Dear Rabbi Simon
Shavua tov. I had a distressing Shabbos. Due to a very unfortunate oversight, I was locked out of my flat on Friday night–with my dog on the inside. With the help of a neighbour, I managed to summon a locksmith to rescue the two of us. However, the tradesman insisted that I sign a form in order to carry out the work. I know that writing is one of the 39 melakhot which are forbidden on Shabbat. Yet I was unable to withstand the temptation to sign, and so I did. I feel terrible about my weakness. Is there any way I can atone for that, like fasting?
Thank you for your poignant and real-life Q. Here are my thoughts:
Fasting is a classic means of penance, but many people nowadays find doing so quite onerous. Plus, fasting can result in diminished concentration in prayer, Torah study and work (and more). I would therefore suggest a half-day fast (until midday, about 11:50am this time of year). Alternatively, you can designate an upcoming fast for this purpose and “double-dip”.
There is a further idea, however, which is closer to the teshuvat ha-mishkal (“repentance commensurate with the sin”) advocated by the classic mussar sources: Research the melakhah of writing and compose (and circulate) a short halakhic essay on the subject. In this way, you can sensitize and educate your peers and others about the prohibition of writing on Shabbos, and counteract the effect (in a spiritual and psychological way) of your weakness (on one occasion) in this area.
I hope this is helpful.
Rabbi Rashi Simon