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Done something wrong? We all have. Here's how to fix it. 

Many people misunderstand the concept of sin. They think someone who sins is a "bad person."

Actually, the Hebrew word chet does not mean sin at all. Chet appears in the Bible in reference to a slingshot which "missed the target." There is nothing inherently "bad" about that slingshot! Rather, a mistake was made ― due to a lack of focus, concentration or skill.

The same is true with us. When we engage in irresponsible or destructive behavior, we have simply misfired. Every human being has a soul, a pure piece of Godliness that distinguishes us from the animals. When we do something wrong, it is because the soul's "voice" has become temporarily muted by the roar of the physical body. This confusion is what we call the "Yetzer Hara." But our essence remains pure. We only need to make a few adjustments ― and we're back on target!

This is the idea of teshuva. Teshuva literally means "return." When we "do teshuva," we examine our ways, identify those areas where we are losing ground, and "return" to our own previous state of spiritual purity. And in the process, we "return" to our connection with the Almighty as well.

The process of teshuva involves the following four steps:

Step 1 - Regret. Realize the extent of the damage and feel sincere regret.

Step 2 - Cessation. Immediately stop the harmful action.

Step 3 - Confession. Articulate the mistake and ask for forgiveness.

Step 4 - Resolution. Make a firm commitment not to repeat it in the future.

Now let's examine each of these steps in-depth.

Step 1: Regret

Sometimes, we try to justify our actions, using a variety of excuses:

  • "Everyone else is doing it"
  • "At least I'm not like some people who go around killing and stealing!"
  • "Who are YOU to say it's wrong?!"

Regret is not really possible unless we can clearly distinguish between right and wrong. Otherwise, we will just rationalize and delude ourselves into thinking we've done nothing wrong. The ever-changing, sliding standards of society contribute to this lack of clarity.

For example, imagine growing up in a house where gossip was constantly spoken. Unless you're introduced to the Jewish idea of Loshon Hara ("negative speech") and made aware of its destructive nature, you may otherwise never consider gossip to be wrong!

(For this reason, it is important to be familiar with halacha, Jewish law, and to have a rabbi who knows you personally and can advise you.

How should we feel upon recognizing a mistake? Should we feel guilty, worthless and bad? No! "Guilt" is the negative emotion saying that "I am bad." Whereas "regret" is the positive acknowledgement that while my essence remains pure, I have failed to live up to my potential.

Feeling regret is a positive sign that we're back in touch with our Godly essence. Our conscience will not let us relax until we've corrected the mistake. Would an evil person feel regret over a transgression?

This first step of teshuva is indeed the most crucial ― because unless a person feels regret, he will most likely continue in his errant ways.

Step 2: Cessation

The Talmud says:

A person who made a mistake and admits it, but does not renounce doing it again, is compared to going into the mikveh holding a dead reptile in his hand. For although he may immerse himself in all the waters of the world, his immersion is useless. However, if he throws [the reptile] out of his hand, then upon immersing in 40 se'ahs of water (the minimum size of a mikveh), his immersion immediately becomes effective. (Ta'anit 16a)

Can you imagine trying to ask forgiveness from someone while you continue to wrong him at the same time? Without stopping the bad action, all the heart-pounding in the whole world won't help.

Step 3: Confession and Asking For Forgiveness

In admitting our mistake, Jewish law prescribes that it be articulated verbally. ArtScroll's Yom Kippur Machzor gives a beautiful explanation of why this is so crucial to the teshuva process:

As an intelligent, thinking, imaginative being, man has all sorts of thoughts flashing constantly through his mind. Even sublime thoughts of remorse and self-improvement are not strange to him, but they do not last. For his thoughts to have lasting meaning, he must distill them into words, because the process of thought culminates when ideas are expressed and clarified.

That is not as easy as it sounds. It is usually excruciatingly difficult for people to admit explicitly that they have done wrong. We excuse ourselves. We refuse to admit the truth. We shift blame. We deny the obvious. We excel at rationalizing. But the person who wrenches from himself the unpleasant truth, "I have sinned," has performed a great and meaningful act.

