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This question will collect Q&As, formatted for the book, for Days of Awe - Mi Yodeya?. We're breaking this up into five posts for easier management. This question collects material about the themes of the holidays, including teshuva.

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Is the Book of Life ever really sealed?

HodofHod asked:1 In prayers and in greetings, we always refer to the "sealing" of the Book of Life. We say to others כתיבה וחתימה טובה (may you be written and sealed for a good year) and in the service we say בראש השנה יכתבון וביום צום כיפורים יחתמון (on Rosh Hashana it is written and on Yom Kippur it is sealed).

Wikipedia says:2

The High Holidays are times that are especially conducive to teshuva. Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) is a day of fasting during which judgment for the year is sealed. Therefore, Jews strive their hardest to make certain that they have performed teshuva before the end of the day.

But at the same time, it says that:

  • Even if a sharp sword is placed across a person's throat, he should not despair of Mercy (Berachot 18a). (To explain this as meaning that one just doesn't know what the sentence will be, and therefore should not despair, as opposed to that the mercy is granted while the sword is on one's throat, seems forced to me.)

  • The gates of petition are sometimes closed, but the gates of repentance are always open (Bereshith Rabba 21:6).

  • Repentance is compared to a sea. Just as the sea is eternally open, so too the gates of repentance are eternally open (Pesikta de-Rabbi Kahana 24).

  • Nothing can stand in the way of repentance (Rambam, Hilchos Teshuvah 3:14).

Therefore my question is: Assuming that repentance is always accepted, what is the meaning of the sealing of the Book of Life?


Ariel K said: The Gemara in Rosh Hashanah (p.16-18) has an extended discussion of these and related issues, with a few different opinions. There are different levels of sentences and there's a possibility of changing them after the fact. The main view there says that the sentence for the congregation is never sealed, but things do become sealed for the individual on Yom Kippur. This fits with the general emphasis in the Torah on a higher level of oversight for the community than for the individual (e.g. the second paragraph of Sh'ma, with its focus on communal reward and punishment).

Sincere teshuva is always accepted so that one can always change his ways and be spiritually cleansed, but that doesn't necessarily mean that the course of events in this world can always change for a person at any time. However, one never knows what has been "decreed", so I don't think this view would hold that one should give up just because there's a sword at one's throat.

josh waxman said: I like to answer questions by undermining the assumptions, and I am going to try to do that here as well.

חתימה (chatimah) can mean either 'sealed' or 'signed', though they are almost certainly etymologically related. For an example of sealed, see D'varim 32:34:

הֲלֹא-הוּא, כָּמֻס עִמָּדִי; חָתוּם, בְּאוֹצְרֹתָי
Is not this laid up in store with Me, sealed up in My treasuries?

But a חתימה is a signature at the bottom of a document. One could argue of a divorce document that עדי חתימה כרתי, that the witnesses to the signature are what is important. Sometimes, it is unclear which sense is being used. The חתימה of a long blessing is the end, either because it is the sealing up of it, or because it is the sign-off. See the Jastrow entry on חתימה.3

Ultimately, it is a similar idea. Hashem is writing the judgement, but it is not completed and signed until Yom Kippur. At that point, the judgement goes into effect.

What about teshuva? It seems to me -- though I am not citing any sources for this -- that there is a period of judgement, where all sorts of factors about the person are evaluated, and his situation for the coming year is determined. This can shift so long as the judgement has not been signed. After that, there is a gzar din, a decree of judgement. Maybe it is harder to overcome, and one needs significantly more teshuva for that sin to overcome a decree. Whereas in the process of judgement, other factors (and balances) might have come into play such that the negative judgement might not have even come to be.


  1. Original question: mi.yodeya.com/q/10392
  2. Quoted from: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Repentance_in_Judaism
  3. Pp. 512-513 in the א-כ section. hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=38236&st=&pgnum=528 and the next page.

Contributors:
Ariel K mi.yodeya.com/u/369
HodofHod mi.yodeya.com/u/883
josh waxman mi.yodeya.com/u/458

  • I want to translate gzeirah in Ariel K's answer. What would be the most proper translation? – Monica Cellio Jul 3 '15 at 21:21
  • Maybe decree? – Scimonster Jul 4 '15 at 18:15
  • @MonicaCellio I think "sentence," which appears in the question, works. – Isaac Moses Jul 6 '15 at 4:08
  • 1
    This question could also go in either Machzor section, under Musaf, Kedusha, Unetaneh Tokef. – Isaac Moses Jul 6 '15 at 4:09
  • SECOND-PARTY EDIT COMPLETE – Scimonster Jul 23 '15 at 19:24
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Do I have to forgive a repeat offender?

