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Tishrei 9

May 21, 2009 | by

In this psalm of contrition, we hear David's heart-rending plea for forgiveness and, indeed, Nathan informed him that God had accepted his prayer and that he was forgiven (II Samuel 12:13). What was it that earned David prompt forgiveness? Rabbi Sholom Shachna of Probisch points to the opening verse of the psalm: "When Nathan the Prophet came to him, as he had come to Bath-Sheba." The depth of David's contrition when the prophet reprimanded him was no less intense than his earlier passion for Bath-Sheba.

During the Ten Days of Penitence, we confess our sins and beat upon our breasts, but too often this is a mere ritual. Even when we do understand the words we utter and do regret having done wrong, the emotion accompanying the regret is nowhere near the emotion that accompanied the sin to which we confess. If we regret having offended someone in the heat of anger, the pain of the awareness that we committed a wrong is rarely of the same magnitude as the anger that ignited our insult. Seldom do we shed genuine tears while confessing our sins, something that would occur spontaneously if our regret was both sincere and profound.

Guilt can be as healthy and constructive as the pain we feel when we touch something extremely hot, because the discomfort of guilt will make us avoid repeating an improper act, and this avoidance is what elicits forgiveness. To accomplish this end, the pain of guilt must be as profound as that of a burn, because only then do we stay on guard not to be hurt again.

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