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Rabbi Yaakov Feldman
© 2010 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman
1. Anyone who either purposefully or accidentally transgresses any of the mitzvot of the Torah, either an imperative or a prohibition, must verbally confess to that before Gd when he does teshuvah and repents for his sin. As it’s written: "A man or woman who commits a sin ... should confess for the sin he (or she) has committed" (Numbers 5:6-7). This refers to verbal confession, which is an imperative. One confesses by saying: "Please, G-d: I’ve sinned, transgressed and rebelled against You by doing thus and such. Behold, I’m remorseful and ashamed of my deed, and I’ll never do it again". That is the gist of confession; say more than that and expand upon it and you’re to be praised. Similarly, those who’d bring sin- or guilt-offerings for accidental or purposeful sins would only be atoned for by those sacrifices after they’d have done teshuvah and verbally confessed. As it’s written: "And he should confess to his sin" (Leviticus 5:5). Likewise, those culpable for a court-imposed death sentence or for flogging were only atoned for by their death or flogging when they did teshuvah and confessed. Similarly, one who hurt someone or caused him monetary damage would only be atoned for by confessing and resolving never to do that again, even after he repaid what he owed him. As it’s written: "When a man or a woman commits any of the sins one might commit ... he (or she) shall confess for the sin he (or she) committed” (Numbers 5:6).
2. Because the scapegoat acted as an atonement for all of Israel, the High Priest confessed upon it in the name of all of Israel. As it’s written: "And he will confess upon it all of the transgressions of the Children of Israel ....” (Leviticus 16:21). The scapegoat would atone for all the sins in the Torah: for the serious ones, and for light ones; for those done purposefully, and for those done accidentally; for those the sinner was aware of, and for those he was not aware of -- as long as the sinner did teshuvah. But if he didn’t do teshuvah, the scapegoat would only atone for light sins. As to which are "light" or "serious" sins, the serious ones are those that incur a court-imposed death sentence or spiritual excision. Vain and untrue oaths would also be serious sins, even though they don’t incur excision. All other prohibitions and imperatives that don’t incur spiritual excision are light sins.
3. In our days when the Holy Temple no longer stands and there’s no longer an atoning altar all there is, is teshuvah. Teshuvah atones for all sins. Even if one were a wrongdoer his whole life but he did teshuvah in the end, all his wrongdoing would go un-cited. As it’s written: "And the wrongdoing of the wrongdoer will not make him stumble on the day he does teshuvah for his wrongdoing" (Ezekiel 33:12). Yom Kippur in itself will atone for those who do teshuvah. As it’s written: "He will forgive you on that day” (Leviticus 16:30).
4. Though teshuvah atones for everything and Yom Kippur in itself atones, there are some sins that are atoned for immediately and others that are only atoned for after a time. For example, if a person doesn’t fulfill an imperative which nonetheless doesn’t incur spiritual excision, and he does teshuvah, he’s immediately forgiven. As it’s said: "Return, unfaithful children, and I will heal your backslidings" (Jeremiah 3:22). If a person commits a prohibition that incurs neither spiritual excision nor a courtimposed death sentence, and then does teshuvah, the act of teshuvah is "put on hold", and Yom Kippur atones. And it’s said of him: "He will atone for them on that day" (Leviticus16:30) But if a person commits a sin that does incur spiritual excision or a court-imposed death sentence and then does teshuvah, both the teshuvah and Yom Kippur are "put on hold", and tribulations that occur complete his atonement. But he will never be completely atoned for until he suffers tribulations. It is said about him: "And I will punish their rebellions with the rod, their transgressions with plagues" (Psalms 89:33). Nonetheless that’s only so when no profanation of the name of G-d was involved in the course of the sin. For one who profanes G-d's name would only be completely atoned for by his death, even if he’d have done teshuvah, if Yom Kippur would have come and he’d still be penitent, and he’d have endured tribulations. In such a case, the three of them: teshuvah, Yom Kippur, and tribulations would be "put on hold", and death (alone) would atone. As it’s written, "It was revealed to my ears by the L-rd of Hosts that you will surely not be forgiven for your transgressions until you die ..." (Isaiah 22:14).