Monica Cellio asked:1 If somebody has repeatedly wronged me (in the same way) in the past, am I obligated to keep forgiving him if he asks? On the one hand, maybe this time he finally is really doing teshuva; on the other hand, there's a track record. What happens if I decline?


user1095 answered: The gemara in Yoma 87 explains how to properly ask for forgiveness. The offender must go with three friends to the offended, and publicly ask for forgiveness.

If the offended does not want to grant forgiveness, this process is repeated a second, and, if needed, a third time.

After the third time, the offender need not ask for forgiveness again -- and the offended has transgressed the prohibition of holding a grudge!

So, if the person who is repeatedly transgressing against you isn't admitting his sin in front of friends and asking you for forgiveness, you don't have to forgive him. If this person is not well-versed in gemara, explain that this public admission and sincere request for forgiveness is what you need in order to forgive, and nothing less.

(If the person is willing to shame him/herself publicly by admitting the transgression and publicly asking in a contrite way for forgiveness, that's a fairly decent indication that the person really regrets his/her actions).

Shalom pointed out: Check the prayers found in most machzors before Kol Nidrei2 (emphasis added):

‏…וחוץ ממי שחוטא כנגדינו ואומר אחטא לו והוא ימחול לנו…‏

I hereby absolutely forgive anyone who has harmed me, other than money I can still claim by law, or those who harm me figuring that I'll forgive them. Other than those, I completely forgive, and may no person be punished because of me.

Eytan Yammer added: This piece from Derekh Eretz Rabbah is one of my favorites:

There is no reason to treat people unkindly but we don't have to open ourselves up to being hurt. For people who repeatedly cause us pain or transgress against us, I try to remind myself of this. Suspect them, protect yourself, but never embarrass, humiliate, or refuse to show respect to them. The story is awesome!

לעולם יהיו כל בני אדם חשובין לפניך כלסטים והוי מכבדן כרבן גמליאל, ומעשה ברבי יהושע שהשכים אצלו אדם ונתן לו אכילה ושתיה והעלהו לגג לשכב, ונטל סולם מתחתיו, מה עשה אותו האיש, עמד בחצי הלילה ונטל את הכלים וכרכן בטליתו – וכיון שביקש לירד נפל מן הגג ונשברה מפרקתו, לשחרית השכים רבי יהושע ובא מצאו כשהוא נופל, אמר לו ריקה כך עושין בני אדם שכמותך, אמר לו רבי, לא הייתי יודע שנטלת את הסולם מתחתי, אמר לו ריקה אי אתה יודע שמאמש היינו זהירין בך. מכאן א"ר יהושע לעולם יהיו כל בני אדם בעיניך כלסטים והוי מכבדן כר"ג

Every person should always be to you like thieves (marauders) and you should show them respect (honor) like we do to Raban Gamliel. It once happened to Rebbi Yehoshuah that he fed and gave drink to a visitor to his home and helped the visitor up to the loft to sleep, and Rebbi Yehoshua removed the ladder from beneath him (the visitor). What did that man do? He stood in the middle of the night and collected all of Rebbi Yehoshuah's things and hid them in his cloak, and when the man started to come down from the loft he fell and broke his back. In the morning Rebbi Yehoshua awoke and found the man laying on the floor. He said to the man: "Fool! This is what people like you do!?" He responded: "Rebbi! I didn't know that you had removed the ladder!" Rebbi Yehoshuah responded: "Fool! Didn't you realize that we had suspected you from the beginning?!"

From here we learn that every person should always be to you like thieves (marauders) and you should show them respect (honor) like to Raban Gamliel.

Beyond the message, the absurdity of the thief's answer amuses me.


  1. Original question: mi.yodeya.com/q/10360
  2. Quoted from "מחזור בית הכפורת ליום הכפורים" by Avraham Chamoi. Conjugated in the plural, but I'm used to seeing it in the singular.

