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Thursday, September 08, 2005

Is it ever too late to do teshuva?

If you look at any mussar sefer the answer is no, as chazal say אפילו חרב חדה מונחת על ראשו אל ימנע עצמו מן הרחמים. Yet, the Rambam in Hilchos Teshuva (6:3) states explicitly that it could be too late:

ואפשר שיחטא האדם חטא גדול או חטאים הרבה, עד שייתן הדין לפני דיין האמת שיהיה הפירעון מזה החוטא על חטאים אלו שעשה ברצונו ומדעתו, שמונעין ממנו התשובה ואין מניחין לו רשות לשוב מרשעו, כדי שימות ויאבד בחטאים שעשה.
...
לפיכך כתוב בתורה "ואני, אחזק את לב פרעה" (ראה שמות ד,כא; שמות יד,ד): לפי שחטא מעצמו תחילה והרע לישראל הגרים בארצו, שנאמר "הבה נתחכמה, לו" (שמות א,י), נתן הדין למנוע ממנו התשובה, עד שנפרעין ממנו; לפיכך חיזק הקדוש ברוך הוא את ליבו.
...
וכן ישראל בימי אלייהו לפי שהרבו לפשוע, מנע מאותן המרבים תשובה, שנאמר "ואתה הסיבות את ליבם, אחורנית" (מלכים א יח,לז), כלומר מנעת מהן התשובה.

It is possible that a person can do a great sin or many sins until the judgement for his sins that he did willingly is that he is prevented from doing teshuva and he is not given permission to repent so that he will die with the sins that he did
...
therefore the Torah writes that I will harden Paroah's heart ...
and also the Jews at the time of Eliyahu because they sinned so greatly were prevented form doing teshuva ...


We see black on white that the Rambam writes that a person can be prevented from doing teshuva, in other words it is too late.

What do the mussar sefarim do with this Rambam? R' Schwadron, who edited the Lev Eliyahu, asks this question on the Lev Eliyahu in Parshas Bo in a footnote and answers as follows.

The Rambam's proof from Bnei Yisrael in the time of Eliyahu is very difficult, after all the story there ends with Bnei Yisrael screaming ה' הוא האלוקים, in other words doing teshuva. He answers that even if teshuva is closed off tefilla never is. A person can always daven to hashem that the punishment should be lifted and he should be allowed to do teshuva. This is exactly what Eliyahu Hanavi did.

How does this work? When a person is prevented from doing teshuva it means that his yetzer hara is given more power and there is no way for him to overcome the yetzer. However, he can daven to remove this. This is like a person who loves to talk loshon hara. The person knows it is assur but just can't help it. The person may even daven to hashem to help him overcome. This is the same idea here. The yetzer hara is too strong to do teshuva but tefilla can help weaken the yetzer hara and then he will be able to do teshuva.

Therefore, the Rambam is right that sometimes it is too late to do teshuva, but even so the mussar sefarim are right that it is never too late, a person can always ask for rachamim and the ability to do teshuva.

We should keep this in mind in Chodesh Elul that tefilla is never too late.

16 Comments:

At 12:06 AM, Anonymous Feivel said...

I once heard an opinion that explained the Rambam. "Preventing" the person from doing teshuvah can be accomplished by (God) making him too preoccupied or busy with other things. I guess the definition of "preventing" is kind of loose.

 
At 1:22 AM, Anonymous daat y said...

Another interpretation of pharoeh is that this gave him bechira.Not thatit stopped him from doing teshuvah.

 
At 1:29 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

so in principle, paroah could have davened and had the obstacle to tshuva removed? If so, wouldnt the nevua have been falsified?

 
At 5:23 AM, Blogger bluke said...

There may be a difference between Jews and non-Jews.

