Cheating on Tests – Repentance

I cheated on a school test recently and I feel guilty about it. What should I do now? Should I confess to the teacher?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

It’s very nice, first of all, that you want to make up for your past mistakes. In doing so, I hope you will turn your negative past behavior into a positive experience and a lifelong lesson.

Cheating is certainly the wrong thing to do. Not only does the Torah forbid acting dishonestly and misleading others, but at times cheating may constitute a type of actual stealing. If a prospective employer judges job candidates based in part on their grade averages, he may be misled into believing a candidate is more qualified than he actually is – as well as more honest than he actually is. He may then hire the person before other more qualified candidates or at a higher salary than he deserves. Another example is if the student will qualify for a scholarship or university admission based on a GPA he did not actually earn.

Apart from all of this, the Torah obligates us to abide by the laws of the land we reside in (unless they outright contradict Torah law), and so we may not break the rules in any unacceptable way.

Now, in terms of repentance, it depends. In general, there are two aspects to repentance – repenting to God, and making it up to the people you’ve wronged – by both begging their forgiveness and by making restitution for any damages caused.

Now in your case, you must certainly repent to God, as I’ll explain below. But what about to other people? Did you really “damage” anyone? Mostly likely not. If you were in university or medical school and your GPA was likely to be a factor in your job eligibility (or eligibility to apply for further schooling and the like), then it would be considered a sin to others. You would be obligated to approach your instructor and confess, and he would adjust your grade accordingly.

If, however, you are just dealing with a single middle school or high school test, it is very unlikely to have any real long-term effect on your job prospects. (Even if you theoretically affected the grading curve and harmed your classmate’s grades, that too is very unlikely to have any real effect on them.) Thus, it is sufficient for you to repent privately, and you need not step forward and confess to your teacher. (Sources: Igrot Moshe C.M. II 30, Mishna Halachot VII 275.)

How do you repent your sin to God? The process involves the following three steps: Stopping your behavior, regretting it, and committing never to repeat it again. The process should also be done verbally. You should speak to God about your feelings of remorse and beg His forgiveness, also articulating your regret and acceptance to be better for the future.

Here is our main article on the process of repentance:

Again, my wishes that this ultimately turn into an important growing experience for you.

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