Teshuva must not only be in our minds and hearts. It is to restore our relationship with the God we have wronged. We must stand before God and ask His forgiveness. If we are sincere He is sure to grant it, but to make amends we must first approach Him and ask.

In addition, if our past actions have hurt another person, we must ask his forgiveness as well. The Torah requires us to be humble and contrite as we ask forgiveness. This is crucial in enabling the "victim" to heal. Has someone ever apologized to you and you knew it was not sincere? Just grunting the words "I'm sorry" is not enough.

Even secular courts are now adopting this principle; some judges are requiring that criminals demonstrate sincere regret and formally apologize to their victims before the court will consider shortening the sentence.

Step 4: Resolution Not To Repeat

On Yom Kippur, we say two prayers ("Asham'nu" and "Al Chet") which contain an extensive list of mistakes. As a matter of fact, as you go through these lists, you'll see the mention of mistakes covering every conceivable aspect of life! This begs the question: By saying these prayers, are we in effect making a commitment to never sin ever again? Is this realistic?

Imagine a new child taking his first steps in front of the proud parents. He gets to his feet, takes a few steps ― and falls flat on his face. The parents clap with excitement and joy. But if you analyze the scenario, shouldn't the parents be upset? After all, the child fell down!

The answer is obvious. A parent doesn't judge a child based on whether he walks or falls, but rather on whether he took a few steps in the right direction.

So, too, with the Almighty. We are not in competition with anyone but ourselves. What concerns Him is whether we're making a sincere effort to move in the right direction. G-d doesn't ask you to change in an area that is not yet feasible for you to change. We are commanded to be human beings, not angels. This means making a serious commitment to change ― and taking the right steps at the right time.

An individual doesn't need to have all the answers right now. The key is the commitment to change. Be aware of situations in which you're likely to stumble, and keep a safe distance from them. The Torah tells us: Strengthen your resolve in a certain area and G-d will ensure your success. Nothing that can stand in the way of persistence and determination. As the Talmud (Makkot 10b) says, "In the way that a person wants to go, he will be led."

About Atonement.

Question about sacrifice.

 I am confused by this “blood sacrifice”. I agree with your assessment that the offering the Lord truly wants is a broken heart and contrite spirit full of repentance. I also believe that “blood sacrifice” is not necessary for forgiveness as you have, with excellent Scriptural support, stated very well.

My question is related to your beliefs in the atoning nature of the Messiah. Regardless of whether Jesus is THE Messiah or not, I am surprised that the arguments you present diminish the significance of the Messiah’s role. My Jewish friends have always impressed me with their strong reverence for the Messiah and his role in their future. If I have read you correctly, you do not accept the concept of expiation. Please help me understand.

I am also confused with the use of Ezekiel 18:1-4, 19-23 as proof against the ability of one to atone for another’s sins. This text was a fascinating lecture, “Sin and Atonement” not intended to be extrapolated to this point. It was simply as intended: A correction of those in that day who were propagating the idea that the sin of a father will rest upon his children. Ezekiel was dealing with those who teach that the sins of the father rest upon the children because the fall of Adam and Eve caused suffering on their children. It is clearly this false doctrine Ezekiel was trying to destroy.

Any clarification on these issues would be greatly appreciated and hopefully allow me to dispel confusion. I believe in asking the believer what he believes, not going to someone else and getting their “interpretation.” I hope you can appreciate this sincerity.


I have been asked both of your questions by many Christians in the past, although not often with the earnestness and openness that comes across in your letter. You have essentially asked two questions, and I will address each separately.

Regarding your first question, the Bible is clear on the subject of the advent of the messiah.1 It should be noted, however, that although many sections throughout the Jewish Scriptures vividly describe how the world will be forever transformed with the arrival of the Messianic Age, very few discuss the messiah personally. The vast bulk of messianic Scripture in Tanach2 depicts the state of perfection that the world will achieve at the End of Days.

