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Home » Yom Kippur

Yom Kippur: Infinite Patience

Submitted by on August 2, 2006 – 3:19 amNo Comment | 2,904 views


If your best friend hurt you deeply and then asked for forgiveness, would you be able to forgive? What if you forgave and she came right back and hurt you again, would you forgive a second time?

What if you forgave her again, but she returned yet again to her hurtful ways, would you forgive again or would you have reached your limit?
Would her entreaties fall on deaf ears? Would her tears of contrition fall in vain?

Name in Vain

The third of the Ten Commandment prohibits uttering G-d's name in vain. So severe is this prohibition, that in cases of doubt we always err on the side of caution. When we are unsure if a prayer that contains G-d's name is appropriate under particular circumstances we  avoid the prayer altogether rather than risk uttering his name in vain.

Yet, the daily prayer for forgiveness is an anomaly. “Forgive us our father, for we have sinned, pardon us our King, for we have rebelled, for you are a good and forgiving lord, Blessed are you G-d,”  here we insert G-d's ineffable name, “the gracious one, who pardons abundantly.”

Our daily quest for forgiveness implies that we sin every day. But do we deserve to be forgiven today if he forgave us yesterday and we sinned again today? If you kept catching your son with his hand in the cookie jar and he kept pleading forgiveness day after day, would you not come to the conclusion that he needs to be punished?

Yet we are certain of his forbearance and even invoke his ineffable name as we thank him for it. We wouldn't abuse  his name by uttering it in this context if we were not certain that he did in fact forgive us.  What makes us so certain?

Infinite Patience

The answer is implied in the wording of the blessing itself, “He forgives abundantly.”
G-d is infinite and his capacity for forgiveness is also infinite.

This is beyond our comprehension. We can visualize forgiving once, twice, maybe three times. A tolerant person might even forgive five or six times, but we have our limits.

G-d, with infinite love and compassion, has no limit. His capacity for forbearance is simply inexhaustible. Preponderance of numbers do not exacerbate him because infinity implies zero regard for numbers. He is as patient the last time as we are the first time.

Sincere Repentance

How does this work? Is it appropriate to sin, repent, beg forgiveness and then sin again? Are we not manipulating G-d's infinite forbearance by using it against him?

The answer is, sincerity. Infinity does not equal folly. G-d is perfectly capable of distinguishing between sincere and insincere repentance. G-d pardons sincere penitents as often as they repent. But those, who plead forgiveness even as they intend to sin again cannot expect G-d's pardon.

Society has lately developed an aversion to athletic abuse of steroids. We might be inclined to forgive abusers when their regret seems sincere and their apology rings true. But we would never forgive abusers, who declare their intention to abuse again.

The key then is in the intention at the time of repentance. Those who truly intend to change their ways are pardoned. Those who pay lip service to change, but spend the high holidays contemplating their next shrimp dinner are not easily pardoned. (1)

Premeditated Regret

Even sincere repentance is not accepted when it is premeditated. Say we grab a bacon sandwich and justify it by resolving to repent for it next Yom Kippur. In such  cases we are naturally denied forgiveness. This is because our very repentance serves as motivation for sin.

Should we be forgiven on Yom Kippur, we would interpret it as an invitation to more sin. We would reason that G-d will be waiting for us next Yom Kippur, ready to forgive us again so we may as well enjoy ourselves now and settle our accounts with him later.

Back Door Entry

Pardons are not freely offered when we make such calculations. Nevertheless, G-d's compassion is such that even in such cases it is possible to return. The front door is not thrown wide for us, but we can always sneak in the back way. What is the back way?

Repentance is often stimulated by divine inspiration. Every so often we are inspired for no discernible reason to change our ways. This inspiration is G-d's calling card. G-d comes knocking, asking, in effect, if we are prepared to turn over a new leaf. It is his invitation to repentance.

G-d does not issue such calling cards when we reach for the shrimp while planning to regret it later. Yet if we generate our own inspiration and insist on repenting, we too can approach. The front gates will not be thrown wide for us upon arrival, but if we insist, a door will be opened. We will find a way. He will let us in. We will enter.

May the coming new year inspire us to turn over a new leaf. May we be blessed with a happy and bountiful year. May our year be filled with peace and security for ourselves and our nation at large.


1.Even sincere penitents might once again fall prey to temptation at a later date. This does not detract from their earlier sincerity and the pardon offered to them earlier is therefore not withdrawn. To be sure, they need to repent separately for their new sins, but the pardon for previous sins remains intact.

Forgiveness image compliments of www.aish.com