4 Elements of Teshuvah

Teshuvah means repentance. Maimonides (Rambam) recorded in the Mishneh a formula for complete repentance.

What is repentance? The sinner shall cease sinning, and remove sin from his thoughts, and wholeheartedly conclude not to revert back to it, even as it is said: “Let the wicked forsake his way” (Is. 55.7); so, too, shall he be remorseful on what was past, even as it is said: “Surely after that I was turned, I repented” (Jer. 31. 19). In addition thereto he should take to witness Him Who knoweth all secrets that forever he will not turn to repeat that sin again, according to what it is said: “Say unto Him.… neither will we call any more the work of our hands our gods” (Hos. 14.3–4). It is, moreover, essential that his confession shall be by spoken words of his lips, and all that which he concluded in his heart shall be formed in speech.

Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Chapter 2 (c.1176 – c.1178 CE)

There are 4 elements to complete repentance.

  1. Stop the sin, and remove it from one’s thoughts.
  2. Accept in one’s heart, and commit that it won’t happen again.
  3. Regret and be remorseful of the sin in the past.
  4. Confess one’s sin verbally to whomever was offended.

So I ask the question, can you do this? Can you truly repent? Most of us might say ‘no’ based on the first point. How can I possibly just stop sinning? But that’s repentance isn’t it? It’s a complete turn away from one’s former sin. For reals, no joke. Stop sinning.

Then we need to commit ourselves to not do it again. In fact Maimonides suggests this:

He who once more had in it in his power to repeat a violation, but separated himself therefrom, and did not do it because of repentance, not out of fear or lack of strength.

So even if a former temptation appeared, the one who truly repented would not fall to that temptation again.

We should also feel regret. We should feel awful about our past sin. Do you really wish you hadn’t done it? Do you really wish you hadn’t spoken those demeaning words about someone else behind their back?

And finally, we must confess the sin verbally. Have you done this? So often I see people on their knees ask forgiveness of their sins, but they never say what those sins are. It’s just some unidentifiable cloud of sin. When we verbally recognize our sin, we internalize that recognition. We understand exactly what sin has ensnared us. This makes it much easier to identify the potential for that sin in the future so that we might avoid it.

Maimonides suggests this as the sinners prayer of repentance:

I beseech Thee, O Great Name! I have sinned; I have been obstinate; I have committed profanity against Thee, particularly in doing thus and such. Now, behold! I have repented and am ashamed of my actions; forever will I not relapse into this thing again.

I tried it. I couldn’t get through without crying. I couldn’t get through without shaking as an addict yearning for another dose of drugs. Really? Am I repenting a sin and committing to never doing it again? It’s so difficult because the flesh always wants to leave a possibility open. But with the strength of Yeshua within us, it’s possible.

Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.

1 John 3:9


One thought on “4 Elements of Teshuvah”

  1. “Unidentifiable cloud of sin”, well said! We should be examining our lives regularly and know what God expects. Then we can know what is sin requiring repentance.

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