1. One accomplishes full teshuvah only when, while he’s yet able to sin, he is faced again with a situation in which he had previously sinned, and he nonetheless doesn’t [commit that sin]-- but only as a consequence of teshuvah, rather than out of fear, or because of a physical inability [to carry the sin out]. So if, for example, one had once sinned with a woman and after a time found himself alone with her, still in love and in full possession of his prowess, and in the same place he had transgressed -- if, rather than transgressing again, he recants, he’d be a "full penitent". Solomon referred to such a person when he said: "And remember your Creator in the days of your youth ...” (Ecclesiastes 12:11). If one nonetheless waits to do teshuvah when he’s old and can no longer do what he once did [prohibitively], such teshuvah is certainly in his favor, even though it isn’t the best form of teshuvah, and he’s considered a penitent. And even if one sinned his whole life, but did teshuvah his dying day, literally dying in the act of teshuvah, all his sins would nonetheless be forgiven. As it’s written, "Remember your Creator in the days of your youth ... before the sun, the light, the moon, and the stars have darkened over, and the clouds return after the rain ..." (Ibid. vv. 1-2) referring to the day of death. That’s to say, if one recalls his Creator and does teshuvah before he dies, he’ll be forgiven.
2. What is [conventional] teshuvah? No longer committing a sin one once committed, not thinking of committing it anymore, and affixing to his heart the
commitment to never do it again. As it’s written: "Let the wrongdoer abandon his ways ....” (Isaiah 55:7). He should also regret having sinned. As it’s written: "After doing teshuvah I regretted ..." (Jeremiah 31:18). Then he is to attest to Him who discerns all hidden things that he will never again commit that sin. As it’s written, "Nor shall we say anymore to the work of our hands: ‘You are our G-ds’” (Hosea 14:4). And he must verbally confess and enunciate the things affixed to his heart.
3. One who merely verbally confesses to his sins and does not affix it in his heart to abandon them is like one who immerses in a mikveh while clutching onto a reptile. For such an immersion is of no avail until the reptile is gotten rid of. As such it’s said: "One who confesses and forsakes his sin will be shown mercy" (Proverbs 28:13). And one must articulate his sins. As it’s written: "Oh please -- the people have committed a terrible sin and fashioned G-ds of gold for themselves" (Exodus 32:31).
4. Among the things one can do for teshuvah is to cry out to G-d constantly and pleadingly, give charity according to his means, keep far away from what he transgressed against, change his name (as if to say, "I am someone else; I am not the person who did those things"), change all his ways for the good and onto the path of righteousness, and exile himself (because exile atones for transgressions by making one submissive, humble and meek).
5. It would be laudable for such a person to confess openly, to let his acts of rebellion be known, and to reveal his sins against another person in public by saying: "In truth, I sinned against so and so by doing thus and such to him. I’m hereby doing teshuvah and I am sorry." For the teshuvah of one who is so arrogant as to conceal his acts of rebellion rather than disclose them is incomplete. As it’s written: "One who hides his acts of rebellion will never succeed" (Proverbs 28:13). That is, however, only so in the case of sins committed against another person. But when it comes to sins committed against G-d, one doesn’t have to publicize his deeds. In fact, it would be impudent of him to do so. He should do teshuvah before G-d by enunciating his sins to Him, and then confessing in general before others. For it would be best for him not to enunciate such sins. As it’s written: "Happy is he whose acts of rebellion are forgiven, whose sin is hidden" (Psalms 32:1).
6. Though doing teshuvah and crying out to G-d are always helpful, they’re especially so as well as immediately accepted in the ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. As it’s written: "Seek out G-d while He can be found" (Isaiah 55:6). Yet, while this is so in the case of an individual, when an entire community does teshuvah and cries out to G-d wholeheartedly, it’s answered at any time. As it’s written: "What nation is so great as to have G-d near it, as G-d our L-rd is (to us) whenever we call upon Him?" (Deuteronomy 4:7).
