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How Do I Know I’m Forgiven?

How Do I Know I’m Forgiven?

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Hi Rabbi,

The Torah teaches about the forgiveness of G‑d, but I don’t feel forgiven and I certainly can’t forgive myself. How do I get victory once and for all from this evil inclination? How do I know that G‑d has forgiven me? How do I forgive myself?

I get depressed and don’t desire to pray, learn or do anything, because I am so ashamed and concerned that I am not worthy to stand before G‑d. I would appreciate any help that you can offer.

—Gill T.

Hi Gill,

Eve got in trouble because she answered back to a snake. She should have ignored him, as though he didn’t exist. Instead, she gave him the acknowledgment that he demanded, and then some more, and eventually . . . well, you know what happened. After Eve, her children continued falling into the same trap again and again, exactly the same way—by providing undeserved credence to an otherwise impotent reptilian urge.

After a while, someone figured it out. He said, “Hey—if I just ignore this dumb snake, maybe he’ll go away!”

So he tried it, and at first the snake got louder and ruder and more chutzpadik. But he kept ignoring the snake, and eventually became a pure and enlightened master. Other people started learning from him, and pretty soon there were more such pure souls. So the snake got desperate and tried more conniving, sly and sneaky attention-getting tricks. People figured those out as well.

But eventually the snake came up with a new trick: He dressed up in a costume as a very pious and holy being—just like the kind of person these people wanted to be. And that worked. He was able to bring down thousands of righteous people within days.

The costume worked so well, he even chose a name for it. And he uses it to this day. He calls it “guilt.”

Now you know the truth: Guilt is nothing more than the poison of a snake. And the same strategy that works with the snake works with guilt: Ignore it. Get on with life. Do good and turn from evil. Feel remorse, shed some tears, resolve to not fall in the same trap next time—and then get back on the road and keep moving. If you’ve done that, G‑d has forgiven you—so why shouldn’t you forgive you?

And if you come across a snake along the road that picks up its head and calls you a sinner—ignore it. Eve already made that mistake. We must have learned something by now.

All names of persons and locations or other identifying features referenced in these questions have been omitted or changed to preserve the anonymity of the questioners.
Sefira Ross is a freelance designer and illustrator whose original creations grace many Chabad.org pages. Residing in Seattle, Washington, her days are spent between multitasking illustrations and being a mom.
© Copyright, all rights reserved. If you enjoyed this article, we encourage you to distribute it further, provided that you comply with Chabad.org's copyright policy.
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Moshe September 25, 2016

Wow Wow. That's some powerful stuff. Thank you! Reply

AARON BENEZRA CAZENOVIA, NY, USA September 12, 2016

AMEN Wonderful dross, Tsvi... and serendipitous to a wonderful dream from which I awoke this morning in which I knew I myself knew forgiveness, as in this dream I met my Zivug at a Shidduch event... may this dream be fulfilled, and soon! What could be more timely than such a dream in Elul and then the fulfillment of that dream! Reply

Soo Jun September 9, 2016

Baruch Hashem! Reply

ruth September 9, 2016

to Nechamah Goldfarb in Brooklyn Given the quote that was on the Chabad home page, I found your comment interesting.
"Do not scorn any man, and do not discount any thing. For there is no man who has not his hour, and no thing that has not its place"
– Ethics of the Fathers, 4:3 Reply

Anonymous Florida September 9, 2016

I learned a lot from the Chabad website. Reply

Sarah K NYC September 8, 2016

Yashar Koach! Excellent Reply

Lisa Bakersfield September 8, 2016

Forgiveness That was the best illustration I've ever heard for guilt and forgiveness. So simple but profound. Thank you. Reply

Dina Leah Maine September 7, 2016

To Isaac in Brooklyn It's from the Rambam, Maimonides who wrote up the steps for Teshuvah that you mention for all Jews, not just Chabad.
1. Admit what you did. Vidui.
2. regret it deeply & set a timer. 3-5 minutes.
3. Make a plan not to repeat it.
4. If hurt someone, ask forgiveness.
5. If owe money, pay it back.
And, do not revisit it except Yom Kippur. Guilt is not Jewish as Rabbi Freeman explained so well.
I also struggle with the past and where I could have done better, I had been in an abusive marriage & to receive a Get (Jewish divorce), my ex's condition was to give up custody of my son.
I lived with that guilt for years although my son forgave me, I couldn't forgive myself. I went through these steps of Teshuvah, & cried and cried to Hashem. Afterwards, I felt the weight lift off me. I am working on my relationship w/my son.
The snake is our yetzer hara whose purpose is to trick us into feeling guilt just as Rabbi Freeman explained so well. With Teshuvah which means Return, we can start anew. Reply

