Sinner’s Advantage

First posted on The Times of Israel at:

Baal Haturim Leviticus: Acharai Mot – Kedoshim

Sinner’s Advantage

Many of the insights of the saint stem from their experience as sinners.  -Eric Hoffer

repentUturnA sinner who reaches a level of guilt or even embarrassment over their past failings will often feel inadequate in the presence of those ostensibly better behaved than themselves. They may feel morally inferior, even corrupt in front of those who have not been down the dark roads they’ve traversed. On a devoutness scale, they may always fall short. They may wonder what they can contribute to the world when there are people in it who are so much better than they are.

The Baal Haturim on Leviticus 20:3 states a principle of faith that turns the above calculation on its head and echoes the Talmudic dictum that “in the place/level that a repentant sinner stands, a completely righteous man cannot stand/reach.”

The Baal Haturim gives more detail to this evocative statement. He claims that when a sinner repents of his sins, somehow, through some divine transmutation, those sins are converted into merits. So if we were to attempt to illustrate the concept mathematically, let us imagine a sinner who is on a divine obedience level of let’s say -10. His friend, the wonderfully righteous man who hasn’t sinned has an impressive +6, 16 levels above our friend the sinner. Should the sinner truly and deeply repent, his level is transformed from a -10 to a +10, surpassing our righteous friend who hasn’t tasted sin.

There is something truly powerful and valuable about a person who realizes his mistake, regrets it and in a significant fashion turns himself around. This is a tremendously greater challenge than for the person who has not had and has not lived through the same temptations and trials, who is not used to certain behavior or actions. Perhaps where we see the repentant man’s sins used positively (of course this is not an excuse to sin…) is when he uses his unique capacity to assist others with the same background and challenges. The righteous may have a theoretical understanding of the issues, but can rarely reach the level of interaction, communication and effectiveness of the repentant sinner.

May we sinners understand our true value and capacity for good – and fulfill it.

Shabbat Shalom,



To the IDF soldiers assisting the earthquake victims in Nepal. You are an inspiration.



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