7. Yom Kippur is the season for teshuvah for all, the individual and the community. It is Israel's ultimate opportunity for forgiveness and pardon. And so all are obliged to do teshuvah and confess on Yom Kippur. In fact, the mitzvah of confession on Yom Kippur begins the evening before, preceding the meal, because one may choke on his dinner before having confessed. And even though he will have confessed before eating, one must nonetheless confess again on Yom Kippur night, as well as in the course of the Morning, Musaf, Afternoon, and Neilah Services. While the individual confesses after the Sh’moneh Esrei prayer, the cantor does so in the middle, in the course of the fourth blessing.
8. The formal confession that all of Israel is accustomed to reciting ("But we have sinned...”) contains the essence of confession. Sins a person will have confessed to on one Yom Kippur should be re-confessed to the following Yom Kippur, even though he will have remained in a state of teshuvah for it. As it’s written: "I acknowledge my acts of rebellion, and my sin is always before me" (Psalms 51:5).
9. But teshuvah and Yom Kippur only atone for sins committed against G-d, such as eating forbidden food, having illicit relations, etc. Sins committed against another person, such as assault, cursing, robbery, etc., are only absolved after the transgressor gives the victim what is due him, and is then accepted by him. For even after the transgressor pays
the victim what is owed him, the victim must still become favorably inclined toward him, and the transgressor must ask him for forgiveness. Even if a person only threatened someone verbally, he must nonetheless try to appease the victim and approach him to forgive him. If the victim does not want to forgive the transgressor, the latter should come to him with three of his friends who should then approach him and ask him to forgive the transgressor. If they cannot convince him, the transgressor should then bring a second and a third group. If he continues to refuse, the transgressor may leave, and the unforgiving victim is then considered the transgressor. If the victim was the original transgressor's teacher, however, the transgressor would be required to go back to him as many as a thousand times, until he will have forgiven him.
10. It’s forbidden [for the victim] to be cruel and unappeasable. He should instead be readily appeased and slow to anger. When the sinner comes before him to ask for forgiveness, he should offer it to him wholeheartedly and willingly. Even if the sinner caused that person a lot of trouble and sinned against him often, he should nonetheless not be vengeful or spiteful. For that is the way of the Children of Israel, whose hearts are fixed in this trait. Gentiles, with their uncircumcised hearts, however, are not like that. They always bear grudges. Hence it’s said of the Gibeonites, who would neither forgive nor be appeased: "And the Gibeonites were not of the Children of Israel" (Samuel 11 21:2).
11. One who sinned against someone who died before the sinner was able to ask him for forgiveness should bring ten men to his grave and say before them, "I sinned
against the G-d of Israel and against this person by doing thus and such to him." Then if he owes the victim money, he should pay his inheritors. And if he does not know of any inheritors, he should leave the money with the court, and confess.
1. Each and every person has his merits and his transgressions. One whose merits outweigh his transgressions is considered righteous, while one whose transgressions outweigh his merits is considered a wrongdoer, and one whose merits and transgressions are equivalent is considered an intermediate. The same is true of countries as well. If a country's inhabitants' merits outweigh their transgressions, the country is considered righteous while if its inhabitants' transgressions outweigh their merits it is considered wrongful. And the same is true of the world at large.
2. One whose transgressions outweigh his merits will die immediately in his wrongfulness. As it’s written: "I have struck you as an enemy would and punished you as would the cruel, because your guilt is so great and your sins so many" (Jeremiah 30:14). Similarly, the country whose inhabitants' transgressions are great will be destroyed immediately. As it’s written: “the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous" (Genesis 18:20). And such is the case with the world at large, as well: when the transgressions of its inhabitants are very great, it will be destroyed immediately. As it’s written: "And G-d saw that man's wrongfulness was pervasive in the land" (Genesis 6:5). But the determination of all this is not based upon the number of transgressions or merits so much as upon their seriousness. For, there are some merits that outweigh many transgressions. As it’s written: "He is the only one … in whom the L-rd, the G-d of Israel,
has found anything good" (1 Kings 14:13). And there are transgressions that outweigh many merits. As it’s written: "but one sinner can destroys a lot of good” (Ecclesiastes 9:18). But such a determination can only be made by All-Knowing G-d, for only He can evaluate the relative value of our merits and transgressions.
