Virtual Talmud

Virtual Talmud


The Power of Sin

With Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur fast approaching, Jews around the world are supposed to be reflecting on our behavior over the past year by acknowledging our wrongdoings, asking forgiveness, and committing to doing better in the year ahead. It is interesting to note that I use the terms “acknowledge our wrongdoings” and “ask for forgiveness” instead of “confess our sins” and “repent” –-it’s language that is much more comfortable to many in the Jewish community than language dealing with sinfulness and repentance, despite the fact that this is the traditional language of the season.
There are several reasons for our discomfort with the language of “confessing sins.” Besides the general sense that it sounds like Christian rather than Jewish language, sin is a difficult concept for many, acknowledging that our behaviors may not be “merely” transgressions against ourselves or other people, but against God’s will. We can certainly acknowledge that some actions, like murder or child abuse are undeniably evil but, thank God, most of us have not done such things. So where does that leave the rest of the bad behaviors we’ve engaged in from lying to cheating to being emotionally absent from our children? Are these actions sins?


It is clear from the Torah that private actions are not in fact simply personal matters but have an impact on the community and upon God. Wrongdoing, unexpiated, contaminates the moral fabric of society. Moreover, Rabbi Maz Artz writes that sins “distort and diminish the divine image in which man was created.” In acting contrary to the divine image in which we were created, we alienate ourselves from God and community. Just as a factory that dumps pollutants into a river poisons those who live downstream, our private actions can poison our relationship to ourselves, to those we love, and to God.
The language and labeling of sin can be a very powerful tool and it is thus susceptible to abuse. When people point the finger at others of whom they disapprove, the language of sin becomes a rhetorical power grab, a way of labeling someone else’s behavior as unequivocally beyond the pale. The great potential for abuse that we have seen played out in our own times is the most important reason that sin is such an uncomfortable topic for many, breeding instead a “live and let live mentality.” The remedy is to focus less on what we believe to be sinful in others and more on what we find sinful in ourselves: those actions and attitudes devalue ourselves or devalue others as divine creations, thus diminishing the holiness in ourselves and in society.
If we are going to make a real change in ourselves we must start by recognizing, rather than minimizing, the importance of our behavior. It’s time to reclaim the language of sin–the power it has both to indict and transform–and to truly repent during these coming holy days.



Advertisement
Comments read comments(38)
post a comment
Anonymous

posted September 10, 2007 at 4:30 pm


oh my….i swear your column is wonderful and such a benefit to my beliefs in christianity that some times i wonder..God hiding this post and appearing unexpectedly. GRIN! The topic is difficult because we dont want be to know that we have botched it and botched it repeatedly.



report abuse
 

linoscript

posted September 10, 2007 at 7:42 pm


Yes, you tend to give me a boost as well, struggling as I am with where I fit in with regard to Judaism. What I find so demoralizing about organized religion in general is the constant emphasis on sin and failure. It can be a soul-crushing experience to focus continuously on shortcomings. While I am fairly well-aware of what’s wrong with me, awareness does not automatically translate into being better, despite my intentions. There will probably never come a day when I can say I’ve made it, I’ve arrived, I’m doing God’s will, I’m breaking no commandments, etc. But as you say, whatever my problems, they are for me to resolve – with God, or with the people in my life.



report abuse
 

linoscript

posted September 10, 2007 at 8:43 pm


I would add that finger-pointing has probably NEVER changed anyone for the better. I can’t sustain an interest in belonging to any group that wants to spend its time and energy telling me what a crummy person I am – which, as you point out, is an attempt at social control that tends to serve the finger-pointers more than the people who are being pointed at. I don’t experience an environment of perpetual blame and judgment as constructive – or as a place I want to be.



report abuse
 

Sue Bass

posted September 11, 2007 at 11:59 am


I love your column, and I totally agree. Good deeds are good habits to get in and stay in. Charity, caring, loving, staying away from bad speech, keeping close to your children and family are just sooooo important. Important to your life and well-being. Promoting happiness and just the all-over good feeling we get when we practice a lifestyle of the above.