In any case Hashem knew that Pharoah would not daven

 
At 7:08 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

see the perush mishnayos of the rambam in the end of yoma - regarding echta vashuv - or echta vyom a kippurim... the rambam explains he wont benift from siyata dishmaya. but the implication is that teshuva is still possible

regarding the question of paroh and free will - i have an article in my book on holidays (emanations)
www.aish.com/torahportion/moray/Pharaohs_Heart.asp

Ari Kahn

 
At 7:10 AM, Anonymous Bill Selliger said...

The gemara you quoted:" אפילו חרב חדה מונחת על ראשו אל ימנע עצמו מן הרחמים."could be interpreted not as tshuva, but as prayer, so there's no contradiction in the first place in the Rambam.

That would be sweet.

 
At 7:34 AM, Blogger anonymous said...

על ראשו"

you mean al tzavaro. Don't think it says al rosho anywhere (that doesnt really make sense)

 
At 1:27 PM, Blogger bluke said...

You are probably right, I quoted it from memory.

Bill, you are also right, this one of the things that R' Schwadron writes. However, many mussar sefarim quote this passuk with regards to teshuva.

 
At 7:19 PM, Blogger anonymous said...

bluke, it is much simpler to point out there is no real question about eliyahu, because he was describing something that had happened before that point. Eliyahu is coming with a ta'ana to god, for up to that point.

 
At 10:56 PM, Blogger bluke said...

The problem was not with Eliyahu but with the Rambam bringing that as a proof that a person can reach a state where from heaven they prevent him from doing teshuva if after all was said and done they did teshuva. At firat glance, it would seem that this refutes the Rambam's point

 
At 2:40 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

i understand that, but there's no real question on the rambam, because the rambam is describing something that had happened *before* eliayhu speaks.

 
At 2:48 PM, Blogger bluke said...

I don't understand your point, the Rambam is trying to bring a proof that Hashem prevents people from doing teshuva. He brings a proof from the Jewish people at the time of Eliyahu Hanavi. What kind of proof is it if they end up doing teshuva? This seemingly contradicts the Rambam's thesis that people can be blocked from doing teshuva. The answer is that Eliyahu's tefilla reversed the gezera. However, that is an answer, it is not so readily apparent.

 
At 8:15 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

there is no question, because eliyahu is describing something that had happened previously, why they hadn't done tshuva previously. Paroah also did tshuva after makos, he just went back again (there is no evidence that the jews didnt go back to wrong, either - the indications are that they went right back to a"z). Eliyahu is not describing what will happen in the future, they way God promises to prevent paroah from doing tshuva in future, so there is no question from eliyahu's description of how the jews had been acting up to that point

the question is not much of a question, and the answer doesn't work for paroah, because it's very difficult to say that tefila would have helped him. We have no raaya that tefila works, because eliyahu was not told that god had any intention of preventing tshuva in future, he is only describing the past. Hope that this is clearer.

 
At 10:36 AM, Blogger bluke said...

The Rambam makes a statement that sometimes Hashem prevents a person from doing teshuva so that the person DIES without doing teshuva and is punished after he dies. The Rambam brings a proof from the Jewish people at the time of Eliyahu Hanavi.

Of course Eliyahu Hanavi was describing what had happened in the past. But according to the Rambam the whole idea is that the person should DIE without doing teshuva. Therefore, the jewish people should not have been able to ever do teshuva according to the Rambam, they were supposed to DIE without doing teshuva. The fact that they did do teshuva contradicts the Rambam's whole thesis. Whether or not they returned to sinning is irrelevant, what is important is that they did do teshuva at some point.

The answer is that Eliyahu's tefilla took away the gezera.

Who said Paroah did teshuva? The Rambam would assume that Paroah never did teshuva and died and was punished. In addition, tefilla may only work for Jews and not non-Jews.

 
At 2:04 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

ok, i see your point.

 
At 5:26 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

regardless, in melachim 1:19:17-18 you see that they were not forgiven, and it was a temporary tshuva like paroah's when they said hashem hu elokim, as they were still killed. Only habirkaim asher lo koru labaal v'chol hapeh asher lo noshak lo is spared.

 

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