3. Whoever regrets the mitzvot he has done or bemoans the merit he has earned through them, saying to himself, "How could my doing them ever do anything for me? I only wish I hadn't done them", undoes them all and no longer has any merits accredited to him. As it’s written: "A righteous man's righteousness will not save him on the day of his transgression" (Ezekiel 33:12), referring to his having bemoaned his earlier acts of righteousness. Just as a person's merits and transgression are all taken into account at his death, so too are each and everyone's transgression and merits taken into account every year on the Festival of Rosh Hashanah. Life is inscribed to those determined to be righteous, death is inscribed to those determined to be wrongful, and the fate of the intermediate is left "on hold" until Yom Kippur. Then if he does teshuvah, life is ascribed to him; and if he doesn’t, death is.
4. Though Shofar-blowing on Rosh Hashanah is Biblically mandated, something else is alluded to by it as well, which is: "Awaken from your sleep you sleepers! Arise, you slumberers from your slumber! Examine your deeds, do teshuvah and remember your Creator! Those who ignore the truth for passing fancies, and those who are beguiled all life-long by vanities and emptiness which neither help nor redeem should look into their
souls, improve their ways and deeds! They should abandon their wrongful ways and their iniquitous thoughts!" One should, accordingly, consider himself as well as all the world half meritorious and half culpable all year long. And [he should believe that] if he were to commit just one sin, he would incline himself and the entire world toward guilt and bring about destruction; and, contrarily, that if he were to fulfill just one mitzvah he would incline himself and the entire world toward merit and bring about salvation and redemption. As it’s written: "A righteous man is the foundation of the world" (Proverbs 10:25), [which is to say that] the righteous themselves incline the world in the direction of merit and rescue it. That’s why the Jewish Nation is customarily more charitable, more preoccupied with good deeds, and more involved in mitzvot between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur than any other time of the year; and why they’re accustomed to awakening in the night in the course of those ten days to recite petitions and supplications in synagogue until daybreak.
5. A transgression committed once or twice is overlooked when one’s merits and transgressions are weighed. But it’s taken into account the third and subsequent times he commits it. And if it’s found that the transgressions committed for the third time or more outnumber his merits, the first and second times he committed it is taken into account, and he is judged for every single one. But if his merits equal his transgressions committed for the third time and onward, the first and second times he committed it is then bypassed, one at a time, and the third
instance of it is considered the first, because he was exonerated for the two that actually preceded it. The same goes for the fourth incident: it becomes the new first one because the person who committed it would have been exonerated for the third, and so on. This is only so, however, in the case of an individual. As it’s written: "Behold, G-d does all these things twice or three times with a man" (Job 33:29). But when it comes to an entire community, first, second and third offences are suspended. As it’s written: "For three of Israel's acts of rebellion I will turn away its punishment, but for the fourth I will not turn away" (Amos 2:6). When their offences are considered in such a fashion, they are judged from the fourth one onward. If among the transgressions of the intermediates whose merits equal their transgressions are never having put on tephillin, they are judged for their sin, but they are nonetheless entitled to a place in The World to Come. Similarly, the wrongful, those whose transgressions outnumber their merits, are judged according to their sins and they, too, are entitled to a place in The World to Come, even though they sinned. As it’s written: "All your people are righteous; they will always inherit the land" (Isaiah 60:21). The "land" referred to here allegorically is the "land of the living", i.e., The World to Come. The pious of the nations of the world have a place in The World to Come as well.
