Ha’azinu: Repentance for a Doubtful Sin

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24 Sep 2009

The Rema writes that a doubtful sin requires more thorough repentance than a certain one. The reason he gives is that a person tends to be feel less remorse over a doubtful sin. (OC 603:1.)

We can obtain a more profound understanding of this statement if we ask ourselves, what exactly is the case of a “doubtful sin”?!

One possibility is that the Rema is referring to someone who acted in a careless way but circumstances may have prevented a serious outcome – like shooting (at a person) and missing. Since the outcome may not have been bad, the person feels less of a sense of remorse. Yet repentance is necessary, because this surely is a certain sin! There is no question that I need to stop shooting at people, whether or not my markshmanship was accurate.

If on the contrary I did nothing wrong but circumstances led to a situation where a transgression may have taken place – this product has a reliable kosher certification, but it turns out that some were “treif”. In this case I certainly did not sin. I did the right thing, and even if there is a certain transgression I am not responsible due to the duress involved.

Yet ultimately, neither of these cases refers to a truly “doubtful sin”. A doubt- ful sin does not occur when I know what a sin is, but don’t know if I committed it. A doubtful sin is likely to come about precisely when I am uncertain if the act is a sin in the first place! In the case of a certain sin, there is a mistake in actions. This is relatively easy to correct. In the case of a doubtful sin, there is a uncertainty in values. This requires more effort to deal with. (As we discussed in the column on carrying on Shabbat, Vayakhel 5760.)

The challenge presented by the Days of Repentance is not only to make our acts conform to our values, but also to ensure that our values conform to our ideals.

Rabbi Asher Meir is the author of the book Meaning in Mitzvot, distributed by Feldheim. The book provides insights into the inner meaning of our daily practices, following the order of the 221 chapters of the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch.

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.