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Teshuvah—Repentance

Teshuvah—Repentance

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Teshuvah means to regret some mess-up you made, and resolve never to do it again.

We can’t tell you how to feel regret or resolve; it’s just something that happens inside. But we can give you a few tips on how to clean up the mess a mess-up leaves in its trail. You see, that teshuvah feeling inside actually empowers you to clean up the mess. Here’s how:

Step One: Say it out loud.

How: At night, or sometime when you are alone, say out loud, “Dear G‑d, I am sorry for the sin I did in Your presence by [your sin goes here].” There’s a specific prayer for this in your prayerbook, called vidui, which we say on Yom Kippur. You can say vidui and add this line at any point.

When you hear your voice saying how much you regret what you did, it hits much deeper inside.Why: Somehow, when you hear your voice saying how much you regret what you did, it hits much deeper inside. Your words help to pull that mess out of you, so that you can throw it away forever.

Step Two: Fix up what you did

How: Apologize and compensate to whoever may have been affected by your mess-up. If at first they don’t forgive, keep trying until they get unreasonable.

Why: If your mess-up was something between you and somebody else, then it wouldn’t be fair for G‑d to forgive you without involving that somebody.

Step Three: Charity

How: Just give a lot more than you’re used to giving.

Why: A mess-up diminishes life; charity means to give life. Charity heals the world, and your soul as well.

Step Four: Move up in life

How: Compensate for whatever happened. Do better, act nicer, learn more.

Why: The mess-up event acts like inertia to drag you down. It has to be turned around into an incentive to pull you higher.

Teshuvah is powerful. Of course, we don't sin to do Teshuvah, but according to our sages, a sin can take you higher than all the mitzvahs could ever reach—if you do teshuvah out of love. Love for G‑d, for His Torah and for your precious soul.

Illustrations by Yehuda Lang. To view more artwork by this artist, click here.
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Jorge Qro. Mexico November 28, 2016

"... when you hear your voice saying how much you regret what you did."
Really, you regret your wrongdoing because what it brought to your life. At that moment is when you realize what you did. It's common to say that we have an inner voice, i.e. "the voice of your conscience". But you might well say to yourself: let's take a shower -the Mikveh? - and forget all about this. Years later, that "inner voice" comes in to your life, but it's not really your inner voice, is the voice of a prosecutor.
For decades you stay in that helpless state. you go from witchcraft to soul healers to physicians to neurologists to various churches, but everything stays the same. At last the day of my joy comes in, and miracle of miracles, a voice rebuked the prosecutor.
It wasn't the voice of Chabad, because Chabad to me is written English only, it has no voice at all. Thus, every time I heard that prosecutor's voice I send it to the voice that defended me. Reply

Rajiv Rajan Pune India July 17, 2015

Thank you Rabbi Menachem! That was most specific. Reply

Sam Leon April 15, 2015

I agree. If you mess up, the worst possible thing you can do is beat yourself up over it. Instead, say to yourself, "Okay, I made a mistake, not the end of the world. I'll just have to do my best to remedy what happened." Reply

Anonymous Cockeysville via chabadom.com October 4, 2014

What if I need to ask forgiveness from someone, but approaching that person will upset them?
The person is young & doesn't want to be in my company or hear my name. Reply

Menachem Posner Skokie via chabadom.com October 2, 2014

Here is what Maimonides writes on the matter:

If his colleague does not desire to forgive him, he should bring a group of three of his friends and approach him with them and request [forgiveness]. If [the wronged party] is not appeased, he should repeat the process a second and third time. If he [still] does not want [to forgive him], he may let him alone and need not pursue [the matter further]. On the contrary, the person who refuses to grant forgiveness is the one considered as the sinner. Reply

Anonymous Cockeysville via chabadom.com September 30, 2014

What if the person to whom you want to apologize won't speak to you? Reply

Anonymous USA August 26, 2013

Charity comes in many ways. It is not only giving "money," it is mostly our efforts in our leniency towards others. One can help other in many ways and forms. I see the emphasis in giving monetary gifts. What if the person is unemployed, or old person living on a small Social Security check? Where this elderly person try its best to help others with an incentive of love, and compassion. By providing help in a physical form to those who cannot help themselves? There are many ways to charity. Philanthropy is for the very rich, and not all of the wealthy gives to the poor. The poor is commanded to give, for what I understand, 10% of what they have as well as others. But when someone is trying to impose on the poor financial charity in addition to the tithe, it is not correct. What that imposition is doing is to create a sense of guilt which is not healthy, nor G-dly. May Hashem, blessed be He, have mercy on us all! Teshuvah, Teshuvah, Teshuvah. Reply

