When viewing a relationship, what indication might an onlooker use to determine if it is robust, vibrant, and has sustainability? Traits such as being a good listener, empathetic, and caring are desirable, perhaps crucial, but even they might not be enough; something else is necessary and this week’s Torah portion tells us what it is-but first a few introductions.
What is a sin? According to the Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology, sin is “a transgression of the divine law.” Most people think of this definition or one like it and that’s why the concept seems so foreign. A typical reaction to hearing the word sin is, “I’m not religious so this sin stuff doesn’t really speak to or have meaning for me.” Sin is derived from the Latin word (sont/ sons) for guilty. Many people associate sin with transgression and guilt but this unfortunate mistranslation is not based on Jewish sources.
What is the Hebrew word for sin? Let’s see how it’s used in context. In the Book of Judges (20:16), the soldiers from the tribe of Benjamin are described as being so skilled in using their weapon (sling shots) that they could “aim at a hair and not miss.” The word “miss” has the same root as the mistranslated “sin.” In short, when we see the word “sin” we should realize that it is not an accurate translation of the Hebrew text. We see a striking example in this week’s Torah portion.
When Moses saw the Jewish people had built a Golden Calf, he said “you have ‘sinned’ a great sin” (Exodus 32:30). This is a medieval Christian translation and perhaps is the reason why here and in other places in the Bible people don’t relate to the incident or take a lesson from it. Again, the Hebrew word used in this verse has the same root the same as the verb “miss,” as in missing the target.
What then is a sin? Let’s look at another example of when the Hebrew word chait (mistranslated “sin”) is used. In the Book of Kings I (1:21) King David is on his deathbed and his wife Bathsheba comes to him and says, “If Solomon does not become king after you then Solomon and I will be sinners.” Solomon and Bathsheba will be sinners? What crime did they do; David’s succession was not in their control? She obviously did not mean sin; she meant that she and Solomon will not reach (i.e. they will miss) their potential.
It truly is a proverbial sin to mistranslate the Hebrew chait as “sin,” because its true meaning is “error” or “mistake;” it is when we miss the mark. People don’t “sin,” they are human and therefore make mistakes. What do we do when we make a mistake against a human or G-d? We take responsibility and clean up the mess, if any, and move on.
“Sin” implies guilt but there is no life in that because it evokes inward feelings of being inadequate and hopeless. But when one understands sin as “mistake,” (s)he sees hope and the possibility to move on. When one misses the mark, (s)he works to make sure that (s)he will hit the mark in the future.
When Moses saw the people dancing around the Gold Calf, he realized how far off the mark they were; how much they were not fulfilling their potential as individuals and as a nation. The Jewish people were the ones to bring the concept of Monotheism tot the world; they could never do that if they worshipped an idol. What ultimately happened; did they remain in guilt, feeling like losers? If they had, that would have been the end of the Jewish people and our mission would never have been accomplished. Moses, the definitive leader, prayed for 40 days on behalf of the nation and the people strengthened their commitment-and they were forgiven.
How does one know if a relationship is robust, vibrant, and sustainable? If both parties exercise their ability to forgive, the relationship has a bright and energetic future. That means that each party not only admits fault, but does concrete actions to demonstrate the “mistake” (“sin”) will not happen again. When the other person accepts these sincere efforts and forgives, (s)he demonstrates commitment and-of far greater importance-that (s)he believes in the other person. When G-d forgave the Jewish people after worshipping the Golden Calf, He gave them the message that He still believed in them and would never leave them.
The next time someone to you are committed or love “sins” against you, don’t stop loving or believing inthat person. Idolatry is one of the worst things a Jew can do, yet G-d forgave the entire nation and continued to believe even after they worshipped the Golden Calf. Sinning-i.e. missing the mark- against a person or G-d-is not a reason to get depressed, it is a time to look to the future and clean up the “sin.” That is why sinners never quit; they look to the future and try again. But quitters, those who wallow away in guilt over their mistakes, will continue to sin because they will isolate themselves- intellectually, emotionally, and socially–and not have the live spirit needed to make the necessary changes. For them, their past becomes their present and future because they do not believe in the power of change.
The next time you “sin” or someone commits a sin against you, be a winner by learning how to move on and not quit. By doing so you will be achieving the purpose for which you were created.