report abuse
 

Ronel

posted September 12, 2007 at 1:39 pm


First comes conviction, that inexplicable communication between His spirit and our conscience, which can be summed up as follows,”what ARE you doing?!” Should we agree, we are then led to change our course of action,perhaps being as “appalled” at our actions as He himself is. This is true repentence. Why is the word avoided? Because it would mean sincerety and truth in His presence. Not a casual admittence.
Ronel



report abuse
 

Susan

posted September 13, 2007 at 8:55 am


Linoscript, Jews don’t only focus on sin. This is at most a one month period of time. Most Jewish holidays are not about sin. they celebrate joyful occasions. The Hebrew word for repentence is teshuvah. It means to return to who you truly are. We are trying to return the pure soul that we were given. In the Kabbalistic tradition we are returning to the oneness of all things. We do this knowing that we all human beings and therfore not capable of perfection.
The word for sin in Hebrew comes from the Hebrew word for to miss the mark. There are two kinds of “sin” in the Jewish tradition. There are sins against other people. These sins we can try to rectify. Then there are sins aqainst God. These we pray for. Indeed part of the process of teshuvah is letting go of all that crumminess. I would suggest that you read the sections on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kipur in Michale Strassfeld’s book, The Jewish Holidays. Perhas, you might want to go a Reconstructionist service or a Jewish Renewal service. You might also be intersted in Jewish meditation.
I don’t feel brow-beaten when I am in services on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Maybe you just haven’t found the right place. When I was growing up, it seemed to be more about your new outfits than anything else at our synagogue, but that is not true in the synagogue I go to now.



report abuse
 

Danielle Richards

posted September 14, 2007 at 5:53 pm


I very much enjoyed your blog. I am in total agreement. Since recently finding out I am of Jewish descendant I am presently a student of my Jewish roots and traditions (I study the Kabbalah, Torah, and Talmud). I have found so very much likenesses and principals in my Judean-Christian upbringing. I feel so very blessed to embrace both. I feel I have been able to reconcile both religious teachings and feel spiritually complete. Thank you for a well-written article; you are a great teacher and excellent writer.



report abuse
 

Valerie

posted September 21, 2007 at 10:41 am


Thank you. Beautifully put and very thought-provoking. Perhaps your words will inspire many to a deep self-examination; they certainly have so inspired me.



report abuse
 

Maduka Christian Chibuzo

posted September 21, 2007 at 11:16 am


“The Power of Sin” makes for a powerful reading and a strong call to reflction.



report abuse
 

Heretic for Christ

posted September 21, 2007 at 12:29 pm


As one who is not a Jew or a Christian, I completely reject the word “sin.” If we are talking about our errors, crimes, misdeeds, or obsessive dwelling on unworthy feelings such as rage or envy, then let us just acknowledge exactly what we have done wrong, what we might do to make up for the wrong, what we might do to avoid such wrongs in the future. But the word “sin” is worse than useless, for it simultaneously conveys no specific information and carries terrible baggage. One of the reasons I quit going to churches years ago is that I am willing to acknowledge my fallibility and my errors, but I absolutely will not use a word like “sinner,” which is denigrating to God because it is denigrating to humanity as God’s creation.



report abuse
 

Paula Nelson

posted September 21, 2007 at 2:18 pm


At the risk of sounding like one of our former presidents…
What is the meaning of “sin”….
If you believe that “sin” is metaphysical contamination that can only be removed by some sort of mystical spiritual alchemy, go for it.
I believe that the definition of “sin” as that which separates us from the One is much more accurate.
The logic that comes from that definition is more realistic. When we recognize “sin” in our life (the existance of and perhaps something in this life that exacerbates our separation from the One) we can deal with it, learn from it, and work on reconciliation or atonement.
Peace,
Paula



report abuse
 

Heretic for Christ

posted September 21, 2007 at 2:28 pm


Interesting, Paula. I feel no separation from God whatsoever. God is present within all of us. Often, we cloak the light of God beneath the thick layers of guilt, rage, and fear that we hide beneath, and then we wonder why we are in darkness, and where God is. God is where he always is — where else could he possibly be? The darkness, the sense of separation from God are self-imposed illusions. We won’t find God by looking outside; we will find God when we let go of that which has been cloaking the light of God, and let our lives be expressions of his spirit within us.



report abuse
 

Paula Nelson

posted September 21, 2007 at 4:13 pm


I wasn’t making a statement on the Spiritual state of the individual. I was talking about the actions that are called “sin”. It is one thing to regard oneself as a sinner separated from the One, it is another to say that I do things that draw me apart from the path of the One or the harmony of Spirit.
I am saying that if you recognize Sin as actions that pull you away from Spirit you can learn to concentrate on those actions that draw you closer.
Peace,
Paula



report abuse
 

Kenny

posted September 21, 2007 at 10:06 pm


John says sin is transgression of the laws of God. The 10 commandments.



