by | Sep 17, 2005 | 0 comments

G-d’s capacity for forgiveness is infinite. A person has a choice whether or not to sin. It doesn’t say anywhere that a person cannot do Teshuva even for the sin of murder. Teshuva helps. For example Menashe the wicked king killed thousands of people. At the end of his days when he was very sick and in terrible pain he tried many different forms of idol worship to alleviate his suffering, but nothing helped him. Then he remembered: maybe Judaism can work. The Gemorah says that he did Teshuva. It was a conditional Teshuva, subject to alleviation of his suffering. The Angels took his Teshuva and pushed it back down to earth, so to speak. They did not want his Teshuva, as he was exceedingly evil. G-d pleaded with the Angel to allow his Teshuva to ascend, even though it was conditional on a cure, because Menashe was, after all, doing Teshuva . The Angels refused, whereupon G-d cut a hole next to his Kiseh Hakavod and let the Teshuva of Menashe sneak in and hide under the throne of the Honor. We learn from this incident the amazing capacity of G-d to “pass over sin”, even for one as evil as Menashe, even when the repentance is based on a conditional repentance, even against the opinion of the other Heavenly Hosts. This allegory defies all aspects of human forgiveness!

When a person sins, there are two problems within that one sin. The first one is on a theological level – the violation of a commandment of the Torah. He did a rebellious act against G-d, such as eating non-kosher food in a moment of spiritual weakness. On Yom Kippur, this individual comes before G-d and does Teshuva, asks for forgiveness for this rebellious act, reaffirming his/her commitment to Kashrus. G-d forgives, as that is what Teshuva does. The first problem caused by the sin has been solved with the forgiveness of the sinner. The consequence of the sin, however, still remains.

This consequence is the second problem inherent in a sin. There is damage that has been done, a mess that continues to exist. To continue with our example, when you eat something which is not Kosher, aside from the act of rebellion against G-d, we have also caused spiritual damage to our heart known as ‘Timtum Halev.’

The Torah teaches that non-kosher food causes actual damage to the soul. There is a certain sensitivity of the soul which is lost by the fact that a person sins. When a person does something such as steal, lie, or kill, it creates a fault within the person. G-d, with His magnanimous nature not only forgives the sinner, but actually “cleans up” the spiritual mess created. Once we repent, G-d Himself not only completely forgives the sin, as though it had never occurred, He totally deletes any spiritual damage, mess or filth that has been caused as a result of the sin. This total rectification of any Timtum Halev is called Tahara, or purity .

There are many different words we use when we ask G-d for forgiveness. “Selach Lanu, Mechal Lanu, Kaper Lanu.” Each has a different nuance. In addition, there is the concept of ‘Tahara’ -purity. Wherever Maimonidies discusses ‘Teshuva’, he uses the metaphor of the Mikvah. Technically this is not a perfect metaphor because while the Mikvah deals with purity, Teshuva deals with erasing a sin. Purity it would seem, is a different issue. How can we understand the intertwining of the two seemingly unrelated concepts of repentance and purity in Maimonidies?

Rabbi… also known as The Shlah asks, “What detergent can be used to cleanse the filth of the sin.” The answer, as he received it from his fathers, is tears. It was the way of the Tzadikim that if they would cry on Yom Kippur, they would always rub the tears into their face because the tears have such a holy cleansing purity to them, that they would create a glow on the person. The most effective cleansing agent against sin, according to the Shlah, is tears. Not only do they clean and return one to purity, they can actually cause one to glow.

Practical application
How does the capacity of G-d to forgive, and indeed cleanse the entire effect of the sin, apply to human behavior?

Rabbi Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg, Rosh Yeshiva Torah Ohr expounded as follows: The Gemara says that a shiduch, a marriage, is as difficult as the splitting of the Red Sea.

Why is this particular allegory of the splitting of the sea chosen and not the falling of the Manna, or taking water out of a rock? There were many miracles. The unique aspect of this particular miracle is that when the sea split, the waters were two walls at odds with each other one to the right and one to the left. Two distinct sides which would not come together as one. However, when the sea came back together it was seamless. You could not even find the place where the water had split, for such is the nature of water.

In any type of relationship there are times when one side is on the right and the other is on the left and there is just no meeting of the minds or the soul. The beauty or miracle of marriage is that even after one is at such odds with one’s spouse, once the problem is solved and the relationship comes back together, it acts like the waters of the Red Sea. You cannot find the seam. This is something that can happen only with a tremendous amount of work on the part of both spouses.

Rav Moshe Cordovaro teaches that G-d does not send the cleaning lady or man to clean up the mess caused by the sin, but does it Himself. The cleaning up stage is one step past forgiveness, which has already been given. In human terms, if somebody hurts me, once forgiveness has been asked for and granted, the power to clean up is in my hands alone. I am the only one in the world that can repair the situation. The offender must do different things on his/her part to try to cleanse the situation. He or she has means by which to help remedy the situation; asking for forgiveness, showing remorse, doing many different deeds which display a desire to repair the relationship. Ultimately, the key is with me. Only the person who was hurt can repair the relationship. The injured party has an obligation to go into that relationship, find the point of repair and cleanse it. Of course this only applies when the offender does Teshuva. If there is no Teshuva then I have no obligation to repair the relationship.


According to the major thesis of Rav Cordovaro that these G-dly attributes have been set forth to teach us that we are not limited by what we deem ‘humanly possible’, but are indeed capable of achieving G-dly standards we would be required to approach our interpersonal relationships in this particular area of forgiveness in this way. From the story of Menashe, we learn that no matter how awful the sin or wrongdoing committed against us, it behooves us, if we are to act in a G-dly manner, to totally and completely erase all memory of the wrongdoing inflicted upon us provided that the repentance is sincere .
One might ask: should I bother to change my attitude?. From a normal, human point of view: perhaps not; from a G-dly point of view yes. I have to bother with it. I have to do whatever I have to in order to cleanse the relationship and make it work. When the human level is elevated to this G-dly level not only is our relationship after forgiveness back to where it started, but in fact it is even on a higher level.