6. But the following don’t have a place in The World to Come. Instead, they’re to be spiritually excised and destroyed, and judged for their great wrongfulness and sinfulness forever and ever: Renegades, heretics, deniers of Torah, deniers of the resurrection of the dead and of the coming of the redemption, apostates, those who cause the multitude to sin, those
who isolate themselves from the ways of the community, those who sin openly and with a high hand like Yehoyakim, informers, those who bring dread upon the community for less than G-dly reasons, murderers, chronic slanderers, and those who elongate their foreskins [to undo their circumcisions].
7. There are five types of renegades: a) those who say there is no G-d or L-rd of the Universe, b) those who acknowledge that there is a L-rd, but [who claim that] there isn’t just one, but rather two or more, c) those who say that there is only one Master of the Universe, but that He has a body and form, d) those who say that He’s not the first being or Rock of all creation, and e) those who worship stars, constellations or the like in order for them to act as mediators between themselves and the Master of the universe. Each one of these five is a renegade.
8. There are three types of heretics: a) those who say there’s no such thing as prophecy, and that nothing can be transmitted from G-d to man's mind, b) those who repudiate the prophecy of Moses, and c) those who say that G-d is not aware of man's actions. Each one of these three is a heretic. There are three kinds of deniers of Torah:
a) those who say the Torah is not from G-d; and even those who only claim that a single verse or word of the Torah was written by Moses himself deny the whole Torah, b) those who deny the interpretations of the Torah, which is the Oral Torah, and those who repudiate its transmitters as Tzadduk and Bitus did, and c) those like the Muslims and Christians who say that G-d exchanged one mitzvah for another, or that the Torah has been nullified, even though it was [originally] from G-d. Each one of these three is a denier of the Torah.
9. There are two types of apostates: a) those who renounce [the legitimacy of] a single sin, and b) those who renounce the entire Torah. “Those who renounce [the legitimacy of] a single sin” are people who accustom themselves to willfully, habitually, and publicly repeat a particular sin, even a minor one, like someone for example, who accustoms himself to wearing shatnez, or to not leaving the corner of his field un-harvested [for the sake of the poor], as if this mitzvah were null and void in his eyes -- he is considered an apostate for that one sin, but only as long as he acted that way for spite. “Those who renounce the entire Torah” are people for example who turn to idolatry in a time of persecution and affiliate themselves with idolaters, saying, "How could it possibly be to my advantage to affiliate myself with the Jewish people when they're so afflicted and persecuted? It's better for me to affiliate myself with those who have the upper hand!" Such a person is an apostate against the entire Torah.
10. Among those who cause the multitude to sin are those who cause others to commit major sins, as Yereboam, Tzadduk and Bitus did; those who cause others to commit minor sins, even by having them eliminate an imperative; those who persecute others so much so that they come to sin, as Menashe, who murdered Jews in order to have them worship idols did; and those who mislead others and lead them astray.
11. As to those who isolate themselves from the ways of the community, even when they don’t actually sin, but still and all isolate themselves from the congregation of Israel and don’t engage in mitzvot with it, don’t share in its sorrows, and don’t join in its fasts but go their own ways instead as if they were Gentiles and not part of the community at all -- they do not have a place in the World to Come. Those who, like Yehoyakim, sin either leniently or seriously, with a high hand do not have a place in the World to Come. They are said to "reveal [mistaken] facets of Torah", because they are shameless and brazen, and aren’t ashamed to go against the words of the Torah.
12. There are two kinds of informers: a) those who surrender another Jew to Gentiles to be killed or beaten, and b) those who surrender another Jew's money to a Gentile or to a dangerous person who acts like a Gentile. Neither has a place in the World to Come.
13. Those who are said to bring dread upon the community for less than G-dly reasons are those who oppress, threaten and frighten the [Jewish] community for
personal prestige or for their own reasons, rather than for the sake of Heaven, as Gentile royalty do.
