Rosh Hashannah Eve :Four Kinds of Repentence

 Four Kinds of Repentence
Rabbi Marc D. Rudolph

Erev Rosh Hashanna marks the beginning of the Aseret Yemai Teshuva – the Ten Days of Repentance.  During this time we seek two kinds of forgiveness – Bein Adam LeMakom – forgiveness that we ask of G-d; and Bein Adam LeChavero – forgiveness we ask of each other.  It is interesting, however, that the prayers that we recite on Yom Kippur asking for forgiveness are related only to the sins that we have committed with one another.  There is no “For the sins which we have committed before You by not Keeping Kosher; but rather, “For the sins which we have committed before you by stubbornness.  There is no “For the sins which we have committed before you by not keeping the Sabbath, but rather, “For the sins which we have committed before you by gossiping.  In other words, the liturgy does not mention ritual obligations which we have ignored, which only G-d would be aware of.  Rather, our prayers focus on those sins which we have committed against our fellow human beings. Perhaps this is because in Judaism, the highest value is put not on how we fulfill our ritual obligations, but on how we treat one another.  It is not that ritual and law are unimportant.  They are a means of ennobling us and sensitizing us to the miracle and privilege of existence.  But ritual and law should ultimately lead to the perfection of the human soul, and be manifest in our actions with one another. Repentance is a turning away from our hurtful behaviors.  How does one achieve repentance – true change? Consider this example: A Jewish teenager by the name of David received a parrot for his birthday. Truth be told, his parents couldn’t afford the one he had been eyeing at the pet store, but his father had a friend who gave him a deal on a parrot that he was trying to get rid of. This parrot was fully grown with a bad attitude and worse vocabulary. Suffice it to say that I won’t repeat those words on Rosh Hashannah in Temple. David tried hard to change the bird. He was constantly trying to introduce better words to the parrot’s vocabulary. He would play soft music, read up on parrot training on the internet… he really made an effort to get his new pet to improve its ways. Nothing worked. One day he was at his wit’s end, and just plain "lost it". He yelled at the bird, cursing at it using the parrot’s own vocabulary. The bird got worse. He shook the bird and the bird got madder and ruder. Finally, in a moment of desperation, David put the parrot in the freezer. For a few moments he heard the bird squawking, kicking and screaming and then, suddenly, all was quiet. David was frightened that he might have actually killed the bird and quickly opened the freezer door. The parrot calmly stepped out onto David’s extended arm and said: "I’m sorry that I offended you with my language and actions. I ask for your forgiveness. I will try to improve my behavior…" David was astounded at the bird’s change in attitude and was about to ask what changed him when the parrot continued, "May I ask what the chicken did?"               I would like to suggest that, just like there are four sons in our Haggadah: the wise son, the wicked son, the simple son and the son who does not know how to ask, there are four kinds   of  repenters.  The parrot in the above story can be compared to the son who does not know even how to ask a question.  His behavior has become so much a part of his personality that he doesn’t even know that it is what is causing problems for him in his life.  He finds himself constantly embroiled in troubles with his family, his teachers, and his employers, and he says to himself, “Why are these things always happening to me!”  Of the One Who Does Not Know How to Ask, the Haggadah tells us, “You must begin for him.” He may need to be the object of family “interventions” to help him begin to change his behavior.  Perhaps, like the parrot in the story, he will to be scared into apologizing, into changing his behavior.  By repenting out of fear, and not out of an understanding of how he has hurt others, this person is not fully able to repent.             The second type of repenter can be compared to the wicked son of the Hagaddah.  This person realizes that he has sinned, but only because of the circumstances that he finds himself in.  It was uncharacteristic of him to act in this way, he thinks, he is not like that.              In the Hagaddah, the wicked son says, “What is the meaning of this service to YOU?”  The Haggadah comments, “By saying “YOU” he excludes himself from the group.” (thereby making himself the “wicked son.”)  “Yes,” this person says, “I lose my temper, but it is because of YOU.  YOU made me do it!”  This second type of repenter excludes himself from the sin. By failing to take full responsibility for his behavior, he is not fully able to repent.             The third type of repenter can be compared to the naïve or simple son of the Hagaddah.  He is convinced of the absolute rectitude and righteousness of his behavior.  He doesn’t understand why it is causing such problems in his family or in his workplace.  If only other people would see things HIS way, the correct way, everyone would be better off.             There was once a young man who was at loggerheads with his supervisor at work.  After many months of stress and tension in the relationship, he received a threatening memo from the supervisor.  He took the letter to a senior colleague and complained bitterly about how misunderstood he was by his supervisor.  His colleague read the letter, and said that it looked like the young man was about to be fired.             “He just won’t support anything that I do,” complained the young man.             “Well, do you support him?” asked the friend.  “Perhaps if you are more supportive of him, then he will be more supportive of you.”             So the young man began to be more supportive of his supervisor.  He asked his opinion about things and started to try to please him.  And, lo and behold, the supervisor became more supportive of the young man!  This third type of repenter, cannot truly repent until he understands that sometimes you are wrong, even when you are right.              The fourth type of repenter can be compared to the wise son.  This repenter realizes he has sinned and takes full responsibility for his actions.  He examines his behavior regularly.  The Talmudic sage, Rabbi Eliezer, used to teach his students, “Repent one day before your death.”  His disciples asked him, “But how does a person know on what day he is going to die?”  “All the more reason to repent today,” Rabbi Eliezer replied, “lest one die tomorrow”.  In this manner, one’s whole life will be spent in repentance.”             Recognize any of these kinds of repenters?  Each of us is all of these kinds of repenters at one time or another.  We are: “The One Who Does not know how to ask when we need others to point out our bad behavior.  For these times, may we each find a good friend who will help us to see our behavior for what it is, and start us out on the road to change. “The Wicked Son” when we exclude ourselves from our sins.  For these times, may we be able to own our own behavior – to accept those parts of ourselves that we want to disavow, and in accepting them, change them. The naïve son, when our self righteousness blinds us to the wrongs that we are inflicting on others.  For these times, may we see our behavior as others see it, and have the courage to change so we can truly achieve a heart of wisdom. Shana Tova