Acknowledge & Accept

One of my favorite books that we are reading in our homeschool is The Book of Jewish Values – A Day-by-Day Guide to Ethical Living by Rabbi Joseph Telushkin. The book has taught us a lot, caused us to pondering many things, and has resulted in some interesting discussions. I HIGHLY recommend this book. Today’s reading went along with what I have been writing lately about repentance and forgiveness, so I’d like to share it:

Acknowledge Your Sin and Accept Responsibility

I know a man who seldom acknowledges his errors. Whenever something bad happens to him, he invariably claims that it is either due to bad luck or is someone else’s fault. I once told him that of all the people I knew, he was the one for whom I felt least optimistic about the future. Since he was never to blame for any of the bad things that happened to him, there was nothing he could do to improve his increasingly unhappy life. He could only hope that he would stop having bad luck, and that other people would stop treating him unfairly or getting him into trouble.

In the Jewish tradition, the first step in repentance is hakarat hachet, recognizing the sin one has committed. For most of us, that is hard, and always has been. The Bible tells us that when Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden, God confronted Adam, asking him why he had eaten of the forbidden fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. Instead of acknowledging responsibility for the sin, Adam blamed Eve (and by implication God), “The woman You put at my side–she gave me of the tree and I ate.” When God turned to Eve, she in turn blamed the snake: “The serpent duped me, and I ate” (Gen. 3:12-13).

Some years later, God demanded an accounting from Cain as to the whereabouts of his brother Abel, whom Cain had just murdered. Instead of confessing the great evil he had done, Cain taunted God with a mocking question: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Gen. 4:9). Thousands of years later, Samuel denounced King Saul for disobeying a divine edict. His response? He lied and tried to defend his behavior (I Sam. 15).

A few years after that, the prophet Nathan attacked David for committing serious sins. but David’s response was different from Adam’s, Eve’s, Cain’s, and Saul’s; he admitted his guilt, confessing, “I stand guilty before the Lord” (II Sam. 12:13). God, presumably delighted that finally a human being had owned up to his evil, instructed Nathan to tell David that his punishment would now be less severe.

Someone who can’t acknowledge responsibility and guilt cannot and will not change. and just as a disease cannot be treated until it first is diagnosed, a sin or an evil cannot be corrected until it is acknowledged and admitted. So, if you wish to repent of bad acts you have committed, the first–and for many of us, the most painful– thing you must do is acknowledge, without rationalization and justification, the wrong you have done.

Here is an exercise: Sit down alone and see if you can think of one or two things you have done in your life, or are now doing, that you know are unfair and wrong. Even if you are not yet ready to undo the wrongs you have committed (if, indeed, it is possible to undo them fully), at least recognize your guilt, as did David. Just becoming aware of bad deeds will start to affect how you behave.

I have found very few people are willing to acknowledge wrong-doing or to forgive others who ask them to forgive them. I do not think relationship can survive without repentance/forgiveness.

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