Chesbon HaNefesh - Personal Accounting


chesbon hanefesh


Search our Archives:

Opinion & Society

Why Would Someone Sin?

By Nachum Mohl

Why should man sin? We are not talking about a non believer, but in some one who believes in G-d. If a man believes in G-d why on earth would he sin? We can understand one who does not believe in G-d, for him there is no sins, but a person who is religious or at least acknowledges G-d's omnipotent in the world, why should he sin?

There are three possibilities which explain the motivations of a person which lead to sin. I call them ESP (but not to be confused with Extra Sensory Perception). E stands for Ego; S for Security and P for Pleasure. It is these three powerful movers that cause a person to sin.

Let us explore each:

Ego, and here I do not mean the Freudian concepts, but rather a desire for respect or acknowledgement in some form or another. People believe in the importance of being respected and acknowledged and that they should get recognition as the best in their field. When they do not get this recognition, they will seek compensation. They may try to knock down some one who does get that recognition or they may utilize means of achieving recognition that are not proper. Other people have the urge that they must be in charge and every one should do as they bid, i.e. subservient. Still other people have grudges that they want to even. It is strange to me that people do have these crazy desires to be better than others or get an upper hand over some one in one form or another.

Security is also a gigantic factor in sinning. People who feel insecure believe that if they had such-and-such (better car, home, job, money, wife, children) they would be better off. They are willing to cheat, lie and even steal for it and in rare cases to kill. It is a hard shell to crack if you are infected with the insecurity bug. I can understand the necessity for security, but to what degree and at what cost is it necessary that men will to ruin themselves to attain it? It is a personality weakness that causes the person to seek compensation for his insecurity.

Physical attraction is also a big killer. Whether the desire is for women, food, clothing, or other pleasures, many take their person pleasures very serious. They are even willing to forfeit the rewards of the next world for it. It should sound strange to the normal person, but people who have physical desires have very difficult times trying to cope with them. Their desires are so strong that they lie to themselves, convincing themselves that something which is forbidden is really permitted. Since they want the pleasure with such intensity, they can easily convince themselves that it should be permitted or that it is really only a very tiny sin.

How can one overcome these three terrible traits that lead us into sin?

The most important qualities to acquire for this task are honesty, perseverance, and patience.

First, we must be totally honest with ourselves and that is not easy. We must realize that we have indeed sinned. Most people can cover their sins with various types of rationale and excuses that prevent them from seeing the truth. It may sound absurd, but very few people will actually see themselves as a sinner. The other fellow's faults, they can see clearly – but not their own. If you want to know what your faults are, ask some one who does not like you - you will learn a lot. It is a rare case when someone does this.

What is recommended is "chesbon hanefesh" – reflecting on the day's activity with the purpose of seeing areas in which we sinned or acted in manners which were unacceptable. The best time is each night before retiring we set aside ten or fifteen minutes to review all of our actions and our conversations to see if there was something unseemly. When we find an impropriety we ask ourselves what was the motivation that caused us to do such an evil act. We don't blame the other person, perhaps it is true that he/she was wrong, but here we are focusing on ourselves, on our actions and words. We must find within ourselves a reason why did we act in such a manner.

Consider the three causes enumerated at the beginning of this article: ESP – ego, security, or physical pleasure. Was one of these an ingredient to cause sin? Recall the deed or conversation which involved the sin. What was the prime mover? Did you get angry? Well then why? Why should such a thing cause you to get angry? Probing is an important tool for self development. In most cases it is not just one factor but a combination of several things.

Refraining from sin is another difficult chapter in life and requires much effort. But once we realize what it is that causes us to sin, it becomes easier to uproot it from our character.


from the November 2006 Edition of the Jewish Magazine

Please let us know if you see something unsavory on the Google Ads and we will have them removed. Email us with the offensive URL (