report abuse
 

DEB ELIAS

posted September 21, 2007 at 11:43 pm


If we are talking about our errors, crimes, misdeeds, or obsessive dwelling on unworthy feelings such as rage or envy.
IT WOULD BE NICE IF PEOPLE WOULD CRAWL OUT OF THEMSELVES, IN WHAT IS ACCEPTABLE TO SELF, GROW UP, THE WORD SIN, INCLUDES ALL AMD MORE OF WHAT YOU DESCRIBE.
JOHN 3:4 WHOSOEVER COMMITTETH SIN TRANGESSETH ALSO THE LAW:FOR SIN IS THE TRANSGRESSION OF THE LAW.
IT IS A GENERAL WORD TO COVER IT ALL
PSALM 19:7 THE LAW OF THE LORD IS PERFECT, CONVERTING THE SOUL:
SIN IS THE TRANSGRESSION OF THE LAW



report abuse
 

Ralph Meyer

posted September 21, 2007 at 11:50 pm


Is there something wrong with honoring tradition without questioning it? It has been passed down from my father and his father before him that one confessed to having made sins in the previous year and one prayed for forgiveness at Yom Kippur. Is there anything wrong, with just believing instead of having to question everything in life? We as Jews need to continue to follow these traditions and keep passing them on!! As A Canadian and A Jew, I ask that the non jews please stop trying to convince others your religion is right and your belief is right. Just Believe and it all falls into place. In the 45 years, I have been on this earth. the L-rd has rewarded and punished me, but I feel truly rewarded to be Jewish and A Believer. When you have seen what I have seen, done what I have done, then you may complain. I choose not to complain but to enjoy our world, so ATTone for your sins on Yom Kippur!!! or stop off this sight!



report abuse
 

Ralph Meyer

posted September 21, 2007 at 11:51 pm


Is there something wrong with honoring tradition without questioning it? It has been passed down from my father and his father before him that one confessed to having made sins in the previous year and one prayed for forgiveness at Yom Kippur. Is there anything wrong, with just believing instead of having to question everything in life? We as Jews need to continue to follow these traditions and keep passing them on!! As A Canadian and A Jew, I ask that the non jews please stop trying to convince others your religion is right and your belief is right. Just Believe and it all falls into place. In the 45 years, I have been on this earth. the L-rd has rewarded and punished me, but I feel truly rewarded to be Jewish and A Believer. When you have seen what I have seen, done what I have done, then you may complain. I choose not to complain but to enjoy our world, so ATTone for your sins on Yom Kippur!!! or stop off this sight!



report abuse
 

Chuck

posted September 23, 2007 at 4:06 am


Honoring traditions? I’m sorry, but when I hear or see the word tradition, I wonder if we should seek that which is more personal, like fresh manna. Traditiions or religions, with all respect to the good and homorable follower, seems to be like old manna. Regardless what the tradition or religion is. after a while it requires no faith in God. I may be wrong in my thinking, and I apologize for what may be to some igorance on my part. I respect the Jewish traditions and calendar because God loves and honors that. I believe that faith requires a knowledge of who it is we believe, in that fresh manna fashion. I think as we understand who it is we believe in we ralize that God from the beginning made us for one on one relationships. Shortly after Adam fell, God put into place a plan of salvation for all of mankind. It does not matter what any man made faith or religion or tradition believes, it is what God says in His word. Again, I do not know everything the scriptures says and I’m not all that educated by any means. I really think God makes His plans for us simple enough for anyone to know, and sadly enough I have too often seen men turn God into some type of faith where they seem to have say or power or even the last word about God. And of course they way is right and all others are wrong or not quite right. I believe in heaven there will be no religions, I don’t think that God is not going to allow any type of division in heaven, I believe that problem happened once before with some angels,(you know those eternal beings). So if tradition, religions, faiths cause any of God children to be divided, then I seriously question if they know God at all. Scripture says let God be true and every man a liar. Just my uneducated opinion, sorry for having it. Peace



report abuse
 

jane

posted September 23, 2007 at 7:24 pm


Honour your traditions. My hearfelt thanks to the many many jews who have done this down through the centuries, many at a huge cost. Our God gave you the ten commandments not just for you, His chosen people but for me as a believer to know our God’s ways.



