About a year ago, I recall discussing Lashon Hara (destructive speech) with a friend’s wife. She said she could not truthfully commit to refraining from Lashon Hara, and wondered if she could recite Maimonides’ formulation of repentance, “Please God, I have erred, I have been crooked and wanton, (speaking Lashon Hara), I regret my act, and I am embarrassed, and I will never again return to this matter”. I told her it would be a lie to recite her commitment to refrain, if she knew she could not yet control herself.
I then realized myself that this is fortunate. What I mean is, that by adhering to honesty, and not reciting repentance, one is faced head-on with this realization that they have this flaw. If one were to go merely verbally enunciate the teshuva formula so as to alleviate guilt, they lie, fooling themselves as penitent, when they are not. Therefore, although well intended, one must not lie and verbalize that, to which he or she cannot commit. By refraining from this worthy act of repenting, since one cannot do so properly, one is faced with his or her flaw, which they can now reflect on, and make real change.
Another observation I made is Maimonides’ inclusion of the term “embarrassed” in his repentance formulation. I wondered, if we are already stating we “regret” our act, what more is gained by stating we are embarrassed?
I believe this causes us to compare our need of approval from man, to that of God. Who should we fear more? Of course it is God. But do we? My sense is that we don’t, as we are naturally social, and unnaturally philosophical. Thus, we are naturally inclined to fear man, and desire his approval, while God is absent from our thoughts all day. Therefore, if one does not feel embarrassed for a sin, he is again afforded the opportunity to ask himself why. He can strive to remove his need for approval from man, and come to a realization that he denies God’s presence when he sinned. For if he were convinced that God exists, as much as he knows man does, he could not sin. Each sin carries with it some denial of God. Certainly, if while sinning he were caught by man, he would feel embarrassed.
With this word “embarrassed” included in the formulation repentance, one gains the opportunity to determine if he truly views God, as real as he views man. If he senses he is not embarrassed before God when reciting his repentance, he now learned his overestimation of man: an opportunity to improve. Honesty affords us an unmitigated allegiance to what is real.
With Maimonides’ example, we learn that the Rabbis’ formulations of blessings, prayers and repentance are quite deep, availing us to methods of perfection, for which, we must feel fortunate.