Rabbi Avrohom Sebrow
This time of year is designated for teshuva. We really should be paralyzed with fear because of the impending judgment. Yet, there is a contradiction. On Rosh Hashana, we enjoy festive meals. Nice clothing should be worn. Haircuts are taken in preparation for the holiday. How could there be rejoicing when facing an intense court case, where life and death hang in the balance? HaRav Shaya Cohe, shlit”a, Rosh HaYeshiva Yeshivas Zichron Aryeh, often explained this dichotomy with a parable. A prisoner is shaking uncontrollably with fear. He is being brought into court to hear his fate. Charged with capital crimes, the prisoner fears for the worst. Yet, when the doors to the courtroom open, he is astonished to see that the judge is his own father! Immediately, a sense of relief envelopes him. True, he still faces judgment, but he knows his sentence will be meted out with compassion. During this time of year, we all face judgment. However, Hashem is the Av HaRachaman, the Most Merciful Father. Knowledge of this allows us to feel some measure of confidence in the graciousness of the judgment. The pasuk states, “You are children to Hashem, your G-d.” (Devarim 14:1). It is with immense love that Hashem considers us to be His children. There is a caveat, however. Rebbe Yehuda states taht the Bnei Yisrael are only called Hashem’s children when they are following the proper path (Kiddushin 36a). Yet, Rebbe Meir vehemently disagrees. He states that even when Klal Yisrael sin, they are still called Hashem’s children. He cites a verse in Yirmiya (4:22), “They are foolish sons.” Even when Klal Yisrael acts foolishly, they still have the appellation of Hashem’s children. More so, even when Klal Yisrael is considered wicked, they are still deemed Hashem’s children. As proof, Rebbe Meir cites the verse, “Sons in whom there is no faithfulness” (Devarim 32:20). Even when Klal Yisrael worships idols, which is considered a brazen sin, they are still considered Hashem’s children. Proof of this can be found in the verse, “A seed of evildoers, sons who deal corruptly” (Yeshaya 1:4). Rebbe Meir cites one more verse to bolster his position, but it isn’t readily clear what his intent is: “And it shall come to pass that, instead of what was said to them: You are not My people, it shall be said to them: Sons of the living G-d” (Hoshea 2:1).
Rashi notes that in the first few verses cited, Klal Yisrael are indeed called sons, but they have negative descriptors appended to their titles. They are called foolish sons, faithless sons, and corrupt sons. Can the relationship be repaired? What can Klal Yisrael do to regain their original glorious appellation of simply “Hashem’s children”? The answer is teshuva. Teshuva is so powerful that even if Klal Yisrael sinned grievously, the relationship with their Creator can still be repaired. As proof of this fact, Rebbe Meir cites the verse, “Sons of the living G-d.” Klal Yisrael can regain their good name. HaRav Yosef Trani, the Maharit (1568– 1639), is at a loss to explain Rashi. While Hashem’s acceptance of teshuva is a magnificent act of kindness and charity, it is no secret. Indeed, even Rebbe Yehuda, who disagrees with Rebbe Meir, would nevertheless concede this point. Rebbe Yehuda would likewise say that Klal Yisrael can regain their good name by doing teshuva. Why did Rebbe Meir feel the need to support the power of teshuva from a new verse? Elsewhere, the Gemara cites many different verses to demonstrate the power of teshuva. Why does the Gemara seem to suggest that Rebbe Yehuda would argue on this point? The Maharit offers a different interpretation of the final step in Rebbe Meir’s exposition. Even before Klal Yisrael does teshuva, they are still called wonderful sons! At the same time that they are called corrupt, foolish, and faithless, they are also still called simply “Hashem’s sons.” This demonstrates the intense love that Hashem has for us that even when we sin grievously, we are still his beloved sons. The Maharit is an Acharon, albeit an early Acharon, and he is nevertheless arguing with a Rishon. Yet support for his position can be found in the words of another Rishon, the Rashba. The Rashba is of the opinion that the graves of idolaters do not transmit tumah via ohel. (Other Rishonim disagree. Fascinatingly, part of the debate is based on the question of whether Eliyahu Hanavi was a Kohen or did he come from a different shevet, perhaps Gad or Binyamin?) Therefore, the Rashba was asked if a Jew renounced his religion R”L, and adopted pagan beliefs, does his grave still transmit tumah via ohel, or is his grave considered like one of an idolater’s?
Among other sources, the Rashba cites our Gemara. Rebbe Meir is of the opinion that even if a Jew practices idolatry, he would still be called Hashem’s son! The person who died is likewise called Hashem’s son, and his grave would transmit tumah via ohel. The Rashba cited the entire Gemara to bolster his proof. Apparently, he is of the opinion that the entire Gemara, even the last verse, is discussing a person’s moniker before he does teshuva. Therefore, he ruled that the grave of the person who died before he did teshuva still transmits tumah via ohel. Even though generally, the halacha follows Rebbe Yehuda when he argues with Rebbe Meir, that rule doesn’t apply in this case. The halacha accords with Rebbe Meir that we are called Hashem’s sons even when we sin. According to the Rashba, we are even called beloved sons before doing teshuva. This is a powerful lesson that we should have in mind during these days. The Yetzer Hara may want to convince us that we are worthless in the eyes of Hashem; we are simply beyond redemption. That is simply untrue. Hashem loves us even in the state we are in and looks forward to our teshuva.
Rabbi Avrohom Sebrow is a rebbe at Yeshiva Ateres Shimon in Far Rockaway. In addition, Rabbi Sebrow leads a daf yomi chaburah at Eitz Chayim of Dogwood Park in West Hempstead, NY. He can be contacted at ASebrow@ gmail.com.