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Quotations & Commentary on
Repentance and Forgiveness

My mother is a great collector of quotations. She taught me that the right quote can succinctly explain an idea, and, more than that, can open up a whole new way of thinking. I have added my own brief commentary to the following quotations, and I hope that, in your thinking and on our message board, you will add yours as well. –Rabbi Debra Orenstein

QUOTE: If [a person] were able to survey at a glance all he has done in the course of his life, what would he feel? He would be terrified at the extent of his own power. –Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel
COMMENT: Be judicious today in using your power. Treat every person as if they were fragile and you could hurt them or help them. They are. And you can. –Rabbi Debra Orenstein

QUOTE: The impulse to do evil is at first like a passer-by, then like a lodger, and finally like the master of the house.—Talmud Sukkah 52b
COMMENT: What habits have taken up residence this year—welcome or unwelcome, good or harmful? Is there something running you that you need to master? –Rabbi Debra Orenstein


QUOTE: No sin is so light that it may be overlooked. No sin is so heavy that it may not be repented of. –Moses Ibn Ezra
COMMENT: Today, address the “little things.” If it’s possible to gain control over something, then do. –Rabbi Debra Orenstein


QUOTE: No sin is so light that it may be overlooked. No sin is so heavy that it may not be repented of. –Moses Ibn Ezra (Yes, it’s the same quote as above!)
COMMENT: Today, allow yourself to imagine your biggest regret lifted from you. No matter how big, old, engrained, known, or unchangeable an offense might be, it can still be sincerely repented of – and healed. –Rabbi Debra Orenstein


QUOTE: Better open rebuke than hidden love. –Proverbs 27:5
COMMENT: It’s hard to hear that someone is dissatisfied with us, but consider that it is usually an act of friendship and love when someone is honest enough to tell you where s/he believes you have gone wrong. Consider the faith that person shows in you – in your ability to listen, in your openness, in your power to change, and in your desire to be truly and deeply good. If someone reproves you, don’t lose the opportunity. –Rabbi Debra Orenstein


QUOTE: If a person sinned against another and the latter died before pardon was sought, the sinner should bring a minyan (quorum), station them at the grave of the diseased, and in their presence make the declaration: “I sinned against Adonai, God of Israel, and against this individual, having committed such-and-so a wrong against him.” If the sinner owed the deceased money, pay it to his heirs. If the sinner does not know of any heirs, deposit it with the Court. –Maimonides, Hilchot Teshuvah
COMMENT: Remember, it is never, never, never too late. You continue to have a relationship even with those who have died. –Rabbi Debra Orenstein


QUOTE: When Jews appear for Divine judgment, the angels say to them: “Don’t be afraid, the Judge…is your Father.” –Midrash Tehillim
COMMENT: In approaching wrongdoing and repentance, do you feel, as well as believe, that God is as intimate and forgiving with you as a loving father would be with his child? Can you fully embrace – and be embraced by – God’s care? –Rabbi Debra Orenstein


QUOTE: One who confesses in words and has not in his heart resolved to forsake sin is like one who immerses in a mikveh [ritual bath] and keeps holding a reptile. Unless you cast it away, the immersion is useless. –Maimonides, Hilchot Teshuvah
COMMENT: Is there any aspect of a sin, habit, or grudge that you want to let go, to which some part of you is still clinging? Are you ready to let that “snake” go completely? –Rabbi Debra Orenstein


QUOTE: Irrespective of the degree of awareness, several spiritual factors come together in the process of spiritual conversion. Severance is an essential factor. The repentant cuts himself off from his past, as though saying: "Everything in my life up to this point is now alien to me; chronologically or historically it may be part of me, but I no longer accept it as such." With a new goal in life, a person assumes new identity. Aims and aspirations are such major expressions of the personality that renouncing them amounts to a severance of the old self. The moment of turning thus involves not only a change of attitude, but also a metamorphosis. –Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz
COMMENT: Deliberately turn your awareness to how you are changing. What is your intention for a renewed identity this year? What will continue, as before; what will be severed; and what will be transformed? –Rabbi Debra Orenstein


QUOTE: Rather than allow ourselves to be burdened by regret for our past misdeeds, we must strive to develop the inherent goodness which lies hidden in our souls, beneath layers of tarnish left by our sins. –Rabbi Joseph Stern (interpreting the Sfat Emet)
COMMENT: So often, we think of teshuvah as “getting rid of the bad.” That approach can lead to self-condemnation or even hopelessness. Many rabbis and teachers have suggested instead that we search for the good—what was the good motivation even in a bad act? What is the good lesson that can come out of a bad decision? Where and how can teshuvah turn bad relationships into friendships, or at least grudges into forgiveness? Rather than banishing the evil, can we simply crowd it out with the good? For every sin or bad habit you are trying to banish, install a new, positive practice to replace it. Consider: how might you fill your thoughts, your daily schedule, even your dreams with goodness? It’s not that we give ourselves leave to deny the bad, the tarnish, the damage. It’s that we don’t focus there one minute longer than it takes to uncover the lesson, find our pure core, and make a different decision. –Rabbi Debra Orenstein