Rav Cordovaro addresses the very human question of ‘why should I bother’?. Behold, man has to act just exactly in this image. One should not say “and am I obligated to repair that which so & so who sinned has destroyed?”, one should not speak in such a way. For behold man sins and G-d Himself forgives him , not through a messenger. G-d repairs the milvostav?? and washes the filth of his sin. Like a mother, the only one who has the stamina to constantly clean her child.

Shlomo Hamelech SOURCE says human relationships are like water. Just as you look in the water and see a reflection, so too is the heart of mankind.
Rav Scheinberg as quoted previously explains  “water in the sense that it could seamlessly come together again.” The simple explanation is that a person is like a mirror., and in this way we can help one another. If you never smile, I can help you, because if I smile at you, it is like one who smiles at their reflection in a pool of water -I am guaranteed to get a smile back. If you smile at someone who is walking by, you will get a smile back. It is as guaranteed as the mirror. Shlomo Hamelech guaranteed it. If you are polite to somebody, you will get politeness back. If you are honest with somebody then you will get honesty back. Here is a fairly simple way that I have to affect the behavior and transform the personality of somebody else. I have an obligation to do so as a G-dly individual.
The Baal Shem Tov comes and puts a wrench in this verse. He says that not only can I affect your behavior with my behavior, but every once in a while G-d wants to show a person what they look like. Often we have a deceptive self image. We don’t know how good or how bad we look or how we sound. Every once in a while G-d places a person in front of us, who looks exactly like we look so that we could see what we really look like and we will tend to despise that individual. We don’t realize that what is really happening, is that we are getting a glimpse of ourselves in a mirror. This is not how I’m affecting him, it’s how he is affecting me. When a person sees someone particularly ugly, or particularly egotistic, anything else that we abhor in another person according to the Baal Shem Tov that means that now we have to look inward and say what is it about me that prompted G-d to put this person/picture in front of me to make me introspective.
Until now, in discussing the position of the offended, that individual comes off as the big macher accepting their apologies and working on how to help them. The Baal Shem Tov says while it is true that he offended you the fact that you had this hiccup in your relationship might say something about who you are. This offense is just the mirror, the reflection of ourselves.
According to this rather disturbing explanation of the Baal Shem it is rather inappropriate for me to complacently contemplate my obligation as the offended to totally forgive, and indeed bring the relationship at least back to the starting point. I must view the failing in my friend as a reflection of a failing within myself. The onus upon myself to bring the relationship back to the starting point is not merely a benevolent, G-dly undertaking on my part. If G-d has brought me face to face with this lacking in my friend, I must indeed also be lacking, since the deeds of my friend are merely a reflection of my own attitude toward him/her. By acting on this realization, a change will take place within me and I am growing. It has to follow that this will make the change in the other person that is across from me.

The following story is told about Shmuel Hanogid. The King was very disturbed that his good friend the Jew was cursed. The King said to Shmuel Hanogid “I authorize you and demand that you order that his tongue be carved out of his mouth.” Shmuel Hanogid went home and found out where the person was and who he was and sent him a gift and a letter. The King found out that Shmuel Hanogid did not carve out his tongue as demanded. He said to Shmuel Hanogid on the wagon, ‘You didn’t do what I told you to do.’ Shmuel Hanogid says “Watch and you will see that I did.” The person passed the next day and said “Hello Reb Shmuel, how are you?” Reb Shmuel Hanogid said to the King “I carved out his tongue and I gave him a new one.” I did it but I just did not do it the way you do it, I did it the way I do it. Here is the ugly thing that I see, I have the ability with wisdom, with ingenuity, with creativity, to carve out that tongue and to put the new one in. That is our/ obligation, that is G-d does for us and that is what we have to do for other people.

Rav Moshe Cordovaro always lists the symmetry of his writing in that he always talks of his theological aspect and then he talks about the Bein Adam Lechavero. The person to person aspect. That is where he leaves it. But here he goes back and says ‘Mikan’ from all this, “She’adom Lashove Lachku” how can a person go back and sin. If you sin, you do Teshuva and then you go and sin again. “Be’atzmoh Rochetz Lichluch” Hashem himself has to go clean it up now. It is an emotion which has nothing to do with the thesis of the book. You do an Averah, Hakodosh Baruch Who goes through all the heroism to clean it up and then the person goes and does an Averah again. Hakodosh Baruch Who is special and we have to look at it that way.

The normal mental health of attitude is that a person always has to distinguish whose problem it is. According to Hakodosh Baruch Who, everything is his problem. What he wants from Basar Vedam is that everything is our problem. If everything is our problem, not to become obsessed with it and to realize that the key is in our hands. With creativity and ingenuity we can always find a way to carve out the tongue and to put in the new tongue. We can do that in a way. A lot of that way might be by affecting our own behavior as the Baal Shem Tov says. A person is just the reflection of what I am and what I am all about at this moment. If we can do that then will be Mekayem the Over Al Pesha.

By Rabbi Yaacov Haber

Rabbi Yaacov Haber has been a leading force in Jewish community and Jewish education for over forty years. He lived and taught in the United States, Australia and in Israel. He is presently the Rav of Kehillas Shivtei Yeshurun, a vibrant community in the center of Ramat Bet Shemesh, Israel, and serves as the Rabbinic guide to many of its wonderful organisations.


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