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Do Jews Believe in Sin?

Do Jews Believe in Sin?


Say the word "sin" and you'll evoke different things in the minds of different people.

To the fire-and-brimstone types, the word smells of shame and scorched flesh. To the hedonist it sounds like fun. Some think it's a wholly Christian concept, while others ascribe it to the ancient Hebrews. To the sages of the Talmud, sin is, above all, an act of stupidity.

"A person does not sin," they wrote, "unless a spirit of folly has entered into him."

Before I got this job I used to write manuals for various household items — those 30-page booklets that come in the box together with electric drills, microwaves, and the like. It was pretty boring work, but it paid well and it was the kind of writing you could do with two kids on your lap. The best part was that you didn't have to put your name on it.

Anyway, one day the consumer department of one of the companies I wrote for forwarded me a letter which, since it was the first response I had ever gotten from a reader of my work, I read with interest. "Sir," the letter began. "I have in hand a booklet you wrote which came in the box with my new video camera. I must say that I am outraged by your presumptuousness and audacity. This is my camera, for which I paid my own hard-earned money. It has lots of buttons, switches and indicator lights — and these are all my buttons, switches and indicator lights. How dare you instruct me on what to do with them! I shall press each of my buttons and flip each of my switches as I please. As for the indicator lights, I, not you, shall decide for myself what they indicate; indeed, if I so choose, I shall ignore them altogether. Yours truly, a very stupid customer."

He did not, of course, sign off that way, but he might as well have. Needless to say, I didn't bother replying.

The sages of the Talmud didn't see much difference between my stupid customer and your standard sinner. As they saw it, when a person acts contrary to his Creator's instructions on how life is to be lived, he may be doing something bad, evil, selfish, destructive, enjoyable, defiant, cowardly — as the case may be. But above all, he is doing something profoundly stupid.

By Yanki Tauber; based on the teachings of the Rebbe.
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Yoss0 Paris January 1, 2015

Sin I'm confused and need help to understand to sin means first thinking to do something against Hashem and then put it in practice; assuming this, is the bad intention by itself a sin ? Thanks for help.
Yossi0 Reply

Tim Bristol November 29, 2013

Totally agree, as a psychiatric patient and chess player I would relable stupidity as error, the consequences of sin/ error/ mistake are the creators error report if we would only read it wisely, G-D speaks to us through the events in our lives and we would do well to examine them closely me more than most. Somewhere in Hebrew teaching I posses it says in English translation that it is an ill wind that blows no good. Reply

Sarah Liebson Ridgewood March 29, 2013

This article... was a great reality check for me actually XD Reply

Irene Glen Burnie, MD USA June 2, 2012

Do Jews believe in Sin? to Anonymous on Sin April 13,2009

We may deserve G-d's wrath and punishment, but let us thank Him that even though we deserve wrath and punishment, He is a forgiving G-d and if we humbly and sincerely ask His forgiveness, He hears us and in His Mercy forgives us. Blessed be G-d! Reply

someone houston, tx June 7, 2011

I agree that sin is stupidity, however I very much disagree with this writer's commentary and think it can be very dangerous. Why? Because he chose a really out there example on the stupidity of sin which makes us look at the man and think "Wow, I would never do that, how dumb- what was he thinking?" But the reality is that when we speak impatiently to someone, that is sin. When we don't pray with sincerity, that is sin. When we are hypocritical, this is also sin. We need to be careful to not point at other people and laugh at them when in reality, we have our own sins and are stupid everyday. We need to be careful to recognize that sin is basically falling short of what God is asking us to be- and to think that it would only be considered a thing of foolishness can be deceptive. We end up thinking that we can't be a fool, we are smart, etc. but then we end up self-justifying ourself and not recognizing that we are in danger of sin. Reply

Florence Medford June 2, 2011

Sin If i have understood this article, particularly that last paragraph, two things pop up for me: The first would be a sense of judging and disrespect for the "stupid" sinner on the part of the writer.
Second pop-up, where is there room for Teshuvah, a most important opportunity for learning and growth?
What did I miss? Reply

Anonymous April 13, 2009

Sin If sin is to miss the mark, then we have all sinned and missed the standard of G-d's holiness. Only one sin - like the sin which Adam and Eve committed in the garden - is enough to separate us from G-d. Just like Adam, who was separated from G-d through committing only one sin, when we sin the first time we become guilty sinners who deserve G-d's wrath and punishment. Reply

Jerome Krasnow bloomfield, CT/USA April 13, 2009

Missed opportunity or missing the mark? One Rabbi equated sin to missing the mark like an archer whose aim is off.

Another meaning equate sin with temptation. A father takes his son to the cold bath for the first time. Shivering the child says "oy Papa, Oy" as he leaps from the water. As the Papa wraps him in a warm blanket, the boy purrs "Ah, Papa, ah." The father then explains the difference between a cold bath and a sin saying, "With a cold bath first you say Oy then Ah; but with a Sin, first you say Ah then later Oy Vey!"