In contrast, parishioners pray to Jesus repeatedly, whom they venerate as God. How frequently is Jesus’ name mentioned during a typical Church Click here to listen to the Audio 

Sin and Atonement

Throughout the entire corpus of the Jewish Scriptures, there is not a single instance where we are encouraged to pray to or in the name of the messiah. This stunning, radical contradiction should inspire every parishioner to tremble, wonder, and seek out the truth.

The Tanach is clear that the significance of the messiah himself pales in comparison to the utopian age that his arrival will usher in. In a similar fashion, the status of Moses is overshadowed by the unprecedented events of the Exodus. Although Moses led the children of Israel out of Egypt, no Jew would even consider praying to or through Moses. Moses’ name is therefore virtually absent from the Passover Haggadah. Why is the lawgiver’s name missing from the Seder liturgy?

Because Judaism draws man’s eyes toward Heaven – the G-d of Israel. We are inspired by the saintly lives of great men like Abraham and Daniel, but the notion of worshiping them would not cross our minds. We worship the G-d for whom they were willing to die.

The reason Judaism does not accept the Christian messiah is because Jesus did not fulfill a single messianic prophecy clearly outlined in the Jewish Scriptures. The following is an overview of the central messianic prophecies outlined in the Jewish Scriptures that both Judaism and Christianity agree are messianic:

World Peace

Isaiah 2:4

And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn of war any more.

Isaiah 11:6-8

The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together. . . and the sucking child shall play on the hole of the cobra…

Universal Knowledge of God

Isaiah 11:9

…for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.

Jeremiah 31:33

No longer shall one teach his neighbor or shall one teach his brother, saying, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know Me, from their smallest to their greatest,” says the Lord…

Zechariah 14:9

And the Lord shall be king over all the earth. In that day shall there be one Lord, and His name one.

Resurrection of the Dead

Isaiah 26:19

Thy dead men shall live, together with my dead body shall they arise. Awake and sing, ye that dwell in dust, for thy dew is as the dew of herbs, and the earth shall cast out the dead.

Daniel 12:2

And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.

Ezekiel 37:12-13

Therefore, prophesy and say to them, “So says the Lord G-d, ‘Lo! I open your graves and cause you to come up out of your graves as My people, and bring you home to the land of Israel. Then you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and lead you up out of your graves as My people.’”

Ingathering of Israel

Isaiah 43:5-6

I will bring thy seed from the east, and gather you from the west. I will say to the north, “Give up,” and to the south, “Keep not back, bring My sons from far, and My daughters from the ends of the earth. (see also, Jeremiah 16:15 23:3; Isaiah 11:12; Zechariah 10:6; Ezekiel 37:21-22)

Building of The Third Temple

Ezekiel 37:26-28

…and I will set My Sanctuary in the midst of them forevermore. My temple also shall be with them. Yes, I will be their God and they shall be My people. And the heathen shall know that I, the Lord, do sanctify Israel, when My sanctuary shall be in the midst of them forevermore. (See also 40-48; Isaiah 33:20)

Although fantastic messianic claims have been made by countless individuals and their enthusiastic followers throughout history, not one of these claimants fulfilled any one of the prophecies clearly outlined in the Jewish Scriptures.

When evaluating the claim of Jesus’ messiahship, it is clear that the very opposite events occurred during the period that the Christian religion emerged. For example, during this catastrophic epoch, the dead did not resurrect as Daniel and Isaiah prophesied. Quite the contrary, the Romans slaughtered many hundreds of thousands of Jews during this bitter century. The children of Israel were not gathered from the diaspora two thousand years ago. The Jewish people were exiled from their land and dispersed throughout the Roman Empire during this dark moment in history. Nor did the universal knowledge of God unfold as promised by the prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel. As a result of the horrific wars with Rome and the dispersion that followed, the knowledge of Torah and its observance decreased. No temple was built in Jerusalem during the first century. The Second Temple was destroyed in the year 70 C.E. – its remains, the Wailing Wall, wait with us till this day for the true redemption. Clearly, there is no relationship between what the Bible says about the messiah and what Christendom espouses about Jesus.