Contributors:
Eytan Yammer mi.yodeya.com/u/3068
Monica Cellio mi.yodeya.com/u/472
Shalom mi.yodeya.com/u/21
user1095 N/A

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  • SECOND-PARTY EDIT COMPLETE – Scimonster Jul 18 '15 at 18:41
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How can someone, halachically, do teshuva when s/he has offended an anonymous person on the internet?

DanF asked:1 Rambam (Hilchot Teshuva 2:9) among others, states that Yom Kippur does not atone for sins committed between a person and his neighbor until a person personally asks the other for forgiveness.

If someone offended someone else on a web forum or a blog post or comment, where s/he doesn't know who read his/her posts, what would be the proper or best halachic way to repent? Can posting a generic "I'm sorry to whomever I offended" be used, or is there some other preferred method?


ray quoted Chovos Halevavos #7, Shaar Teshuva: (emphasis added):

(ch. 9) But for the sins towards G-d and man, it will be difficult to repent for several reasons: He may not be able to find the person he oppressed, or the person died or moved far away...

Perhaps the oppressed will not forgive him for what he oppressed him or hurt him physically, or spoke badly of him.

The oppressor may not know whom he oppressed, or he does not know the amount of money involved. For example, if he oppressed the people of a city or a province, and he does not know them, and he does not know the amount of money he took from them wrongfully...

(ch. 10) ...Whatever category it belongs to, if the repentance is difficult due to one of the factors we previously mentioned which cause repentance to be difficult, then if the person takes on himself to fulfill the requirements of repentance with all its conditions to the utmost extent that is in his power and ability to do, then the Creator will make his repentance easier, and will pardon what is hidden from him and not in his ability to do, and will give him an opportunity approximately close to his sin and allow him to absolve himself in this way (as will be explained)...

...If the oppressed is far away, the Creator will arrange their meeting, and the oppressor will submit before the oppressed and will be forgiven by him.

If he doesn't know the number of people he oppressed and the amount of money he took, the Creator will give him the opportunity to spend his money in some kind of public project, such as building a bridge, digging a well to benefit the public, or digging water pits in roads where water is scarce, or other similar things to benefit the masses, until the benefit will serve the one he oppressed and also the one he did not oppress...

...Repentance is not withheld from a sinner, rather the obstruction comes from his own wickedness and deceitful heart. But if he sincerely wants to draw near to G-d, the gate of repentance will not be closed before him, and no obstacle will prevent him from reaching it. Rather, G-d will open for him the gate of the just, and teach him the good path in His mercy and in His goodness, as written "Good and upright is the L-rd: therefore will he teach sinners in the way" (Tehilim 25:8)

Danny Schoemann also suggested: If you know that you [might have] offended a specific user-ID, then it would make sense to apologize to that user-ID.

You would also be expected to remove the offensive writing, if at all possible.

Once you know they saw the apology, you can delete it, if the offensive writing has been deleted. (If you cannot remove the offensive writing, then you probably should keep the apology visible, for future reference. People may get insulted again, forgetting they forgave you previously.)


  1. Original question: mi.yodeya.com/q/45424

Contributors:
DanF mi.yodeya.com/u/5275
Danny Schoemann mi.yodeya.com/u/501
ray mi.yodeya.com/u/1857

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  • SECOND-PARTY EDIT COMPLETE – Monica Cellio Jul 22 '15 at 1:58
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What can I do to change myself permanently through the repentance process?

Avrohom Yitzchok asked:1 I find myself in much the same state each year before Rosh HaShono. I don't know what was wrong with my attempt at teshuva but the outcome was that despite my best intentions I have not accomplished all the change that I hoped for last year. What can allow me to make a more permanent change this year as a result of the repentance process?


Epicentre said: What do you mean by permanent? I learnt once from Habad that life is like going up a down escalator -- if you stand still you go down. There is a constant struggle to improve the spiritual level and conquer the evil inclination (yetzer hara).

pzkd offerred: In order for change to be permanent, it has to go through a process. Anything that changes overnight can revert overnight. The process of changing oneself has two parts:

  1. Understanding the problem

    When we understand why some midah (trait) is bad it allows us to start the process of changing oneself (knowing the illness is half the cure). It's not good enough to understand the problem; rather we need to emotionally "understand" why the midah is not appropriate.

