Our Gemara on Amud Beis discusses the principle that one does not receive the punishment of lashes for violating a general prohibition “lav shebichlalos”. The prohibition must be a specific item and not a broad or general category. Presumably, any time a negative commandment which also has some factor that lessens the intensity of the prohibition, it somewhat reduces the degree of punishment or reaction. There are other examples as well, such as a prohibition that is not performed by direct action (לאו שאין בו מעשה), or a prohibition that is inferred from a positive commandment (לאו הבא מכלל עשה). And finally, a prohibition that can still be corrected through a positive action (לאו הניתק לעשה), such as returning a stolen object.
Rav Tzaddok (Takanas Hashavin 13-15) enters into a fascinating discussion about what other types of leniencies might result from a prohibition being of a more diluted nature.
The Gemara (Yoma 86a) discusses various categories of sin, and how long and what needs to be done in order to achieve atonement:
עָבַר עַל עֲשֵׂה וְשָׁב — אֵינוֹ זָז מִשָּׁם עַד שֶׁמּוֹחֲלִין לוֹ, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: ״שׁוּבוּ בָּנִים שׁוֹבָבִים״. עָבַר עַל לֹא תַעֲשֶׂה וְעָשָׂה תְּשׁוּבָה — תְּשׁוּבָה תּוֹלָה, וְיוֹם הַכִּפּוּרִים מְכַפֵּר. שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: ״כִּי בַיּוֹם הַזֶּה יְכַפֵּר עֲלֵיכֶם מִכֹּל חַטֹּאתֵיכֶם״. עָבַר עַל כָּרֵיתוֹת וּמִיתוֹת בֵּית דִּין וְעָשָׂה תְּשׁוּבָה — תְּשׁוּבָה וְיוֹם הַכִּפּוּרִים תּוֹלִין, וְיִסּוּרִין מְמָרְקִין. שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: ״וּפָקַדְתִּי בְשֵׁבֶט פִּשְׁעָם וּבִנְגָעִים עֲוֹנָם״.
If one violates a positive mitzva and repents, he is forgiven even before he moves from his place, i.e. immediately, as it is stated: “Return, you backsliding children, I will heal your backsliding” (Jeremiah 3:22), implying that when one repents he is immediately forgiven. If one violates a prohibition and repents, repentance suspends his punishment and Yom Kippur atones for his sin, as it is stated: “For on this day shall atonement be made for you, to purify you from all your sins” (Leviticus 16:30). If one commits a transgression that warrants karet or a sin punishable by death from the earthly court and then repents, repentance and Yom Kippur suspend his punishment, and suffering absolves and completes the atonement, as it is stated: “Then will I visit their transgression with the rod, and their iniquity with strokes” (Psalms 89:33).
Rav Tzaddok wonders what category do these lesser lavin (negative prohibitions) belong? Are they considered positive mitzvos and then one can achieve immediate forgiveness, or are they in the category of a negative prohibition and require Yom Kippur as well.
Rav Tzaddok offers a few ideas. First, the simple reading of the Gemara, which does not seem to draw a distinction between various negative provisions, would prima facie imply that all forms of negative provisions fit under that category. However, he then draws distinctions between the various subsets of lesser negative propositions. If you think about it, in essence, there are two kinds of sins: those committed via action, and those committed through inaction. It is logical to say therefore that since they are not committed via action, they do not require the same degree of repentance. Because it only happened in thought or passivity, thoughts of repentance, and true remorse should immediately achieve the necessary atonement. Along these lines, it is logical to say that some of the categories of negative prohibitions are also passive and not fully done via action.
A prohibition that is not performed by direct action (לאו שאין בו מעשה)
Even regarding a prohibition that is inferred from a positive commandment (לאו הבא מכלל עשה), we might argue that, although an action was taken, the root of the “prohibition“ is to heed a positive directive. Therefore, this too, might be considered an inaction.
Furthermore, in regard to a prohibition that can still be corrected through a positive action (לאו הניתק לעשה), you can argue that until it is corrected it has the force of the negative prohibition. But perhaps, once it is corrected, all that remains is something akin to the force of a positive prohibition. Therefore, theoretically, atonement could be achieved immediately.
However, once we come to a general prohibition, לאו הבא מכלל עשה, none of these mitigating factors apply. It is quite possible that atonement will not be achieved immediately, and one would have to also boost his repentance via the process of Yom Kippur. The only argument that we would have is that it is still somewhat of a lesser prohibition, because it does not incur lashes.
Rav Tzaddok still wants to include the possibility of immediate atonement, even for this kind of prohibition. He quotes the Sefer Asara Ma’amaros (בעשרה מאמרות [מאמר חקור דין ת”א רפי”ח) written by Rav Menachem Mi-Panu (1548-1620) who holds that any prohibition, that does not incur lashes also is subject to immediate forgiveness and atonement. Rav Tzaddok also says this might be implied from Rashi in Yoma (ibid, “upakadeti”), who suggests that the three different categories logically have to do with going from less severe to more severe. Therefore, one might say that, until it reaches the threshold of severity of a full prohibition that encourages lashes, it would still be in the prior category subject to immediate forgiveness instead of having to wait until Yom Kippur.
One final point that Rav Tzaddok raises is regarding the sin of masturbation, wasting seed. Even though it is categorized by various teachings as a negative prohibition, with some teachings scripturally equating it to a form of adultery (see Niddah 13b), he leans in the direction that its real prohibition stems from a nullification of the command to be fruitful and multiply, and he brings proofs from various Rishonim to this. He suggests that the negative prohibitions that are quoted in other places in the Gemara and Midrashim might be asmachtos and not have the strength of an actual biblical negative prohibition. Therefore, he believes that the prohibition of masturbation and wasting seed also might be subject to immediate atonement and forgiveness, and not require Yom Kippur.