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Getting Forgiven

Getting Forgiven



I know that when you do something wrong you have to “do teshuvah” (repent), and “it’s never too late to do teshuvah,” and all of that. But how do you know when you have been forgiven? Or does the guilt just go on and on?


Getting forgiven is great. But the real question is, “How do I clean up my mess and get on with life?”

As soon as you regret what you did, and resolve that it will never happen again, you are forgiven. You say out loud, “I did such-and-such right in front of You (because everywhere is right in front of You), and I really regret it, and I won’t do it again.” That’s called vidui. If you say it and you really mean it, you’re past it.

Just cleaning up your mess and getting back to where you started is a real waste of a good sin . . . But you’re not over it. It’s like getting sick: The doctor can prescribe powerful antibiotics to knock off the bacteria, or perform surgery to remove the malignant tissue. But even after that, there’s still a lot of time left for inflamed tissue to heal and for the body to recover.

So, really, there are three steps:

  1. Forgiveness
  2. Healing
  3. Health

. . . or think of them like this:

  1. Get past it
  2. Get over it
  3. Get it

Healing—getting over it—begins when you do something to clean up the mess you’ve made. What heals a spiritual mess-up? Once upon a time, it was by fasting. Today, fasting just makes bigger messes. Even in the time of the Talmud, those who were weakened by fasting did not fast; all the more so today.

That’s aside from the “holy roller” phenomenon you may have observed—that those who fast and do other such holy stuff can’t help announcing it to the world, and believing that they’ve become elevated spiritual beings, beyond the rest of us. That’s not healing; that’s messing up further.

So today, the best way to bring about healing is with lots of tzedakah (a.k.a. “charity”). Generally, a Jew is obligated to give ten percent of his profits to charities of his choice. So teshuvah means going beyond that. Even better, go out there with both your feet and do something good for someone with both of your hands. Now that’s teshuvah. You’re at Healing. But not yet at Health.

It’s said that G‑d created the possibility of sin in order to make teshuvah ila’ah (“higher teshuvah”) accessible Health is a whole new level where you’ve never been before. It’s when that mess-up in your past drives you to greater heights, with a surge of unprecedented energy. Your Torah study, prayer and mindfulness in life are inspired and driven by the thirst of having once been distant and now drawn close to the Light. This is called teshuvah ila’ah—“higher teshuvah.” It’s said that G‑d created the possibility of sin in order to make this accessible.

In other words, just cleaning up your mess and getting back to where you started is a real waste of a good sin. The whole point was to drive you further and higher. Because everything in life has purpose.

If so, the question is not just “did you get over it?” but “did you get it?”1

Concerning all this, see Iggeret Hateshuvah of R. Schneur Zalman of Liadi, printed as the third book of Tanya.
Rabbi Tzvi Freeman, a senior editor at, also heads our Ask The Rabbi team. He is the author of Bringing Heaven Down to Earth. To subscribe to regular updates of Rabbi Freeman's writing, visit Freeman Files subscription. FaceBook @RabbiTzviFreeman Periscope @Tzvi_Freeman .
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Feigele St Johns FL October 15, 2017

This person might have emotional problems. If they are neighbor, try to put a letter in their mailbox asking what happened that you are not conscious about it! Reply

Thea New Jersey October 14, 2017

Asking for forgiveness after wronging someone. What if you know you must have hurt someone by their scorn of you, not speaking to you, etc., but they do not tell you what it is that you did? This has just happened to me with a long term friend and neighbor. I ask, and get no response.
What to do? Ask their forgiveness for "whatever I did? What if if does require I compensate the wronged person?. Reply

Jeffrey Perlman Miami, FL October 17, 2017
in response to Thea:

If the forgiveness requires monetary compensation, I respectfully suggest that the wrong is already known. Make contact, tell the person how important the relationship is and that that you really, really want to restore it. That starts communication. But be careful; a conversation can turn into miscommunication in a flash.

If the issue is not monetary, continue to politely and humbly probe. I am told that one is expected to ask three times before HaShem takes care of the matter. I could be wrong. All that I am saying is to never give up. I personally received the cold shoulder from a friend while in law school. The cold war lasted a year. Everything was better than before when I found the only publication that had the answer to a huge test. I made sure that she and the other 7 in our class got a copy. No Yid in Peltz here. But seeing that act melted the ice. Friendship restored and lasting- the incident? Over 35 years ago.

