Sinners without Punishment

Rabbi Israel Chait

Written by a student

Talmud Rosh Hashanah 17a says, “One who forgoes his character has his sins overlooked.”  This refers to a person who doesn’t set boundaries for his friend’s behavior; his friend overstepped certain boundaries of friendship and disturbed him, but he remained silent and accepted it. He recognized that his personal boundaries (likes/dislikes) are not real; only God’s boundaries are real. [So he didn’t act to defend himself.]

With “overlooking his sins,” the Talmud means he is not taken to task. This perfected person breaks down the human desire to “take for himself” (follow his desires), precisely what we recite during Neila, “That we forgo the oppressiveness of our hands.”

Since this person is traveling on a path towards perfection, he is not deterred by receiving punishments for his sins, which could derail his new, proper path and ruin his progress. He is traveling a path to approach God, so his course is not interrupted. This is done so he might break down the human desire for a life of physicality, which stems from the need for others not to violate his boundaries.