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When is a Sinner Happy?

When is a Sinner Happy? By Adam Eliyahu Berkowitz

לְדָוִד מַשְׂכִּיל אַשְׁרֵי נְשׂוּי־פֶּשַׁע כְּסוּי חֲטָאָה׃

Of David. A maskil. Happy is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered over.

Psalms 32:1

The Talmud (Pesachim 112a) states: “More than the calf wants to suckle, the cow wants to nurse.” We love God and want to come close to him. But the relationship is not one-sided. More than we want to come close to God, He wants us to come close to Him. And that is the basis of teshuva. Usually mistranslated as repentance, teshuva

literally means ’return’.

Teshuva is something King David knew quite a bit about, and he wrote about it in his psalms. In fact, teshuva made David happy. Normally, repentance is thought of as a painful and sad process of regret and contrition. So why did it make David happy?

Psalm 32 begins:

Happy is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered over. Psalm 32:1

This seems to contradict the beginning of Psalm 1, which states that a person is happy when he has not sinned at all:

Happy is the man who has not followed the counsel of the wicked, or taken the path of sinners, or joined the company of the insolent; Psalm 1:1

Together, the two verses teach us a deep lesson.

Of course, a person who never sins is happy when he stands before God. And a person who already sinned and suffered punishment cannot accurately be described as happy. However, if the sinner returns to God out of love, because he misses his close connection with God, he, too, is happy, since his sins are forgiven and he can again enjoy a close relationship with the Almighty.

Though our first reaction to sinning is a desire to run away and hide, the Torah actually commands us to appear in the Temple and to focus on the experience of sinning. In order to atone for the sin, we are required to bring an offering to God. It is fascinating that the word for ‘sacrifice’ or ‘offering’ in Hebrew (korban) comes from the word ‘to come close’. The sin actually becomes the pretext for serving God. When we follow the steps of teshuva properly, we can come even closer to God then we had been before the sin!

Reish Lakish, one of the sages in the Talmud, expressed this idea when he taught the if a person does teshuva out of love, his sins are transformed into merits (Yoma 86b).

Depression is a morass that prevents people from moving forward. Sin can be depressing, preventing people from approaching God. But David taught us precisely the opposite.

If you sin (God forbid), do not give in to depression. Be happy that you understand what you have done. Be happy that the gates of teshuva are always open. God is waiting for you on the other side with open arms, waiting to wrap you in a big hug.


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