I’m trying to understand what Teshuvah is, is it repenting and ceasing evil or also restitution?

I ask because restitution is not always possible


3 Answers 3


According to the Alter Rebbe in Tanya (Igeret Hateshuva, chapter 1), Teshuva means:

to return to G‑d with all his heart and soul, to serve Him, and to keep all His commandments.

Teshuva means confessing the sin you did, and saying to yourself "I am not doing it again". This is why the Rambam says that when is Teshuva done succesful? When a person encounters the exact same situation in which he sinned earlier, but this time, he can abstain:

A person who confronts the same situation in which he sinned when he has the potential to commit [the sin again], and, nevertheless, abstains and does not commit it because of his Teshuvah alone and not because of fear or a lack of strength.

The Rambam also asks, וּמַה הִיא הַתְּשׁוּבָה, what is teshuvah? He answers:

That a sinner should abandon his sins and remove them from his thoughts, resolving in his heart, never to commit them again as [Isaiah 55:7] states "May the wicked abandon his ways...." Similarly, he must regret the past as [Jeremiah 31:18] states: "After I returned, I regretted."

[He must reach the level where] He who knows the hidden will testify concerning him that he will never return to this sin again as [Hoshea 14:4] states: "We will no longer say to the work of our hands: `You are our gods.'"

He must verbally confess and state these matters which he resolved in his heart.

So, what is Teshuvah?

  1. Teshuvah is to return to G-d with all your heart and soul;
  2. Teshuvah is verbally confessing to G-d what sin you did;
  3. Teshuvah is abandoning the sins; leave them behind; do better;
  4. Teshuvah is, after you abandoned the sins, resolving in your heart never to commit the sin ever again.

How do you know if this succeeded? Well, G-d gives us trials. Why? Because G-d wants us to build on ourselves. To make ourselves better. If we sinned in a particulair area, G-d will send a test in that area. If we succeed to abstain from sinning, great. Teshuvah was done succesfully. If not, that is a sign that you'll need to work a bit harder.

The Torah in Devarim 30:11 says:

For this commandment which I command thee this day, it is not hidden from thee, neither is it far off.

The Ramban, Nachmanides, explains that "this commandment" in this posuk specifically refers to teshuvah:

And it was said indirectly to hint at the promise because it will be this way in the future. And the reason to say this is because if your wanderers be in the edges of the heaven and you are in the hands of the nations you will be able to return to G-d and to do all I [G-d] command to you today. Because this thing is not too esoteric or distant for you, but rather is very close to you to do it in every time and in every place. And this is the meaning of "in your mouth and in your heart to do it": That they should confess their sins and the sins of their ancestors with their mouths and return in their hearts to G-d and welcome onto themselves today the Torah to do it the generations as it is mentioned (Deuteronomy 30:2) "you and your children with all of your heart" as I have explained there.

  • 2
    Excellent response.
    – Ephraim77
    Apr 13, 2023 at 20:19
  • Who convicts a person of sin so that teshuvah can come true? Is there anything on the part of God that has such a role as Christians attribute to the Holy Spirit? Or is this something entirely down to the person's individual strength?
    – Thales
    Apr 14, 2023 at 0:49
  • 1
    Thank you sir, great answer Apr 14, 2023 at 2:43
  • 1
    @RaulValdezJr. no problem. Glad to be of help. If you find this answer helpful, please consider marking it "checked". Great Shabbos!
    – Shmuel
    Apr 14, 2023 at 16:00
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    @Shmuel it's unclear so I was assuming the most general case. For example how can a thief do teshuva from stealing from someone he can no longer find?
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Apr 21, 2023 at 9:41

I understand that when we do something improper we should not pray but decide not to do it again, and develop good habits that help assure that we will not repeat the mistake. Rambam said that when people make a mistake they should resolve not to repeat it. You have to change your behavior.

I think this is in his Guide, and if not, it is in his Mishneh Torah.

  • Rambam also says clearly that in addition to changing your behavior you must verbally confess.
    – Double AA
    Apr 19, 2023 at 0:42
  • "we should not pray" - this part is incorrect. Part of teshuvah, maybe the main part, is rebuilding the relationship with G-d that he damaged with his sin. Part of rebuilding that relationship is confessing, apologizing, and asking for forgiveness. In addition, he should insure that he won't do it again; that will be included in his apology.
    – MichoelR
    Apr 19, 2023 at 2:19
  • @MichoelR It is good to say prayers verbally, however, words are meaningless without action. You have to change your behavior.
    – Shmuel
    May 23, 2023 at 22:14
  • @Shmuel They are not mutually exclusive; the Rambam lists both as requirements.
    – MichoelR
    May 24, 2023 at 16:58

Alternative to Shmuel's take, one can view "teshuvah" as a return to the self Hashem created you to be.

R YB Soloveitchik points out that the Maimonides gives this perspective. Laws of Rependence 2:4 reads (tr. R Elihyahu Tauger, emphasis mine):

מִדַּרְכֵי הַתְּשׁוּבָה לִהְיוֹת הַשָּׁב צוֹעֵק תָּמִיד לִפְנֵי הַשֵּׁם בִּבְכִי וּבְתַחֲנוּנִים וְעוֹשֶׂה צְדָקָה כְּפִי כֹּחוֹ וּמִתְרַחֵק הַרְבֵּה מִן הַדָּבָר שֶׁחָטָא בּוֹ וּמְשַׁנֶּה שְׁמוֹ כְּלוֹמַר אֲנִי אַחֵר וְאֵינִי אוֹתוֹ הָאִישׁ שֶׁעָשָׂה אוֹתָן הַמַּעֲשִׂים וּמְשַׁנֶּה מַעֲשָׂיו כֻּלָּן לְטוֹבָה וּלְדֶרֶךְ יְשָׁרָה וְגוֹלֶה מִמְּקוֹמוֹ. שֶׁגָּלוּת מְכַפֶּרֶת עָוֹן מִפְּנֵי שֶׁגּוֹרֶמֶת לוֹ לְהִכָּנַע וְלִהְיוֹת עָנָו וּשְׁפַל רוּחַ:

Among the paths of repentance is for the penitent to (a) constantly call out before God, crying and entreating; (b) to perform charity according to his potential; (c) to separate himself far from the object of his sin; (d) to change his name, as if to say "I am a different person and not the same one who sinned;" (e) to change his behavior in its entirety to the good and the path of righteousness; and (f) to travel in exile from his home. Exile atones for sin because it causes a person to be submissive, humble, and meek of spirit.

(If we sort out the Rambam's internal work from the practical steps he tells the penitent to take to get there, one has the four steps Shemu'el listed.)

The relationship between returning to G-d and returning to your true self is complicated. I hope it is obvious that they aren't entirely different things. But different perspectives on the same goal will lead to different priorities and strategies to get there , so I thought it was worth adding this to the conversation.

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