The Healing Power of Confession

God is present after we sin.

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But the Shekhinah never departs completely from any Jew, no matter how far he has gone or how deep he has immersed himself in sin. God is there after man sins, He remains hidden in the inner recesses of the heart of even the worst evildoer until the moment arrives when he remembers his Maker and renounces his ways and repents. Rabbi Meir ran after his master, Elisha ben Avuya [who had abandoned traditional Jewish belief and practice], and called upon him to repent. But Elisha did not respond† because he heard a voice calling, "'Return Israelunto the Lord your God'--all except 'Aher' (the 'other,' a term of derision for Elisha ben Avuya). Only Elisha, whose sins bore down so heavily upon him and cast him so far away heard such a voice which does not really exist" (Babylonian Talmud, Hagiga 15a).

There are no "excepts" to repentance. And, indeed, the Jerusalem Talmud records that "Aher" confessed before he died and that Rabbi Meir said: "My master died, while crying."

Even "Aher," who forsook his past and gave up his world, whose senses were dimmed and whose feelings became petrified, reached the moment when he broke down and cried, when he recalled his youthful years as a disciple of Rabbi Joshua. Who was it that brought tears to "Aher's" eyes?

The God who is there after man sins! The God who did not remove himself even from the heart of "Aher!" The God who is there before man sins closes the gates after man has sinned. The sinner becomes cut off, he is cast far away. What does he do then? Is he cut off for evermore? Definitely not! He can still cry out to God who is there after man sins. The second Holy Name is ready to listen even after the first has shut the gates of "Glory" through which man passes to stand before his Maker.

When someone reaches the closed gates he has to cry out: "0, I beseech Thee!" "Open the gates for those who come knocking in repentance!" "Allow us to repent and to enter!"

On the Day of Atonement, the High Priest would shout out the Ineffable Name of God three times. Why was this so? So as to arouse the sinners to repent and confess, which can occur only in the wake of the "Name" (of God) who is there after man sins, the divine quality that swells within man even during his impurity. Man is sunk up to his neck in the quicksand of his sins, he is abandoned and cut off and all his friends have deserted him, his strength has left him--every one except God has abandoned him! "0 Lord!"--open the gates a little to let me come before You. "0 Lord, I beseech Thee!"--forgive me, purify me, cleanse me of all my filth, for I am soiled and full of defects! And then: "For the virtue of this very day shall acquit you of sin, to cleanse you; you shall be clean before the Lord!" When the Ineffable Name was proclaimed for the third time, after the cleansing, man could again find himself "before the Lord," as he is allowed once again to approach God who is there before man has sinned.

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Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik

Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik was one of the most important Orthodox thinkers of the 20th century. He delivered an annual lecture on repentance that was a highly anticipated event for Modern Orthodox Jews in America.