Never give up! Reply

Ephraim Bander Brooklyn April 25, 2017

Rabbi Freeman,

Your clear, holy gift in putting concepts in visual story form is brilliant.

Thank you, Reply

Anonymous London, UK September 23, 2015

Fasting Hi Rabbi

So am I right that if one can fast and not announce it at all to anyone (except maybe to ones spouse), then that is still the best way to heal? Reply

suzy handler woodland hills, ca July 24, 2015

You can ask for forgiveness for you or someone else. That does not mean you are
given a pardon. Only G-d gives a pardon. Reply

Yitzchak Chaim July 4, 2015

The step back of sin allows the space needed to leap ahead in spirit.

One man throws a baseball quickly using his wrist.
The other man stretches his arm as far a possible behind his head to throw the ball.
The second man's ball goes further and faster because he generates greater momentum behind the ball. This can be applied to batting, golfing, slingshots, swinging a hammer, or a trampoline.
Repentance takes time and complete attention. We must first be realistic about our individual sin. Denial and delusion make us "sprain our wrist" rushing, not waiting for the "arm to reach all the way back so that our souls become fastballs." Reply

ruth housman marshfield hills, ma August 22, 2013

IT just happened, forgiveness I had a falling out with a friend, who created an online storybuilding game. She used a little poem, about a gnome, that I had written. Then we had a quite ridiculous falling out, which ended in a sweet email in which she wrote nourishment, and offered to give me a gifte to a favorite restaurant. Just before this came zooming in.

Forgiveness for small things, is very easy and important. For the bigger things it's a weighty matter and sometimes we need to wait for the passage of time to put things in perspective. Time itself has a way of healing old wounds, and yet, that contact, that is personal, feels like a good closure, a mutual shaking of hands, not fists. Reply

Arnie Gerstein Sturgis August 21, 2013

forgiveness I meant to say we may have to face the pain and the shame of being who we are not...of facing our alienation and separation from others that we have created. The pain of separation and the need to compensate by becoming addicted to validation is also difficult to face but it is the key to tikkun olam and to our freedom. Once the fear of facing our make believe separation is less than our desire to face the world of make believe and pretense, tikkun takes place. Reply

Scott Cunningham Boca Raton, FL August 21, 2013

I have experienced the need to be forgiven Ensconced within Vayeshev in the Holy Zohar it talks about the most significant choice that we must make: whether to follow the Evil Inclination, the negative energy present and influential from the moment of conception or to follow the Good Inclination, which does not convey itself until age 13. I chose to follow the Evil energy and my life has been a roller coaster ride. At 62 the Holy Name had, had enough. I rejoiced in having excepted the energy of the judgment bestowed upon me for a lifetime of following the left side (Evil Inclination). If I had only known at age 13 to follow the right side (Good Inclination) I would not have been shown all the hurt I caused others in my later years. Like a parent who lovingly disciplines the child so am I a child of G-ds' love. I hurt for those I hurt. I wept for those who I hurt and I have vowed to never do this again. Rabbi Freeman thank you for clarifying my forgiveness being accepted by the center of the universe. G-d. Reply

Thea New Jersey October 14, 2017
in response to Scott Cunningham:

I chose a path like yours, via ommission, not outright crime or other overt evil acts such as stealing. I withdrew from people in my own family, including my husband and children; actually did not relate to them, or anyone else, for that matter, did not meet any of their needs, as would be expected from a wife, mother, or friend. Most are dead now, so I cannot ask them for forgiveness, or provide compensation. What should a Jewish person do at this point? Reply

Lasarusa Yehuda Sovea Ben-Zion Suva, Fij Islands October 12, 2012

Betrayal I had similar experiences as K.O.Smith of Denison, Tx. There were people that betrayed my trust involving sums of close to a demi-million.