QUOTE: When we leave this world, neither silver nor gold nor precious stones and pearls accompany us - only Torah and good deeds. –Mishnah Avot 6:9
COMMENT: Consider: what is really permanent and worthwhile? What do you choose to carry with you – in your heart and soul – into the next year and beyond? –Rabbi Debra Orenstein


QUOTE: Those who love peace and rejoice in the welfare of the creation…do not harm even a mustard seed and are distressed at all damage and wanton destruction that they see. If they have the chance to prevent it, they should do so with all the powers at their disposal. —Sefer Hachinuch
COMMENT: Rosh Hashanah is the anniversary of creation. How well are we protecting the world over which God gave us stewardship? What waste or destruction of natural resources do you observe that you could do something to prevent this year? –Rabbi Debra Orenstein


QUOTE: We are not so arrogant as to say before you, “We are righteous and have not sinned.” Surely, we have sinned. –Yom Kippur Liturgy
COMMENT: The first step to true repentance is to overcome our natural, understandable resistance to finding ourselves at fault. If you could put your pride aside, what might you be prepared to admit, to apologize for, or to do differently? –Rabbi Debra Orenstein


QUOTE: [When the liturgy says] “for the sin which we have sinned against you by unwarranted hatred,” it does not necessarily mean for no reason. Rather, it refers to hatred which is unwarranted because it is so extreme as to be unjustifiable.—Rabbi Yehudah Cahn
COMMENT: Sometimes, we nurse our grudges. We line up the evidence we have against others and review it, continually refreshing the wounds. Wrong may have been done. But what is your reaction? Is it proportionate? Is it merciful? Is it time to let go? –Rabbi Debra Orenstein


We thank You, O God of life and love,
For the resurrecting gift of memory
Which endows your children,
Fashioned in Your image,
With the Godlike sovereign power
To give immortality through love.
Blessed are You, God,
Who enables Your children to remember. –Rabbi Morris Adler
COMMENT: During Elul (the month preceding High Holidays) and in the days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, many people observe the custom of visiting the graves of relatives, to pay them honor and reflect on the lessons they left behind. As you now remember those who have gone before, be aware of the gifts of life and memory. What have you learned from people no longer on this earth, and how can you apply those insights this year? –Rabbi Debra Orenstein


QUOTE: If My people who are called by My name humble themselves, pray, seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.—II Chronicles 7:14
COMMENT: The key to repentance is to seek God’s face, not God’s faculties; God’s hand, not God’s hand-out; God’s presence, not God’s presents. –Rabbi Debra Orenstein


QUOTE: I have swept away your transgressions like a cloud-mass, and your sins like a cloud. Return to Me, for I have redeemed you. –Isaiah 44:22
COMMENT: Are there things you are still “repenting” for which another person and/or God have already forgiven you? If so, let go of guilt and allow your sins to fall away, too. Now is the time for redemption. Repair what you can. Renew your commitment to do better. And rejoice in being forgiven. –Rabbi Debra Orenstein


QUOTE: The essence of the ultimate teshuvah – returning to one’s Source in heaven - is that deliberate sins are transformed into merits, for one turns evil into good, as I learned from the Ba’al Shem [and from the Talmud] “Turn aside from evil and do good” [Psalms 34:15] means “turn the evil into good.”—Rabbi Jacob Joseph of Polnoye
COMMENT: How is your worst trait also your best opportunity for greatness? How does your worst offense contain the potential for your most important contribution? When you harvest the light that is hidden in the shadows, you achieve ultimate repentance. –Rabbi Debra Orenstein


QUOTE: Rabbi Meir used to say, "Great is repentance, for on account of one true penitent, the entire world is pardoned." –Talmud Yoma 86b
COMMENT: In prior years, you rode the coattails of others – sometimes knowing it and sometimes not. Who would you become if, this year, you were to lead and carry others? –Rabbi Debra Orenstein


QUOTE: The voice of the shofar symbolizes the inner voice of Torah embedded in every Jewish soul. -- Rabbi Joseph Stern (interpreting the Sfat Emet)
COMMENT: What Torah is embedded in you? How can you bring out that inner voice and give it expression this year?


