Saturday, September 8, 2007

Rosh HaShana: Even Malfoy's or Wormtail's repentance counts!

Following up on my long message about teshuva (repentance) in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, and my follow-up message and many comments, I think it's critical to approach Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur with the following thought in mind:

All teshuva is good teshuva

In my previous messages I discussed Jewish writings about the steps necessary in full teshuva, and how many characters in Deathly Hallows seem to have repented very seriously, and others seem to have repented fairly light-heartedly. While some comment-writers disagreed with me, my conclusion is that the Malfoy's turning away from following Voldemort, and Pettigrew's not killing Harry when ordered to, were both fairly weak forms of repentance, since they were not motivated by a realization that their actions had been wrong, but rather by self-interest or debt.

However, as Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur approach, we need to keep in mind that all repentance is good repentance.

There's an interesting statement in the Talmud (Kiddushin 49a) about this. What happens, the Talmud asks, if someone says that a deal will be made if, and only if, he himself is completely righteous? The Talmud answers that the deal is made, even if the person is known to be less than righteous, because "he may have thought about teshuva when making the deal."

All the commentaries are shocked by this Talmudic statement. How can someone known to do wrong things be considered legally to be "completely righteous" just on the basis of a fleeting thought about teshuva? He didn't do any of the steps of teshuva that I outlined previously! He may return to his evil ways immediately after making the deal! But bottom line, a simple thought of teshuva is enough to make someone righteous, at least for a moment, and that's enough that the deal is made.

The lesson for us as Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur approach is clear. The Day of Judgement and the Day of Atonement don't require huge impossible acts of repentance. We can start with simple thoughts about things we'd like to do differently in the upcoming year, and simple thoughts admitting that things in the past year could have been better. That's enough for G-d to consider us completely righteous.

We don't need to turn around our lives like Percy did, or spend our entire lives repenting like Snape did, or sacrifice our lives like Regulus did. Even the simple changes like the Malfoys did is enough for atonement.

With even a simple thought of teshuva, we can achieve the magical effect that I quoted in Harry Potter and Torah: G-d promises us that if we repent on Rosh HaShana, He will credit us on Yom Kippur as if we were new people (Yerushalmi Rosh HaShana 4:8, Baal HaTurim on Num 29:2).

I want to wish everyone a Happy Rosh HaShana, a sweet new year, a magical year and a Jewishly-meaningful year. May we all be signed and sealed in the Book of Life.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Good point about teshuvah!! A shanah tova to you as well. Keep on writing!
---Fan in Massachusetts, USA