report abuse
 

Paula Nelson

posted September 24, 2007 at 1:25 am


What’s wrong with honoring your tradition AND questioning it?
Questioning can be a search for greater understanding, it does not have to be a negative thing.
Peace,
Paula



report abuse
 

Paula Nelson

posted September 24, 2007 at 1:29 am


For Deb Elias –
this is your post:If we are talking about our errors, crimes, misdeeds, or obsessive dwelling on unworthy feelings such as rage or envy.
IT WOULD BE NICE IF PEOPLE WOULD CRAWL OUT OF THEMSELVES, IN WHAT IS ACCEPTABLE TO SELF, GROW UP, THE WORD SIN, INCLUDES ALL AMD MORE OF WHAT YOU DESCRIBE.
JOHN 3:4 WHOSOEVER COMMITTETH SIN TRANGESSETH ALSO THE LAW:FOR SIN IS THE TRANSGRESSION OF THE LAW.
IT IS A GENERAL WORD TO COVER IT ALL
PSALM 19:7 THE LAW OF THE LORD IS PERFECT, CONVERTING THE SOUL:
SIN IS THE TRANSGRESSION OF THE LAW
**************************
Since you quote John I believe I can assume you are Christian. If you are Christian how can you define sin as “transgression of the Law”?
Christians are taught to live by Spirit and not the Law, aren’t they?



report abuse
 

anon

posted September 24, 2007 at 4:21 pm


i think that people who are as selfless to commit a crime should be given a second chance
but if tha second chance is wasted what then?
thats for you to find out later



report abuse
 

Ann

posted September 26, 2007 at 6:23 am


Paula,
Christians are not taught to live only by the spirit and not the law. If there is no law there is Chaos. God is very clear in his word about law, the primary laws being the Ten Commandments. The problem comes when we allow individual interpretation of the bible to suit ones own desires. Nowhere in God’s word does it say that if we live by spirit we don’t have to follow God’s laws for if we are not required to follow God’s laws.. why would Jesus have to die on the cross for the sins of humanity??



report abuse
 

Gilbert

posted September 26, 2007 at 6:28 pm


No one knows anything.



report abuse
 

Gilbert

posted September 26, 2007 at 6:29 pm


Really.



report abuse
 

Paula Nelson

posted September 27, 2007 at 1:42 am


The “law” is mediated by culture and language.
If Spirit is our guide we can sort out some of the errors brought about by culture and language.
I have a gnostic orientation…
That means that I trust my own spirit to see where my connection to Spirit lies.
Literalists who believe that the Law of God can be codified and translated through words or a church seem to me to be tied to closely to the temporal.



report abuse
 

Brian

posted September 30, 2007 at 5:05 pm


Does’nt it say in the Bible that the two greatest commandments are to love the Lord God with all your heart, soul, strength ect.. And to love your nieghbor as yourself. All the law and prophets hang on these two. So why do people say it’s best to listen to thier own spirit or to follow ones heart. When they can’t even hear themselves for all the clamoring in the world. That’s why God speaks to us through His word. To show us how to live and which way to go. Because without His guidance we are truely lost



report abuse
 

Joe

posted October 2, 2007 at 8:04 pm


Biologically, some people will never be able to accept any of this, like me. I believe that doing good and such is a great thing, but there are limits to where it splits between being a good person, and just completely giving everything that makes up you to one cause. You could believe in God or whoever, but you also wouldn’t have to act like your life is some journey that you’re put in to be tested, ENJOY IT! I personally dislike christianity because of the facts that: 1. everytime you go to church it seems like a bunch of cultish groveling,and 2. it makes you feel like you’re entire life is you laying crouched down with a poorly made shield from all this “evil”. There has got to be a better way of preaching without making it sound like life is one major drag. Another thing, evil (along with beauty,etc.) is made out to be evil in the eye of the beholder, not by what other people tell you believe!



report abuse
 

Happy Go Lucky

posted October 10, 2007 at 2:06 pm


ditto….u dont kno nuttin



report abuse
 

Jew-wanna-be

posted October 10, 2007 at 5:53 pm


Is it being uncircumscised a sin?



