It's that time in the Jewish calendar again when many are thinking about repentance. So what does Judaism have to say about the topic?
This quote from Medieval Torah scholar Rambam gives us a helpful start in understanding what repentance is.
(א) אֵי זוֹ הִיא תְּשׁוּבָה גְּמוּרָה. זֶה שֶׁבָּא לְיָדוֹ דָּבָר שֶׁעָבַר בּוֹ וְאֶפְשָׁר בְּיָדוֹ לַעֲשׂוֹתוֹ וּפֵרַשׁ וְלֹא עָשָׂה מִפְּנֵי הַתְּשׁוּבָה. לֹא מִיִּרְאָה וְלֹא מִכִּשְׁלוֹן כֹּחַ.
(1) What is complete repentance? 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.
Rambam teaches us that real repentance is not just about admitting the offense and asking for forgiveness--it’s also about the behavioral changes that go along with it.
Let’s say you have a habit of speeding on the highway. No one gets hurt and you don’t get in trouble, but you know that it is wrong. Looking back during Yom Kippur, you repent for your speeding habit. The next week you are late getting home and you find yourself on an empty highway. What do you do? Rambam is saying if you have truly repented for speeding before, you won't do it again now, even if you know you won't get caught.
Complete repentance combines intention, words, and actions.
To go deeper on the topic of repentance, check out this source sheet from our Nechama Leibowitz Collection.