Wednesday, August 22, 2018

A Dictionary for the Days of Awe

In Maimonides’ Laws of Repentance, he invokes five important and pertinent terms in his first paragraph, that are worth defining.

Teshuva – means return (click here to the week before), but connotes repentance or personal transformation and change.

Cheyt – usually defined as “sin,” really means to miss the mark (see Judges 20:17). According to Jewish thought, Cheyt is not a permanent stain; it connotes missing a target, which can be rectified by trying again (i.e. teshuva).

Aveirah - this term means the opposite of a mitzvah, a commandment. It literally means to pass, or to avoid doing something. It is basically synonymous with chet. It too implies something that was passed over, which ultimately can be repaired.

Viduy – means confession. Maimonides writes that a verbal confession is required in order to achieve proper teshuva.

Kapparah
– atonement or forgiveness, (i.e. Yom Kippur means Day of Atonement). It is important to note that the first four terms are human actions directed toward God, while kapparah, the goal of Yom Kippur, is the one action that emanates from God toward humankind. With these terms, we now have the tools to understand the first halacha (law) of Hilchot Teshuva (the Laws of Teshuva), which follows.

If one transgressed (aveirah) any commandment of the Torah, whether a positive or a negative one, whether deliberately or accidentally, then when one repents (does teshuva) one has to confess verbally (viduy) to God... This means verbal confession, which is commanded positively to do, and is performed by saying, `O Lord, I have sinned, transgressed and rebelled before You, and have done such-and-such, and I am ashamed by my actions and will never do it again.' This is the main part of verbal confession, and expanding on it is praiseworthy… Capital and corporal punishment do not atone (kapparah) unless the recipient repents and confesses verbally. Likewise, if one does financial damage to someone, one is not forgiven unless one repents and resolves never to do it again, even if one paid back the money, for it is written, "...any sin that people commit".

English translation of Immanuel O'Levy, courtesy of Jonathan Baker: http://www.panix.com/~jjbaker/MadaT.html

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