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The Duties of the Heart, by Rabbi Bachye, tr. by Edwin Collins, [1909], at

On the Possibility of Repentance.

The question may be asked, "Is it possible to make atonement by repentance * for every kind of sin?" I would reply that iniquities are of two kinds: (1) Sins that affect the relations between man and God alone, such as denial of God, evil thoughts, and those hidden sins that are included in the prohibitions of the duties of the heart and mind;  and (2) Sins between a man and his fellow men, such as those in which the sinner has done violence to them either in their persons, or their property, or their name and reputation. . . . The sins against God only are not so difficult of atonement as those in which the sin against God has consisted in a sin against our fellow men. For the repentance consists in returning from the evil ways whether in thought or

p. 56

deed. But in the case of sins against our fellow men there are many circumstances that make repentance difficult. Restitution is a necessary preliminary to repentance, and the injured person may not be able to be found, or may be a long way off; or the oppressor may have lost the wealth that he obtained from the oppressed, and so be unable to restore it; and it may be that the injured one is unwilling to forgive the one who has injured him, for some bodily injury, or for some slander spoken about him; or it may be that the sinner is unable to recognise those entitled to restitution, as, for instance, when he has oppressed or defrauded the people of a town or district. . . . Another cause of difficulty is that the habit of evil conduct often becomes a second nature which it is not easy to change. . . . There are also sins whose consequences, physical and moral, immediate and remote, no human power can avert or undo. . . .

But if the repentant one is truly repentant, and does all that is at all possible to repair his fault, and in everything—spiritual and material—shows all the signs, and fulfils all the conditions, of true repentance with his whole strength of body, mind, and possessions; then the Creator will lighten his task and help him in his return, and will even remove the consequences of his moral sins; give him wealth to restore what he has robbed others of; bring him into contact with those at a distance against whom he has sinned, so that he may humble himself to them and obtain their pardon, so overrule the course of his business or his benefactions that those whom he has defrauded may be among those who derive the greatest profit and advantage from his

p. 57

investments or his public works and charities, and so forth.

Repentance and atonement are only withheld from the sinner when his inward, secret thoughts and feelings, and his heart are deceptive. But if he truly wishes to draw near to God, the gate of repentance will not be closed to him, and no hindrance, however great, can hinder his approach to Him. For God Himself opens to him the gate of righteousness, and with His kindness and His beneficence points out to him the good way, as it is written (Ps. xxv. 8), "Good and upright is the Eternal; therefore He will guide sinners in the way," and (Deut. iv. 29, etc.), "And when ye seek the Lord from thence, ye shall find Him," etc.

  .     .     .     .     .     .     .

But know this, that repentance is only capable of fulfilment in deeds:—in works, and not at all in words.


55:* Literally, to return from.

55:† See p. 18, last paragraph, and top of p. 19.

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