Wife and I did approach a few of them in person and told them that they are forgiven, even though none has ever being remorseful or even to say 'sorry'. A couple of them have died tragically, and the rest are either very sick or aren't succesful with what they are doing. Reply

Kenneth O. Smith Denison, TX u.s.a. October 5, 2012

I need help to for give Rabbi. Dear Rabbi Tzvi Freeman, I need your help twenty one years ago i work in a store part time. We had very little money, at that time people that are poor would come into the store and ask for food, I would give them food and tell the owner to take it out of my check.I started hauling trash and doing odd jobs to make money for the poor,I prayed to our G-d of Jacob and i ask Him to help.Our G-d is a Loving G-d of mercy the Holy One made a Miracle, with no money, no office, no phone, the L-rd gave me the Idea of asking businesses to give 5% of their sales to the poor in our little town, at that time we had 500 homeless people in our town. , we had companies in two states helping.I would get the contracts and they would help the poor with a 5% commission. Our first contract was $50,000.00 and when it was complete two members of our group stole the check and cash it, it was possible because we were not in-corporated.I shut down the program, I can't forgive them.
This was a blessing from G-d. Reply

Graham-Michoel Wellington, Select a state/province September 10, 2012

Only Human? Arnie, that is an amazing response - wonderful insight. Thank you for sharing it. Reply

arnie gerstein Sturgis, Michigan September 9, 2012

Only Human? G-d created a place to experience dualism, multiplicity to face the challenge or opportunity to learn to experience our true nature, how he created us out of Himself. We are like the spectrum of unique colors, all radiating from the white light, our non-separate, non fearful being, all loving, all goodness, our natural state. But without the dualistic nature of humans, not our native state, we came here to face the greatest challenge imaginable, to find light through darkness, reality through appearance and we shop around in choice stores to discover who we really are, parts of G-d, imaged in the beingness of Borei. Olam. It hurts to forgive only because we resist and fear who we really are and our non Oneness with others. We have all committed sins (errors of perception, and missed the mark, original meaning of Chet-sin or l'hachti). Reply

Lasarusa Yehuda Sovea Ben-Zion Suva, Fiji Islands September 8, 2012

My Position I have forgiven every person who has done me wrong, and yet I am still guilty of my bad deeds, even though I have sought forgiveness from many. Reply

barbara santa fe, nm August 26, 2012

FORGIVENESS Loved the article. For me, forgiveness is an action word. Be accountable, resolve to do it differently in the future, forgive another -- and especially forgive oneself. Reply

Feigele Boca Raton, FL August 26, 2012

I do not believe that G-d wants or exults in us doing any sins in order to experience the “Light” as you call it. But, G-d knows that it is unavoidable coming from humans thus experiencing the outcome or the “Light”. By giving or for giving is one way to repair the damage done but can it erase it completely? What’s done is done, as history taught us, never forget. Depending on the gravity of the wrong doing, you might be able to get over it. I personally tend to forgive my adversaries before they assault me, as I know there is no foundation for their offense towards me but rather based on their personal moods. As for me, I have always tried not to offend or hurt anyone and if it was misconstrued as such, then it was not intentional. I trust in G-d for jugdments. Reply

Anonymous Venice, CA August 24, 2012

Cool. In other words get high on your existence with the Light above, always, blessings. Reply

arnie gerstein Sturgis, Michigan August 24, 2012

Is it a paradox that G-d experiences our errors of perception (sin) he engineered it all so that we can learn, to love more ardently, and so that he an expan his consciousness through his Creation, through each one of us..n Just like we do through all we create and glean the consequences of our actions . It is all grist for the mill, so to speak. G-d a loving Being holds no grievances. We do by the very words we use "deserve"/has it coming/
serves him right. Then we satisfy our need for justice. Justice and mercy with G-d means something very different. Justice has to do with each act, each thought, having its consequences so we can see what we have done. Reply

Graham-Michoel Wellington, Select a state/province August 23, 2012

Getting Forgiven Wonderful - thank you! The grace and wisdom of your writing this is so very helpful - so appreciated. Thank you. Reply

Nicholas Handforth , Cheshire August 23, 2012

Guilt in regard to wrong doing Thank-you for this posting ---- Guilt is a terrible prison that no one sees --- teshuva is the way the teshuva of the giving of ones self Amen ! Reply

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