G-d does not expect us to be without error, or desire. Indeed we will be tempted and commit follow. On the other hand, each day we can approach G-d's plan as 613 Opportunities! If seen in this way when we do the good or don't do the bad, we fulfill an opportunity for holiness. Rather than focusing on the marks we miss, how much better an attitude to see G-d's plan as opportunities for success! Reply

Anonymous via November 25, 2008

the letter Did anyone else think the letter the rabbi recieved was in jest?
I think the letter's writer set out to bring a smile to the face of the recipient, not knowing who the recipient was at all. In that case, rather than sinning he essentially performed one of the highest forms of mitzvah, that which is done anonymously! Reply

Menachem Brooklyn, NY January 28, 2008

re:atonement for sin to sin is to wander
to return is to annul the sin

one must simply return to one's original, pure self. This involves a two-step process.
a) genuine regret
b) a resolute undertaking not to allow what transpired to occur again.
The proof of the pudding therefore is the ability to withstand the challenge next time ti occurs, under the same circumstances and conditions. Once that is achieved, one has really returned. That is atonement. Reply

D. Fetter Minnesota, USA December 4, 2007

Atonement for sin Since they pray the Al Chet, all Jews must at some point feel that they have sinned?

How do Jews atone for their sin, since there is no longer a temple in existence for them to offer sacrifices on an altar to G-d? Reply

Ken Michigan June 10, 2006

Sin: It's not just bumping one's head A great article, Tauber! Talmudic wisdom is exceedingly profound in it's simplicity. Reply

Jim Phillips Cave Creek, AZ/USA June 6, 2006

Sin I found the "stupidity" remark humorous, since I have never thought of it that way. Of course sin is stupidity, unintentional or not. We are called to know G_d.
However, the description of stupidity misses the target also. Of course one can describe many actions as unwise, foolish, or stupid. Sin is any act against G_d or person that damages the relationship. Since we are made in the image of G_d, even actions that damage us, can be defined as sin. It is only atonement and mercy followed by forgiveness from the one sinned against that can undo the damage of sin. (just ask your spouse on that one) Reply

Levi T. Israel June 6, 2006

Chait, too, requires teshuva "I wonder if an unintentional sin might be worse in some cases, for if it is unintentional it means that there is a lack of self-control on the part of the sinner."

Chassidus quotes a passage from Rashi on the Talmud which states that unintentional sins require teshuva as well (Chait). Reason being: The very fact that the soul lacked the natural sensitivity towards the fulfillment of a mitzva, resulting in the subconscious act of an unintentional sin, thereby reflects on the rise of the evil-inclination's strength, definitely something to worry about. Reply

sam June 5, 2006

Sweet and to the point!!! I like! Very well written. waiting for some more.... Reply

neal elkins, arkansas June 4, 2006

stupid is. shalom, now i finally understand. ive been going from pillar to post for 40 years thinking that this/ sickness, stress, everything that has gone wrong in my 61 year old life was a test from Hashem, now i find some of it was, but most of it was caused by my stupidity. ill remember this next time .
be safe, Reply

Thomas Karp January 4, 2006

And then there is aveiru. 'Chait' is unintentional sin, whereas 'aveiru' is intentional sin.

The Benjaminites warriors missing a target would be "chait", for usually you don't miss a target intentionally; whereas the Benjaminite (and first king of Israel) Saul not following Shmuel's specific instructions was intentional, and thus was aveiru instead.

In a more modern sense, to cheat is not to chait, for cheating is intentional; whereas hate is chait, for who really chooses to hate intentionally?

That leads to the question of which is worse: Chait or aveiru? The learned Jews I've heard mention them have implied that G-d frowns on aveiru more, yet I wonder if an unintentional sin might be worse in some cases, for if it is unintentional it means that there is a lack of self-control on the part of the sinner.

Hmm? Reply

Anonymous July 11, 2005

I think, there is nothing to laugh about this article. It is true.
It reveals the very origin, the reason for the wish of human beings to sin:
thinking that everything belongs to you and wanting to make your own decisions, showing that you are free even if it has bad consequences. Following one's own desires not looking further (what this action will cause) and not wanting to admit that there is one who knows better than oneself (like a child in relation to his parents)- that is stupidity. Reply

Anonymous August 24, 2004

This is the funniest thing I've ever read from Chabad! I kept rereading this letter you received - it's priceless! - and with all my rereading and laughing I nearly missed the message of the story.

You know, I've never thought of sin as profound stupidity before. But it really is just that.

Thank you so very much for writing this story.


Yanki Tauber March 21, 2004

"Chait," the Torah's word for "sin," is used in this sense in Judges 20:16 in describing 700 Benjaminite warriors who "could sling a stone at a hair-breadth and not miss" (this usage of "chait" in the sense of missing a target has carried over into modern Hebrew). Chassidic teaching thus explains that a sin, in its broadest sense, is basically a shortfall -- the failure of a soul to actualize its true potential. Reply

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