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Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Intentional and accidental sin are the same in G-d's eyes

Daf Yomi Nazir 23

Little Timmy loved to play up in his parents’ attic.  His father had made a small playroom for him and he would disappear up there for hours on end.  One day his friend Buzz gave him a pocket knife.  They would have fun carving pieces of wood together and were careful to handle the knife properly.  

He loved that knife.  And would never dream of hurting anyone or anything.  He was sitting up in his playroom one day when a piece of rope caught his eye.  His father had warned him not to play near the rope but somehow his knife gravitated towards it.  What harm could there be in cutting a little snippet of rope?  He flicked open the knife and began to cut away.

Suddenly, crash, boom, bang.  He realized he had just done something terrible.  His father ran up the stairs and glared at him, “Do you realize what you just did?  You smashed our beautiful chandelier!  What were you thinking cutting that rope?  I told you not to go anywhere near it!”

The little boy began sobbing uncontrollably.  Sure, he had acted out of line.  But he had no idea of the impact of his little misbehaviour!

Concerning a woman who vowed and then broke her vow, but in the interim her husband annulled the vow, the Torah declares, “Her husband annuls them and G-d will forgive her.”
When Rabbi Akiva would arrive at this verse, he would cry. ‘If a person who intends to eat pork and unknowingly instead eats lamb nonetheless requires atonement and forgiveness, certainly one who intends to eat pork and indeed eats pork, how much more so!’

Rabbi Akiva was the eternal optimist.  When his friends wept upon seeing a fox running through the ruins of the Holy Temple, he expressed his joy at the fulfilment of the prophet’s words, pointing out that while the first part of the prophecy foretold the Temple’s ruinous state, the final prophecy promises the rebuilding of the Temple.  And so when Rabbi Akiva cried at the verse discussing G-d’s forgiveness, no doubt these too were tears of joy.

Why was he happy?  Rabbi Akiva realized that just as G-d forgives unintentional sin, so too G-d forgives intentional sin.   All you need to do is to turn to Him and regret your behaviour and He will forgive you!  Rabbi Akiva understood that it’s all the same in G-d’s eyes – unintentional sin or intentional sin, it really doesn’t matter.  Both need atonement; in Temple times, you would have to bring a sacrifice either way. 

When you act contrary to the Will of Heaven, your soul is muddied and needs to be cleansed.  The good news is it’s that simple – regret your actions, confess to G-d and promise to do better going forward.  And presto, G-d forgives you!  Unburden yourself, don’t be weighed down by a sin that’s no longer there in G-d’s eyes.  He’s already wiped the slate clean as if it never happened.

Why are intentional and unintentional sins the same thing?  Our Sages teach that a person only sins if a ‘spirit of folly’ enters his mind.  In other words, if you knew the spiritual ramifications of consuming that piece of pork, you would never do it.  But you don’t know.  And so you eat it.  If so, that consumption was really unintentional, because you didn’t really understand what you were doing, right?

That’s why G-d is so quick to forgive.  And that’s why Rabbi Akiva cried.  The Almighty forgives us because He knows that we are blind to the effects of our misbehaviour.   Just like the little boy who had no intention to smash the chandelier to smithereens, we have no concept of the impact of our deeds.  And just like the father who ultimately forgave his innocent young child, the Almighty is quick to forgive us even for sins we commit intentionally!

Your Father in Heaven loves you beyond your imagination.  Even those sins that you have committed knowingly, He views them as unintentional mistakes.  May you merit turning to Him and accepting His unjudging embrace as He forgives you for everything unquestioningly!