14. None of the twenty-four types of people we have enunciated have a place in the World to Come, even though they’re Jews. There are some less serious transgressions that people commit which our sages told us can deny us a place in the World to Come if they’re committed habitually, in order to have us avoid them. They include: those who make up a nickname for someone, those who call him by such a name, those who publicly disgrace someone, those who profit from another's dishonor, those who embarrass Torah scholars, those who embarrass their teachers, those who desecrate the Festivals, and those who profane the sacred. But they are only denied a place in the World to Come if they die before doing teshuvah. If they repented for their wrongfulness and died as a penitent they would have a place in the World to Come as there is nothing that cannot be overcome by teshuvah. Thus, one would have a place in the World to Come even if he denied the existence of G-d his whole life but did teshuvah at the very end. As it’s written: "Peace, peace, both for those far and near, says G-d, and I will heal them" (Isaiah 57:19). All wrongdoers, apostates, and the like who do teshuvah -- either openly or clandestinely -- are accepted back. As it is written: "Return, you faithless children" (Jeremiah 3:22). That’s to say, even when such a person is still "faithless" by doing teshuvah clandestinely rather than openly, he’s nonetheless taken back as a result of his teshuvah.
1. There are twenty-four things that inhibit teshuvah. Four of them are such serious transgressions that G-d disallows teshuvah from those who commit them. They include: a) causing many to sin, including preventing many from doing a mitzvah, b) inclining someone away from the path of goodness onto the path of wrongdoing, by informing and influencing, c) seeing your child becoming more and more wrongful and not protesting, for a child is under a parent's authority and the latter can stop him; as a consequence, if he does not, it’s as if he caused the child to sin. Also included in this category is not protesting against one or several peoples’ wrongful ways when one could have and thereby allowing them to err, and d) saying, "I'll sin now, then do teshuvah", as well as saying "I can sin and be atoned for by Yom Kippur".
2. Included in this category are five things that close one off to teshuvah beforehand. And they are: a) separating oneself from the community, because when such a person would eventually do teshuvah he would not then be a part of the community and would consequently not share in its accrued merits, b) arguing with the words of the sages, because doing so causes one to separate from them and prevents him from knowing the ways of teshuvah, c) mocking the mitzvot, because if they’re ludicrous in a person's eyes he neither pursues them nor performs them; and if he does not perform them, with what will he ever accrue merit?, d) mocking one's teachers, because doing that
causes a person to reject and dismiss them as Gechazi [who was Elisha’s student] did, for one cannot find a teacher or guide onto the path of truth when he dismisses them, e) hating reproach, because that denies one entrance onto the path of teshuvah as reproach leads to teshuvah, for when a person is told about his sins and is embarrassed as a result he does teshuvah, as it’s written in the Torah: 'Remember and never forget how you angered G-d" (Deuteronomy 9:7), "You have been rebels" (Ibid.), "G-d has not given you heart to know" (Ibid. 29:3), "O foolish and unwise people" (Ibid. 32:6). Isaiah likewise reproached Israel by saying, 'You sinning nation!" (Isaiah1:4), "The ox knows its master ... but Israel does not know [its]" (Ibid. v.3), "I know that you are obstinate" [Ibid. 48:4]. For G-d commanded him to reproach sinners, as it’s said: “Call out from your throat and do not spare them!" (Ibid. 58:1). All the other prophets reproached Israel as well until they did teshuvah. In fact, a great and elder sage who has been G-d-fearing since his youth and beloved by all should be placed in each and every community to reproach it and bring it to teshuvah. But one who hates reproach would never come before such a person, and would consequently not hear out his words. He would continue sinning, instead, because his own actions would be acceptable to him.