With regard to your second question, it is essential for you to understand that the Jewish people do not read their Bible as if it were a mere history book. Those teachings that are inscribed throughout the Jewish Scriptures were not only appropriate for the time they were recorded; rather, its prophecies are indispensable for all generations that would follow. Every edification and instruction of the Torah and the Prophets are as meaningful and timely today as they were the day they were first preached.

Scripture, therefore, provides few dates for reckoning Biblical chronology. While these dates do appear in certain passages in Tanach, one must be careful piecing the time periods together in order to stretch out a contiguous time line.

Moreover, the Bible is entirely silent on what had transpired over the course of many decades during the lives of men like Abraham and Moses. This does not suggest that Abraham did nothing spiritually valuable during those silent years. Rather, only those crucial events that provide eternal teachings and are relevant for all future generations were inscribed in the Bible.

Even the first Christians were well aware of this principle.

In II Timothy 3:16 Paul says, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” Bear in mind, at the time that II Timothy was written, the Christian Bible had not yet been written. Chronologically, the letters of Paul were among the earliest books in the New Testament. The author of this Pastoral Epistle was referring only to the Jewish Scriptures.

In the eighteenth chapter of Ezekiel, the prophet was teaching his people a fundamental Biblical principle: A righteous person cannot die vicariously for the sins of the wicked. This alien notion was condemned by Ezekiel. He taught that the belief that the innocent can suffer to atone for the sins of the wicked is pagan, and was to be purged from the mind of the Jewish people. This core tenet of Judaism is conveyed explicitly throughout the eighteenth chapter of the Book of Ezekiel. In verses 18:20-23, the prophet declares that true repentance alone washes the penitent clean of all iniquities; every one of his sins are forgiven in Heaven. This chapter is so clear and unambiguous, there can be no other reading of these passages. Blood-sacrifices or the veneration of a crucified messiah are not mentioned or even hinted throughout Ezekiel’s thorough and inspiring discourse on sin and atonement.

Ezekiel’s teaching is not novel. The Jewish people were warned throughout the Torah never to offer human sacrifices. When Moses offered to have his name removed from the Torah in exchange for the sin that the Jewish people had committed with the Golden Calf, the Almighty abruptly refused Moses’ offer.3 Moses, who was righteous with regard to the golden calf, could not suffer vicariously for the sin of the nation. Rather, only the soul that sinned would endure judgment.

As Ezekiel explains chapters later,

Say to them, ‘As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, O house of Israel?’ 12 “Therefore, son of man, say to your countrymen, ‘The righteousness of the righteous man will not save him when he disobeys, and the wickedness of the wicked man will not cause him to fall when he turns from it. The righteous man, if he sins, will not be allowed to live because of his former righteousness.’” (Ezekiel 33:11-12)

Regarding your comment on the sin in the Garden of Eden, the consequences of the fall of Adam and Eve are not to be appended to Ezekiel’s 18th chapter. The first iniquity is not mentioned in these passages. In fact, Ezekiel outlines many of the sins that the wicked routinely commit, and yet not one of them is eating from the forbidden Tree of Knowledge. On the contrary, all of the sins outlined in the eighteenth chapter of Ezekiel are those that were never committed in the Garden of Eden. As mentioned above, this monumental chapter is filled with fundamental principles of sin and atonement, and a vigorous rejection of the pagan belief in vicarious atonement.

Finally, I am puzzled by the fact that you have identified yourself as a Christian and yet at the end of your letter you refer to the teaching that the fall of Adam and Eve has affected and caused suffering to their future children as a doctrine that “Ezekiel was trying to destroy.” This comment surprises me because this is a foundational Christian doctrine.

The Church teaches that every person born into this world is infected with the stain of, and is spiritually lost as a result of the Original Sin. Accordingly, Christendom argues that man is incapable of achieving “salvation” through his own initiative. Man’s “totally depravity” is complete. His only hope of salvation is through the Cross. This is the cornerstone of Paul’s theology throughout his Epistles, especially in the Book of Romans.

I agree with your assessment that the doctrine of Original Sin is contrary to the teachings of the prophets. In fact, the Church’s doctrine of Original Sin and Total Depravity has no greater foe than the Prophet Ezekiel.

By Tovia Singer