong and a person dies because you were negligent how can I forgive someone even though I need too for my own well being! Reply

Judith L Witten Brockton, Ma/USA January 15, 2011

I liked what you said about Kosher Life and the fact that it is such a long long process that it may take many lifetimes for the soul to be replennished if the person started late in life to be kosher in life. Well...I'll remember that because I want to become Kosher soon.-Thanks-Oh-It would be so spiritual to be kosher that I desided to be Kosher anyway. Reply

C. R Melbourne, Australia April 2, 2006

To anonymous:
I believe Rabbi Freeman is referring to the "tikun" -rectification, a person, a soul has to go through, even after repentance, in order to cleanse his soul.
It goes without saying that one cannot bring the dead back to life. The point is that even after the person has repented, and been forgiven, they will still have to suffer the consequences of their actions. Reply

Ora Jerusalem March 30, 2006

to anonymous in Ithaca Murder is something that cannot be atoned for in this life. Only with the death of the murderer is the sin fully "cleaned." Same with certain other sins, the effects are permanent and so only death can atone. That doesn't mean that the murderer is necessarily put to death, just that their soul is never fully pure until after they die. Reply

Anonymous Ballwin, MO. via March 30, 2006

Forgiveness article What is the obligation of the person who has inflicted harm or hurt to another person and has never apologized for their act although there has been an on going opportunity to do that? Does G-d or the individual that has been hurt forgive a perpetrator that has shown no sign of repentence ?

Does the individual who has been the victim have an obligation to forgive the offender without an apology from the offender ?

It seems as though Tikkun can only truly take place on our level for both the offender and the victim when an apolgy is offered and the existing problems have been resolved.

I look forward to reiving your response. Reply

Anonymous ithaca, n.y. u.s.a. March 29, 2006

what is doen in the case of a death? you say how all you have to do is "clean up the mess" regarding death I am a person can not bring someone from the dead and there for I would not be able to "clean up the mess" Reply

Helga Hudspeth March 23, 2006

Thank you for this article; I've spent much time thinking about it, asking G-d to help me understand. And I believe that I now have an understanding of forgiveness and healing I didn't have before - and which I need so that I can keep going forward without, so often, running into a barrier of my own making. Reply

shimon salter London, Edgware March 20, 2006

website I think that this website is a fantastic website to learn from and to admire. Reply

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