Day 4-5: The Ba’al Teshuvah

Day 4-5

Friday, August 25-Shabbos August 26, 2017

Elul 4-5, 5777

(English Translation follows)


אֵיזוֹ הִיא תְּשׁוּבָה גְּמוּרָה–זֶה שֶׁבָּא לְיָדוֹ דָּבָר שֶׁעָבַר בּוֹ, וְאפְשָׁר בְּיָדוֹ לַעֲשׂוֹת, וּפֵרַשׁ וְלֹא עָשָׂה מִפְּנֵי הַתְּשׁוּבָה, לֹא מִיִּרְאָה וְלֹא מִכִּשְׁלוֹן כּוֹחַ.  כֵּיצַד:  הֲרֵי שֶׁבָּא עַל אִשָּׁה בַּעֲבֵרָה, וּלְאַחַר זְמָן נִתְיַחַד עִמָּהּ וְהוּא עוֹמֵד בְּאַהֲבָתוֹ בָּהּ וּבְכוֹחַ גּוּפוֹ, וּבַמְּדִינָה שֶׁעָבַר בָּהּ, וּפֵרַשׁ וְלֹא עָבַר–זֶה הוּא בַּעַל תְּשׁוּבָה גְּמוּרָה.  הוּא שֶׁשְּׁלֹמֹה אוֹמֵר “וּזְכֹר, אֶת-בּוֹרְאֶיךָ, בִּימֵי, בְּחוּרֹתֶיךָ עד אשר לא יבואו ימי הרעה והגיעו שנים אשר תאמר אין לי בהם חפץ” (קהלת יב,א).

וְאִם לֹא שָׁב אֵלָא בִּימֵי זִקְנוּתוֹ, וּבְעֵת שְׁאי אִפְשָׁר לוֹ לַעֲשׂוֹת מַה שֶׁהָיָה עוֹשֶׂה–אַף עַל פִּי שְׁאֵינָהּ תְּשׁוּבָה מְעֻלָּה, מוֹעֶלֶת הִיא לוֹ וּבַעַל תְּשׁוּבָה הוּא.  אַפִלּוּ עָבַר כָּל יָמָיו, וְעָשָׂה תְּשׁוּבָה בְּיוֹם מִיתָתוֹ וּמֵת בִּתְשׁוּבָתוֹ–כָּל עֲווֹנוֹתָיו נִמְחָלִין:  שֶׁנֶּאֱמָר “עַד אֲשֶׁר לֹא-תֶחְשַׁךְ הַשֶּׁמֶשׁ והאור והירח והכוכבים ושבו העבים אחר הגשם” (קוהלת יב,ב), שְׁהוּא יוֹם הַמִּיתָה–מִכְּלָל שְׁאִם זָכַר בּוֹרְאוֹ וְשָׁב קֹדֶם שֶׁיָּמוּת, נִסְלַח לוֹ.

What is complete teshuvah? When a man finds the opportunity to sin, and he has the power to sin, yet he holds back and does not sin out of teshuvah. He does not refrain from sinning out of fear or out of weakness. For example, a man once had an inappropriate relationship with a particular woman and later finds himself alone with her again. He still desires her, and is physically able to act on this desire, and they are in the same place where they used to meet.  If he holds back and does not sin, he is a complete Master of Teshuvah. This is what Solomon said (Ecclesiastes 12:1), and remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the onset of the evil days, the arrival of those years when you will say, “I do not find pleasure in them.”

What if he does not repent until his old age, when he is no longer able to do what he used to do?  Even though this is not a high level of teshuvah, he is credited for his effort, and he is a Master of Teshuvah. Even if he sinned all his life, and did teshuvah on the day of his death, dying while in a state of teshuvah, all of his sins are forgiven, as the previously cited verse continues, before the sun darkens, and the light, and the moon, and the stars, and the clouds return after the rain, which is a reference to the day a person dies.  The meaning is that if a person remembers his Creator and repents before he dies, he is forgiven.


וּמַה הִיא הַתְּשׁוּבָה–הוּא שֶׁיַּעֲזֹב הַחוֹטֶא חֶטְאוֹ, וִיסִירֶנּוּ מִמַּחְשַׁבְתּוֹ וְיִגְמֹר בְּלִבּוֹ שֶׁלֹּא יַעֲשֵׂהוּ עוֹד, שֶׁנֶּאֱמָר “יַעֲזֹב רָשָׁע דַּרְכּוֹ, וְאִישׁ אָוֶן מַחְשְׁבֹתָיו” (ישעיהו נה,ז). 

וְכֵן יִתְנַחַם עַל שֶׁעָבַר, שֶׁנֶּאֱמָר “כִּי-אַחֲרֵי שׁוּבִי, נִחַמְתִּי, וְאַחֲרֵי הִוָּדְעִי, סָפַקְתִּי עַל-יָרֵךְ” (ירמיהו לא,יח); וְיָעִיד עָלָיו יוֹדֵעַ תַּעֲלוּמוֹת שֶׁלֹּא יָשׁוּב לְזֶה הַחֵטְא לְעוֹלָם, שֶׁנֶּאֱמָר “וְלֹא-נֹאמַר עוֹד אֱלֹהֵינוּ, לְמַעֲשֵׂה יָדֵינוּ וגו׳” (הושע יד,ד).  וְצָרִיךְ לְהִתְוַדּוֹת בִּשְׂפָתָיו, וְלוֹמַר עִנְיָנוֹת אֵלּוּ שֶׁגָּמַר בְּלִבּוֹ.

What is teshuvah? Teshuvah is when a person abandons sin, banishes it from thought, and resolves in his heart never to commit this act again, as it is written (Isaiah 55:7), the wicked will abandon his way, and the sinner his thoughts.

He will also regret his past, as it is written (Jeremiah 31:18), for after I did teshuvah I felt regret, and after I gained knowledge, I slapped my thigh.  The One who Knows All Secrets will testify that he will not ever return to this sin, as it is written (Hosea 14:4), and we will no longer call the work of our hands ‘our god.’ The sinner must articulate the resolutions of his heart with an oral confession.


כָּל הַמִּתְוַדֶּה בִּדְבָרִים, וְלֹא גָמַר בְּלִבּוֹ לַעֲזֹב–הֲרֵי זֶה דּוֹמֶה לְטוֹבֵל וְשֶׁרֶץ בְּיָדוֹ, שְׁאֵין הַטְּבִילָה מוֹעֶלֶת, עַד שֶׁיַּשְׁלִיךְ הַשֶּׁרֶץ; וְכֵן הוּא אוֹמֵר “וּמוֹדֶה וְעֹזֵב, יְרֻחָם” (משלי כח,יג).  וְצָרִיךְ לִפְרֹט אֶת הַחֵטְא, שֶׁנֶּאֱמָר “אָנָּא, חָטָא הָעָם הַזֶּה חֲטָאָה גְדֹלָה, וַיַּעֲשׂוּ לָהֶם אֱלֹהֵי זָהָב” (שמות לב,לא).

A person who confesses with words, but does not resolve in his heart to abandon the sin: behold, he is like one who immerses in a mikvah while holding a lizard in his hand. The immersion will have no effect until he releases the lizard! Similarly it is written (Proverbs 28:13),  and one who confesses and abandons [sin] will receive mercy. He must also detail the sin, as it is written (Exodus 32:31), please, the people sinned a great sin; they made for themselves a god of gold.

Photo: AP/Sebastian Scheiner

Translation from Maimonides on Teshuvah (5th Edition, 2017)


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