QUOTE: The great horn sounds in earnest one hundred times. The time of transformation is upon you. The world is once again cracking through the shell of its egg to be born. The gate between heaven and earth cracks open. The Book of Life and the Book of Death are opened once again, and your name is written in one of them. –Rabbi Alan Lew
COMMENT: Do you remember a feeling of wellbeing and satisfaction in cracking open a book for the first time? Turning to a clean, fresh page on your calendar? Opening the door to your home for the first time, key in hand? Rosh Hashanah can be like that for each of us, but it is a choice. God has given us the choice between life and death, blessing and curse. “Therefore, choose life!” –Rabbi Debra Orenstein


QUOTE: I hereby forgive all who have transgressed against me, whether on purpose or by accident, whether in this lifetime or on any other plane…. Let no one be punished on my account. —Hareni Mochel prayer before the evening Shema
COMMENT: We address the subjects of forgiveness and repentance annually during the High Holidays, but these are not annual tasks. Judaism has daily prayers for forgiveness and repentance, and we strive to make habits of them. Through sheer repetition, they become our way of being. Therefore, don’t wait for High Holidays, or some other special occasion. Let today be the day you forgive. Let now be when you repent. –Rabbi Debra Orenstein


QUOTE: Forgive your neighbors [their] transgressions, and then when you pray, your sins will be forgiven. - Ben Sira 28:2
COMMENT: This teaching is not based so much on reward, as it is on transformation. When you do what it takes to forgive another person’s trespasses against you, you change as a person. You become more empathic, more understanding of human flaws – in short, easier to forgive. –Rabbi Debra Orenstein


QUOTE: Seven things were created even before the world: [the first two mentioned are] Torah and repentance.—Talmud Pesachim 54a
COMMENT: Torah was the blueprint for creation, and so had to precede it. Repentance had to be in place in advance, too, so that we could learn from and overcome our worst inclinations without destroying ourselves or the world. What do you choose to put in place, in advance of the arrival of 5769, to assure that it will be a good and sweet year? –Rabbi Debra Orenstein


QUOTE: “Love your neighbor as yourself; I am Adonai” (Leviticus 19:18). There is a Chasidic interpretation of the last words of this verse: “I am Adonai.” – “You think that I am far away from you, but in your love for your neighbor you will find Me; not in his love for you but in your love for him.” He who loves brings God and the world together. The meaning of this teaching is: You yourself must begin. Existence will remain meaningless for you if you yourself do not penetrate into it with active love and if you do not in this way discover its meaning for yourself. Everything is waiting to be hallowed by you; it is waiting to be disclosed and to be realized by you. For the sake of this, your beginning, God created the world. –Martin Buber
COMMENT: So many people are waiting for “the other person” to apologize. Even if you were 98% in the right, you can take responsibility for your 2%. You can initiate communication, clarity, change, and conciliation. We stand in our pride and righteousness, and we forget that taking the initiative and actively loving are where our power – as well as our humanity – lies. –Rabbi Debra Orenstein


Happy are the people who learn from the Shofar!
Shofar wakes, calls the alarm,
announces royalty, trumpets victory,
signals God’s power – and mercy.
Shofar recalls the ram whose hidden presence
in the bushes saved our beloved father, Isaac. – Makom Ohr Shalom Machzor
COMMENT: Shofar is a symbol that alludes to multiple meanings and lessons. Set an intention: when you hear the sound of the shofar this year, in particular, what is it calling you to do? How is it asking you to change, to lead, to be? –Rabbi Debra Orenstein


What does it mean to repent?
to make inward acknowledgement of my sin
to be truly heartbroken over my sin
to be deeply ashamed of my sin
to make open confession of my sin
to make full restitution for my sin
to seek reconciliation with others for my sin
to resolve firmly not to duplicate sin
to ask Divine aid in avoiding such duplication
to beg God's forgiveness for my sin
to find the burden of my sin now removed
to know the comfort of God's pardon and the sweetness of atonement
to be tempted to repeat the same sin, but overcome with God’s help such repetition
to find it more difficult now to sin than not to sin
—Rabbi Herschel Matt
COMMENT: They say in Yiddish, “oiyb siz gesheyn, siz meglach”—“if it happened, it’s possible.” You are capable not just of overcoming sin, but of growing past the desire for it. I know, because you have done so already. Everyone of a certain age can say: “there are things in life that once tempted me which no longer tempt me at all.” What are you ready to leave behind, as you enter 5769? May this be the year that you desire and are sated by all things good and holy. –Rabbi Debra Orenstein

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