  2. Turning the problem into a solution

    Fixing the problem is an intense process, but if done right will be successful.
    First, we need to know about ourselves.
    After we know what makes us tick and what motivates us, we then need to create a plan of action.

    First we need to address the "action" (ma'aseh) of the midah. By controlling the action we start to see results. This needs to be done with wisdom by figuring out how to channel the bad midah, if possible.

    Then we work on the speech and thought part of the midah - we need to understand why we feel this way etc.

As an example, let's assume I have an anger problem. The way to fixing this is first to understand why it's a problem. For example: it affects my social life; it is not healthy; it doesn't allow me to be productive.

Now that I know why it's bad, I need to figure out a way to control its "action." For example: I may do exercise, or scream inside an empty room to let out the anger in a healthy/appropriate way.

Next I work on the "speech" part of it. For example: I may sing a song loudly to let out the anger. Notice how at this point the singing helps me (and most of the time I don't need to scream).

Finally I work on the "thought" aspect; I start appreciating how there is no need to get angry in the first place. For example: I realize that Hashem is in control of my life, so if something goes wrong it's for the best.

Michael Sandler answered: Your question is understandably short on detail, so it's possible my particular answer will not be wholly relevant to you. I am all too familiar with the phenomenon you describe.

דרך ארץ קדמה לתורה
Derech Eretz precedes the Torah

The source of this well-known saying is not as obvious as the frequency it is quoted would suggest.2 It is variously applied to manners, livelihood, and even marital intimacy, but the sense in which I take it is the one which I was taught -- that living life according to the way of the world is a prerequisite to living life according to the Torah.

This does not mean that when normal social practice clashes with a Torah lifestyle you favour "the done thing". It goes without saying that mitzvot must be upheld in opposition to the entire world if it comes to that. Rather, the wisdom of the world is a foundation to the sublime and infinite wisdom of the Torah. You've got to master day-to-day normal living before you can master living according to the Torah.

This idea can be applied to behaviour which we just can't seem to eradicate from our life no matter how much teshuvah we do, mussar (ethics) we learn, or prayers we pour out. I'm talking about stuff which we know that the Torah forbids, and which we intellectually don't want to do, but are somehow driven to do anyway. The Torah approach just doesn't seem to get any traction, like a car stuck in mud. You're giving a huge amount of effort and attention to the problem, pedal to the metal, you can feel energy and sincerity pouring out of you, and yet you're getting nowhere, always slipping back to where you were. It can lead to despair.

The wisdom of the world is intimately familiar with this problem. It's not a Torah issue at all. It applies to people across the world and throughout the ages. They call it addiction.

Yes, I just called you an addict. I hope you will not take offense because I mean none. I am well aware, as I said at the start, that I know nothing about you or your circumstances. All I have to work with is your complaint about not being able to change your life. That certainly doesn't classify you as an addict, but it is a defining characteristic of people who admitted they were "powerless." The insult offered if it doesn't apply to you is outweighed by the benefit if it does.

In my opinion (and the opinion of observant Jews who have been forced to acknowledge and address their problems in this light), the Torah approach simply will not work for an addict. They have a problem fundamental to being human which requires correction through mundane means. Only then will the Torah "work" for them. This is a radical and controversial idea which most Jews do not feel the need to entertain except in desperation.

At the risk of being flippant, addiction is (to a degree) a "solved problem." The 12 Steps,3 when applied properly and fully, allow an addict to change his behaviour where nothing else has worked. Anyone interested in self-improvement and growth, whether they have an addiction or not, will find food for thought in the writings of Rabbi Abraham Twerski. If you determine that you are or might be an addict, explore the numerous Jewish addiction resources around the world. Relief is out there.

In closing, I acknowledge again how presumptuous of me it is to extrapolate from such slim data. Please take my words in the spirit that they are meant.


  1. Original question: mi.yodeya.com/q/18650
  2. kabbalahmadda.blogspot.com/2009/02/fake-rabbinic-aphorism.html
  3. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Twelve-Step_Program

Contributors:
Avrohom Yitzchok mi.yodeya.com/u/730
Epicentre mi.yodeya.com/u/1804
Michael Sandler mi.yodeya.com/u/641
pzkd mi.yodeya.com/u/1827

  • SECOND-PARTY EDIT COMPLETE. – BSteinhurst Jul 22 '15 at 21:17

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