Nechamah Goldfarb Brooklyn September 7, 2016

The other day a post ended up on my wall--a story about a boy who killed a duck and was manipulated by his sister to do her chores because she saw what he did. It ends up the grandmother, who stood in for G-d (this was a christian post, so heads up on that) saw that he killed by the duck (by carelessness, not even on purpose) and the lesson was that the grandmother/G-d was waiting to see how long the boy would be used by the sister/devil. And of course it brought in the old--believe in so-and-so and your sins are forgiven. I was so appalled by the story, the lessons, the parables and what was thought of G-d and wrongdoings--especially not even on purpose-- that I davened for 2 nights for the right words to comment on it to diffuse the very sick lessons within it. Then I saw this. I think this does the trick. Thanks! Reply

Aaron Indiana September 6, 2016

forgiven Wow Hashem's chosen people are so smart. Reply

Giordano Cristoforo London September 6, 2016

Beautifully said Rabbi Reply

Anonymous September 6, 2016

Thank you Rabbi Freeman thank you for this article I really enjoyed it. it gives me what to think about. Reply

Isaac brooklyn September 6, 2016

4 Steps? Nice. Does Chabad follow the 4 steps I heard about? Is the following sourced in Torah?
1) Feel Regret
2) Leave it behind you and move forward
3) Verbally Acknowledge the sin
4) Make a plan for the future not to fall again

Where is this idea from? you said something like it at the end of the article. Reply

Anonymous USA September 4, 2016

Thank you Rabbi Freeman and thank you Gill for the question. Gd bless you both. Reply

Anonymous NY September 17, 2015

Superbly written article. Thank you Reply

Carmen São Paulo, razil August 20, 2015

Pharaoh and snake Hi Rabbi Tzvi

Could you make a comparison between the snake and pharaoh? What would be the difference between them? Reply

Anonymous August 18, 2015

How do I know... I like this. Good thoughts to ponder.
Thank you. :) Reply

Joseph South Africa December 5, 2014

Forgiveness is not a feeling and is not easy whether one is conscious or not. You still have to make the decision of your will to forgive the offense, something you can never do on the level of feeling. Forgiveness can only be given by the will.
For somebody who has offended you deeply, you need to begin by praying for them. Then you also bless them. You wish them all the blessings of good that you can think of. Try to do it from your heart. The blessings you send somebody is the very blessing that Hashemite can send to you. You will be also blessed by the blessing you send to the offender. He does not even have to know that you are praying for him or blessing him. Two food things will happen: he will be blessed and you too will inherit a blessing yourself. In this way, you spread the light in our very dark world. Most of all, you will find a deep peace in your heart. Reply

jeffrey soboroff Calamus December 2, 2014

Where does forgiveness start? there are basically two types of people, those with a conscious, and those with out. forgiveness is easy for the latter group. for the first group it is practically impossible. If you are truly sorry there is always one entity who will forgive you. Hashem. but the problem, the real problem about forgiveness for those who aren't sociopaths, for those with a conscious, is forgiving themselves. We all at one time or another fail. no one is infallible. Our faith assures us that Hashem loves us and realizes that no one is perfect. no human is infallible. The fact of the matter is that after you have made or tried to make your amends to the souls you have offended, after you have repented your transgression. you must forgive yourself. And that is where forgiveness begins and ends. Reply

James Houston August 27, 2014

Unwanted on one hand but necessary on the other I am a gentile in recovery for almost nine years. I lost my wife to this same disease of alcoholism when I was 13 months sober and we had been estranged living separately for almost two years to the day. And because she was in her disease 24/7, I never had the chance to make my amends to her. My sponsor told me this was my ego and instructed me to forgive her, forgive myself, and lift her soul up to the care and protection of the G-d. Then write her a love letter, take it up to the columbarium where her ashes are interred, read her the letter and burn it.

This worked, thanks be to G-d, but how do I make amends to my best friend of 43 years, former business partner of a very successful venture, yet a man who did every drug I did with me and got drunk with me every time we were together. He was able to quit without treatment but now refuses to even hear my amends. If I say I feel heartbroken and miss his company, while it would be true, it would again be my ego speaking. What do I do? Reply

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