In the previous Halacha we have discussed four varying levels of sin. We have also pointed out that there are some sins for which one cannot obtain atonement until suffering or death befalls him, as the verse states, “I shall remember their iniquities with a staff and with affliction their sins.”
Since we have already discussed the general ideas of these matters, let us now discuss what one must do as a result.
The Rectification Procedures and Self-Inflicted Suffering Found in the Works of the Mekubalim
Indeed, in the Mussar works of the authentic Mekubalim we find many different rectification procedures for a vast array of sins, so that one’s sins may be completely forgiven. For instance, in the Sefer Reshit Chochma, the author, Rabbeinu Eliyahu di Vidash zt”l, is very stern regarding sinners and writes that for every sin, one must fast a certain amount of times or immerse himself in ice-water and the like. This was based on the knowledge that the Mekubalim had of the flaws one causes based on the specific sin one performs.
However, as the generations progressed, people became weaker and are no longer capable of fasting the prescribed amounts of fasts quoted in the works of the Mekubalim to rectify the sin; thus, one should no longer follow these rectification processes.
“Leshon Chachamim”-The Great Work Authored by Rabbeinu Yosef Haim
Later, the great Rabbeinu Yosef Haim zt”l of Baghdad arose and authored his Sefer Leshon Chachamim which incorporates different rectification processes for many kinds of sins. He authored this work based on his knowledge of the repentance process which was second to none and is much more lenient regarding the various rectification procedures. Nevertheless, even according to his words, a sinner must fast a prescribed amount of fasts for every specific sin; some sinners will indeed have to fast hundreds of times in order to atone for their sin and not everyone can withstand this.
Descent of the Generations
Even from the generation before us until our current generation, we can feel how much weakness has descended upon the world. Indeed, until approximately thirty years ago, there were individuals who lived among us and fasted for several days consecutively while continuing to function normally, such as the saintly Hagaon Harav Reuven Sharabani zt”l and the saintly Hagaon Harav Yisrael Abuchatzera zt”l (the “Baba Sali”) who would fast from Motza’ei Shabbat directly until the next Shabbat night, all the while never ceasing to learn Torah and no harm would befall them. We most certainly would not be able to withstand such rigorous fasting.
The Enactment of Rabbi Yitzchak Alfieh-The Fast of Speech
Thus, Hagaon Harav Yitzchak Alfieh zt”l, one of the greatest Rabbis of Jerusalem, a pious and holy individual, and well-known miracle-worker, instituted the order of the “Ta’anit Dibbur” (lit. “Fast of Speech”) and publicized that whoever would not speak mundane words for an entire day and only speak words of Torah and prayer, this would be considered like several fasts and would be extremely beneficial for the atonement of one’s sins.
It is therefore proper for every person to use at least one day during this period to make a “Ta’anit Dibbur” for an entire day and dedicate that day completely to Torah learning and prayer and one shall merit a great atonement for his sins. Indeed, Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l would advise his students to follow the enactment prescribed by Harav Alfieh zt”l and observe a “Ta’anit Dibbur”.
Torah Study Above All
Above all is the level of one who toils in Torah study, for the Torah protects one from enduring suffering. Not only that, but it also serves to atone for one’s sins. We have seen many times that when people approached Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l in order to seek advice for atoning for a particular sin, he suggested that they delve into the Torah learning associated with that sin. For instance, if one desecrated Shabbat, Maran zt”l would tell him to delve deeply into the laws of Shabbat and to take care to observe the laws of Shabbat, for by doing so, this would serve as a great rectification for his soul by correcting the sin he has transgressed and it will also protect him from enduring suffering as well as graciously being accepted by Hashem. (A woman is likewise granted atonement of her sins by delving in Torah study.)
Non-Religious Jews Who Have Repented
All of the above applies to one who has transgressed prohibitions advertently. We must point out though that nowadays, an individual who has grown up in the secular, non-religious education system and has since repented and become a Ba’al Teshuva, is not considered having transgressed the Torah advertently and the process of repentance offered to him should be made much more lenient. This kind of individual should strive to toil in Torah study, stick to his new path, and cleave to Torah scholars; by doing so, he shall be granted full repentance.