report abuse
 

Eric13

posted October 15, 2007 at 6:32 pm


I dislike religion for a number of reasons. It causes war. About 50% or so of christians constantly trip over their own words, always doing the exact opposite of what their religion told them to do. “God” and any other god like figure is almost completely illogical. “Does’nt it say in the Bible that the two greatest commandments are to love the Lord God with all your heart, soul, strength ect.. And to love your nieghbor as yourself.” Well, according to what Ive been told, supposovely all the commandments are equal. (For the record, I like the Jewish religion better than Christian religions, even though I dont like religions in general). Christians need to realize that Jesus was black/ arab- looking. Think. The whole jesus thing happend around mesopotamia, which is now called IRAQ. Jeez. The second any one says the words “jesus” and “negro/ arab” in the same sentence (unless there is an “ISNT!” between them), people go mental. Religion has messed me up, alot. and im only 13. oh boy i cant wait till i grow up im gunna have a real nice shrink and every thing! ya i could ramble on and on for a while, but i need to go… uhmm..
p.s.- Honestly, i dont care what religion you are or if you take offense to any of what i said. bye! :D



report abuse
 

Redd

posted October 23, 2007 at 9:23 pm


Hey Hey, this message is actually for Eric13 in response to his message posted on October 15, 2007.
A lot of people do not know the history of Christianity that is why a lot of stereotypical views are set (this include Christians). You mentioned the fact that Jesus was black/arab looking this is true. If you go to Eastern countries it is rare that you will see an original pale skinned, blonde hair and blue eyed male. In the bible it stated that that Jesus not this description that people make him to be.
You should check out this website: (http://www.torah.tv/). The Rabbi (Ralph Messer)here teaches how the lost tribes where scattered and God is bringing them back to their Jewish roots. The webiste doesn’t go in a depth explaination because there is actually classes being taught abtou it. To let you know they are being taught in several Christian Churchs and this concept will defnitely fill the nations in its due season.



report abuse
 

Anonymous

posted October 31, 2007 at 11:08 pm


I am taking world religions class and I need your help about the “yom kippur”. The changes that have occured over the time on the way of practicing it. How was it practiced in the past and how is it now?
Thanks



report abuse
 

hi

posted December 17, 2007 at 8:52 pm


who invented Yom Kippur



report abuse
 

Anonymous

posted February 27, 2008 at 2:05 pm


why is the torah studied at yom kippur?



report abuse
 

Allie

posted March 3, 2008 at 10:07 am


ok idk what i am any more….. i need help i like some thing that the jewish believe, but at the same time i like christian views too… can some one help me with this problem…. i do not know what is right and what is wrong any more……



report abuse
 

sian

posted May 20, 2008 at 11:07 am


well if yo had a bar or bat mitsfa then you should be a jew but if you where baptized you would be a cristian if you never had any then its up to you to deside



report abuse
 

Pingback: The Language of Sin - Virtual Talmud

Post a Comment

By submitting these comments, I agree to the beliefnet.com terms of service, rules of conduct and privacy policy (the "agreements"). I understand and agree that any content I post is licensed to beliefnet.com and may be used by beliefnet.com in accordance with the agreements.



Previous Posts

The Task Is Never Finished
It has been heartwarming to read the warm responses to Rabbi Waxman's post asking Beliefnet to reconsider its decision to cancel Virtual Talmud. Virtual Talmud offered an alternative model for internet communications: civil discourse pursued in postings over a time frame of days (rather than moments

posted 12:31:46pm Apr. 03, 2008 | read full post »

Some Parting Reflections
Well, loyal readers, all good things must come to an end and we’ve been informed that this particular experiment in blogging as a forum for creating wide-ranging discussion on topics of interest to contemporary Jews has run its course. Maybe it’s that blogging doesn’t lend itself so well to t

posted 1:00:29pm Mar. 31, 2008 | read full post »

Obama's Lesson and The Jewish Community
There are few times in this blog’s history when I have felt that Rabbi Grossman was one hundred percent correct in her criticisms of my ideas. However, a few weeks ago she called me out for citing a few crack websites on Barak Obama’s advisors. She was right. I never should have cited those web

posted 12:09:08pm Mar. 31, 2008 | read full post »

The Future of Race Relations
As a post-baby boomer, it is interesting to me to see how much of today’s conversation about racial relations is still rooted in the 1960s experience and rhetoric of the civil rights struggle, and the disenchantment that followed. Many in the black and Jewish communities look to this period either

posted 4:04:41pm Mar. 25, 2008 | read full post »

Wright and Wrong of Race and Jews
Years ago, as a rabbinical student, I was one of a group of rabbinical students who visited an African American seminary in Atlanta. My fellow rabbinical students and I expected an uplifting weekend of interfaith sharing like we had experienced in visits to other (largely white) seminaries. We were

posted 12:50:11pm Mar. 24, 2008 | read full post »




Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.