Repentance is the greatest gift which G-d gave to man-so holy, so G-dlike, so completely above all logic or comprehension. The sages teach that the concept of repentance is one of seven things which G-d "thought of" even before He created the world. Thus He created repentance before He created man; this means that the ability for man to repent existed well before sin...it even existed before the beginning of time. Repentance was one of the pillars of creation; before He created man, the Holy One already knew that "the impulse of man's heart is evil from his youth" (Gen. 7:21), and that it would be impossible for even the best of men not to sin and stumble. "There is no righteous man on earth who does only good, and does not sin" (Ecc. 7:20). G-d knows that this is an integral part of human nature, and it cannot be avoided. Angels are perfect, people make mistakes...yet it is the service of man which G-d desires. Without mistakes, there can be no growth.
Thus, in the words of the rabbis, "G-d created the cure even before the illness," and the concept of repentance was prepared in advance of man and built into the very fabric of creation, so that when one transgresses the will of his Creator, a path is left open for him to return.
How do we understand sin? Judaism defines sin as a spiritual sickness, but it can be more precisely defined as a kind of temporary insanity. Indeed, if a person did not loose track momentarily of the priorities of life; if he did not suddenly and inadvertently suffer a brief disconnection with his Divine purpose, and a short "snap" of his bind with the Eternal Creator, then he would never sin! For when one sins, it is only because he forgets the spark of holiness within him for an instant; his perspective blurs. He simply forgets about G-d! For if he felt himself to be part of the whole, and connected with the Divine source of his soul from which he was hewn, he would never come to sin. As the sages advised, "Let a man remember three things and he will not come to sin: A seeing eye is above him, and an attentive ear, and all his deeds are written in a book."
In this light the rabbis further explained that "a person does not sin unless he was first seized by an insane impulse."
Both pure logic and experience tell us that this is certainly true. For let us consider what really happens when a human being sins. He cuts himself off totally from G-d, and even worse, he rejects the spark of life, the holiness, the Divine image in which he was created! How is this possible? How can anyone transgress the will of the Almighty? After all, every movement a man makes, every thought that goes through his head and every word he speaks, all come about through the power which G-d gives him. But G-d bestows this power in order for man to live a holy life, to seek Him out and serve him... "In all of your ways, know Him" (Proverbs 3:6).
Yet the sinner takes that very same power which G-d, in His infinite love, gave man for ultimate good-and he uses it against Him. He uses the very life energy within him to rebel against the Creator who breathed it into him in the first place, by directing that energy into an area which G-d does not desire! Can there be a greater, a more brazen audacity then this? Like an insult of the worst kind, it is as if the entire universe is moving in one direction, fulfilling the will of the Creator and thus sanctifying Him, but this one has separated himself and is moving in the opposite direction. It is as if he is handed a cup of wine by a benevolent benefactor, and in sheer ingratitude he throws it in the latter's face. By right, we would expect G-d's punishment against this offender to be swift and exacting. Yet G-d withstands this insult and waits patiently for the sinner to repent.
"...And you shall return to the L-rd your G-d, and hearken to His voice." (Deut. 4:30) "Return, wayward sons, says the L-rd. (Jer. 3:14) "...return, you children of men" (Psalms 90:3).
When any person repents, his sins are forgiven. The doors of repentance are open for every human being, Jew and Gentile alike. And repentance is effective for any sin, no matter how serious. Just as one can repent for an individual sin, he can repent for an entire lifestyle as well. The sages taught that repentance is so powerful, nothing can stand in its way. As the verse states, "If you return to the L-rd your G-d and listen to His voice...G-d will then accept your repentance and have compassion on you" (Deut. 30:2-3).
By obeying G-d's commandments, we purify ourselves and attach ourselves to Him. Living according to the Creator's will brings man closer to Him. Sin has the opposite effect: it diminishes one's spiritual stature and makes it more difficult to reach perfection. Even worse, sin actually serves to separate a person from G-d, as it is written, "Only your sins have separated you from your G-d" (Isaiah 59:2).
Thus repentence precedes sin; "G-d created the cure before the illness."
But no religious experience can come about without proper preparation. True religious experience is an imitation of the Divine; an infusion of G-dly light. If a man does not prepare his vessel properly, it cannot contain this great light. Just as a prophet cannot receive Divine inspiration unless he follows the steps which lead to that exalted level, so too, the main preparation for repentance is the attribute of submission and humility. "The sacrifices of G-d are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O G-d, you will not despise (Psalms 51:19)."
"Everyone who is proud in heart is an abomination to the L-rd."(Proverbs 16:5) How ironic it is that no individual is as far from G-d, as he who feels that he has already attained perfection, and has no need to search his deeds. By the same token, another
type of person truly seeks to better himself, but on account of his own humility he is beset by feelings of inadequacy. Because he so much wants to improve, he feels that he will never be good enough, and consequently he feels rejected by G-d and unworthy. This is the man who is truly moving closer to G-d! And the further away he feels...the closer he really is. G-d desires that a person should recognize his own limitations and hold his fellows in higher esteem than himself. When one nullifies himself to the whole, he can then merit to repent in sincerity and purify himself.