When can repentance be considered complete?

  1. When you feel bad and resolve not to do it again. (No.)
  2. The above, plus make restitution. (Maybe.)
  3. All the above, plus ask and receive forgiveness. (Maybe.)
  4. All the above, plus making the matter public. (No.)


  • You steal, then feel bad and return the money anonymously. Must you also confess and ask the victim for forgiveness? Also make the matter public?
  • You cheat on your wife, then you and your mistress feel bad and break it off. Must you also confess to your spouses and ask them for forgiveness? Also make the matter public?

2 Answers 2


The Rambam answers this in Hilchot Tshuva: there are three stages

  1. Confession
  2. Regret and commitment not to sin again
  3. Not transgressing when facing the same situation again

(some say there are four steps and separate the first between acknowledging the sin and confession)

(1:1) - Confession

If a person transgresses any of the mitzvot of the Torah, whether a positive command or a negative command - whether willingly or inadvertently - when he repents, and returns from his sin, he must confess before God, blessed be, He as [Numbers 5:6-7] states: "If a man or a woman commit any of the sins of man... they must confess the sin that they committed." This refers to a verbal confession.

(1:1) - Regret and commitment not to sin again

Similarly, someone who injures a colleague or damages his property, does not attain atonement, even though he pays him what he owes until he confesses and makes a commitment never to do such a thing again

(2:1) - Not transgressing when facing the same situation again

[Who has reached] complete Teshuvah? 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.

For example, a person engaged in illicit sexual relations with a woman. Afterwards, they met in privacy, in the same country, while his love for her and physical power still persisted, and nevertheless, he abstained and did not transgress. This is a complete Baal-Teshuvah.

See the full text of the Rambam for more details.

On your first question, R Aviner says here you do not need to ask for forgiveness or make the matter public

Q: When I was young, I would take money from my father's wallet without permission. This now upsets me greatly. What can I do? I am embarrassed to tell him.
A: Return the money in a way he does not realize it.

On your second question, I discussed the situation with a rosh kollel who agreed one shouldn't discuss it with the spouse and for sure not to make it public and embarrass people since this is a direct Torah prohibition. He noted that if a woman had cheated on her husband, the situation would be very different (e.g., she would need to tell him, he would need to divorce her because of this).

Of course anyone confronting these situations should ask his rav for practical advice.

  • I am still not clear about my main question: Does the matter have to be made public? Commented Dec 21, 2017 at 18:04
  • When the Rambam speaks of confession, he speaks of confession in front of Hashem, i.e., verbalizing the wrong and explicitly saying you regret it. See further answer to your first question in bottom of post
    – mbloch
    Commented Dec 21, 2017 at 18:05
  • So, if I understand correctly, you must feel contrite, resolve never to do it again, and make restitution when possible. Asking for forgiveness and making the matter public are not only usually optional, but their opposite is sometimes required. Also, in this week's portion, Vayyigash, we read: "Now Joseph could not bear all those standing beside him, and he called out, "Take everyone away from me!" So no one stood with him when Joseph made himself known to his brothers". [Gen. 45:1] This can be interpreted as meaning that it is not necessary to let the sin go public. Commented Dec 22, 2017 at 4:26
  • Yes - the Rambam adds verbally confessing in front of God - and sees the ultimate test of successful tshuva as not doing it again when faced with the opportunity
    – mbloch
    Commented Dec 22, 2017 at 4:29
  • Joseph did not want his brothers' sin to become public knowledge. Commented Dec 22, 2017 at 11:24

Rabbeinu Yonah in Shaar Teshuva lists 20 principles of Teshuvah, interestingly the last principle he lists is dettering the public from sin, to the extent one is able to do so. להשיב רבים מעון כאשר תשיג ידו

Rabbeinu Yonah notes that basic teshuvah has three main components as noted in this other answer, what he adds though is that teshuvah is not just a means to escape punishment, one who sinned has also distanced himself from HaShem and diminished his own spiritual standing. So he adds theses steps that should "complete" the process. (Certainly these is some forgiveness for every level of teshuvah)

His 20 principles : 1. Regret 2. Forsaking Sin 3. Grief 4. Actively expressing pain 5. Worrying 6. Shame 7. Wholehearted humility and lowliness 8. Humbleness in practice 9. Breaking one's physical desire 10. To do good deeds with the very matter with which one sineed 11. Searching one's ways 12. Examining one's ways 13. To view one's lighter transgressions as severe ones 14. Viduy 15. Prayer 16. Rectifying the wrong to the extend that it can be rectified 17. Pursuing Acts of kindness and Truth 18. Being conscious of one's sin at all times 19. Forsaking one's sin when confronted with it 20. Deterring the public from sin, to the extent one is able to do so.

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