Anonymous omaha, ne September 25, 2012

A sin can take us higher by proving to us how weak we really are thus inciting more humble assessments of our thoughts and more conscientious choices. Reply

Violet merced, ca via chabadsf.org September 19, 2012

In the last sentence of this teaching in the line that reads "Teshuvah is powerful....... a SIN can take you higher.....Did you mean TESHUVAH? I got a little confused..... :) Reply

John Kaplan, MD Wildomar, CA/USA May 16, 2012

I would refer the questioner to Step 9 of The Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous for his answer. It is selfish, and potentially harmful to make an amends to someone who would be injured by the revelation. Reply

Anonymous brooklyn December 5, 2011

This artice really helped me but I have one problem. I did all the steps you said except for the one about admitting it to the person who was wronged. This person doesnt know they were wronged and can never know because it will cause them too much pain and damage and hurt and problems, however i did admit it out loud to Hashem and to myself..will my teshuva ever be accepted? Reply

yminoh June 16, 2011

I was hoping for references at the end of the article...I was curious, where in the Torah these steps are listed? Reply

Anonymous Mesa, Arizona, USA March 29, 2011

I thank G-d for you Rabbi Posner and Rabbi Freeman, for I came to this article by reading the Bedtime Countdown written by Rabbi Freeman.

I came from a different belief. My ancestor were from Sephardic Jews and probably forced to convert. I do not know how it all came about. All I know is that G-d called me to His sanctuary in a very special way. And because of my ignorance and stupidity in my actions, I did Teshuva. But sometimes I cried to the L-rd because I regreted deep in my heart the past I lived. After reading Torah, it was a new beginning in my lilfe. I will always remember the miracle of Hashem in my life.

With deep sadness because of the years wasted not knowing my beloved G-d and His beautiful teachings because of the love he have for His Creation. What could I offer my G-d in return but the life back He has given me. Blessed be His name for ever and ever!!! Reply

Rodolfo Rabonza Sherman Oaks, CA February 16, 2010

It is interesting how a sin can take one higher than all the mitzvahs could ever reach.

I read somewhere that when one does a teshuvah, one's wickedness becomes virtues in the eyes of G-d.

Thank you for this reflection.

G-d bless you! Reply

Laura Ellen Truelove Sewanee, TN,USA August 27, 2009

I, too, understand what a low place sin can take you. My sins took me so low that I felt I had fallen in the pit, perhaps that same pit King David writes about in the Psalms. It was in that low place, that pit, that I reached out to G-d and asked Him to forgive me. LIttle did I know at the time that the Everlasting Arms were already underneath me, lifting me. In time He brought me completely out of that pit and set my feet on higher ground, higher ground than I felt I deserved to be on. That's His mercy. That's His love. Praise Him! Reply

Menachem Posner for Chabad.org August 27, 2009

I believe the author’s intent was that if the person you are trying to apologize to becomes unreasonable, you no longer obligated to try to appease them. Reply

Anonymous montevideo, uruguay August 26, 2009

"How: Apologize and compensate to whoever may have been affected by your mess-up. If at first they don't forgive, keep trying until they get unreasonable."

shouldn´t it be reasonable? Reply

Anonymous San Francisco, CA August 25, 2009

The last line about a sin can make you higher has played out in my life. I was going lower and lower until i went to a super low place, and then after going so low I decided to go higher, much higher. Reply

Yossi August 24, 2009

Recently, in a moment of great, great confusion, I messed up toward a dear friend of mine. I appreciate and value my friendship with this person; we share many interests and similar opinions on many topics. I sincerely regret the foolish words I spoke him, and I ask for forgiveness.

I cannot contact this person directly, nevertheless I ask G-d that this may reach him. Reply

Anonymous Chicago, Illinois August 24, 2009

This was such a wonderful page, I printed it out and shared with a few friends whom I was sure would receive it well, Small reminders like this are golden! Reply