For obvious reasons, this topic has been cropping up a lot lately. Though Yom Kippur is over, some random thoughts about teshuva:
I had a discussion over shabbos about the hardest part of teshuva. We concluded that the hardest part is also one of the most integral components of ensuring that the chayt doesn’t occur again. When a person sins, it is usually not merely for the thrill of sinning, not done simply to rebel against G-d (if it is, you have a much bigger problem). Usually, a sin is done because a person believes that it will benefit him in some way. For example, you steal an i-pod because you want to enjoy use of that i-pod. Or, you embarrass your friend because in some way that makes you feel superior. So the issue is this: how do you retroactively get rid of the pleasure that you got from your sin? How do you force yourself to realize that in reality you did not benefit at all—that in fact, you lost exponentially more than you gained? Though you may have returned the i-pod or apologized to your friend, you still have a memory of the enjoyment that you got from the sin. How do you change that memory from a pleasant one to one that repulses you at the very thought? If a person is successful in this area, I think it is virtually certain that the sin will not occur again, because it means that he has realized that there is nothing to gain from the sin, and everything to lose. But unfortunately, it is really hard to do. Any suggestions about how to accomplish this feat?
This topic also leads in to another discussion that I had on shabbos at the residence of a very illustrious j-blogger (who I was privileged to finally meet properly). The question was raised: would it be a good thing if, as part of the teshuva process, the memory of your sin would be erased? After confessing your sin and thoroughly regretting it, all memory that the sin occurred would disappear. On one hand, this would be a solution to the problem I described above—if you have no memory of the sin, you can’t remember the pleasure you got from it. Yet, I argued that overall it would not be a good thing. If you have no recollection of your sin and your consequent regret, what’s to keep you from repeating your mistake? The fact that you sinned in a specific area must mean that you have a yetzer hara for that sin—that for some reason you are compelled to do it. The thing that will keep you from doing it again is the memory that you tried it, and then realized how wrong it was—and that it was eminently not worth it. Without memory, you have no experience to learn from, so you will just keep falling into the same traps.