3. Included in this category are five things which are impossible to do complete teshuvah for, as they are transgressions committed against another person he doesn’t know and hence can’t ask forgiveness from. They are: a) cursing the multitude, as opposed to cursing an individual in which case asking for forgiveness is possible, b) sharing part of a thief's booty, because one
never knows whose property he’s now holding, as the thief stole from several people and gave him a share [of the aggregate booty]; and also because he aided and abetted the thief and caused him to sin, c) finding a lost object and not advertising his findings in order for it to be returned to its owner, because he wouldn’t know whom to return the money to when he does teshuvah, d) eating food allotted to the oppressed and anonymous poor, and the orphaned or widowed who wander from town to town, as one can never know whose allotment he has taken from or whom to return it to, e) accepting a bribe that affects the outcome of a trial, as one never knows how far the ramifications of such an act may go -- which you would have to know to do teshuvah for it -- for these things have a life of their own; also because the guilty person exploited the one who bribed him and made him sin.
4. Included in this category are five things which one is not likely to do teshuvah for since they’re seen as being of minor importance, and because it appears to the guilty person that he wasn’t sinning. They are: a) partaking of a meal that’s barely enough for the person offering it which is a type of theft, and thinking that’s not a sin, assuming he "ate with his host’s permission", b) making use of a poor man's collateral, even if it’s only [something common and inexpensive like] a hatchet or a plow, and saying: "He won't miss it. And it's not like I'm stealing it", c) staring pruriently at nudity, thinking doing that isn’t serious and saying to oneself, "But have I had intercourse with her, or even drawn close to her?", not knowing that staring is itself a serious transgression because it fosters actual promiscuity. As it’s written: "Do not follow after your own heart or eyes" (Numbers 15:39), d) using another's
personal failings to one's own advantage, and thinking that that is not a sin because the person is not actually there at the time to be embarrassed or ashamed, and because the guilty person is only comparing his own good deeds or wisdom to the other's in order to let it be known that while he himself is praiseworthy, his victim is shameful, e) casting aspersions upon people with good reputations, not considering that a sin and reasoning, "But, what have I done? I've only aroused a suspicion He might have done it or he might not", for one who does that does not realize that suspecting a person with a good reputation of being a sinner is itself a sin.
5. Included in this category are five traits which those guilty of them are drawn toward all the time and which are very difficult to separate from, and so one must be especially wary of them lest he binds himself to them as they are very, very bad traits. They include: a) tale bearing, b) slandering, c) being hot tempered, d) having bad thoughts, and e) associating with wrongful people, because one then learns from their deeds and because they make an impression upon those consorting with them. Solomon referred to this when he said: "A companion of fools will come to harm" (Proverbs 13:20). We already wrote about how people should act in Hilchot De’ot ("The Laws of Traits"). What we said there is all the more so true for those who do teshuvah.
6. But while all these and other such things may inhibit teshuvah, they cannot prevent it. For if one does teshuvah for them, he is deemed one who has truly repented and has a portion in the World to Come.
1. Everyone has been granted the capacity to either incline himself in the direction of goodness and to be righteous, or, if he so chooses, to incline himself in the direction of wrongfulness and be wrongful. That’s what the Torah is referring to when it says: "Behold, man has become like one of us, knowing right from wrong" (Genesis 3:22). That means to say that the human species is unique in the world and unlike any other as far as this is concerned. In that man, of his own volition, consciously and with his own mind, can distinguish between right and wrong, and can do whatever he wants to do, either good or bad, without anyone stopping him. Since that’s so, [the fear was that] "he might extend his hand and take from the Tree of Life as well, eat from it, and live forever"(Ibid.).
2. Don’t think that G-d decrees at birth whether a person is to be righteous or wrongful, as some Gentile fools and most Jewish simpletons believe. That simply isn’t so. In truth, everyone is capable of being as righteous as Moses or as wicked as Jereboam [see 1 Kings 11:26-14:20]; wise or obtuse; compassionate or cruel; miserly or generous, or any other [personality] type. No one forces, decrees or draws a person in either direction. He alone, of his own volition consciously inclines himself in the direction he so chooses. Jeremiah referred to that when he said: "Goodness and wrongfulness do not emit from the mouth of the Most High" (Lamentations 3:38) which is to say that G-d doesn’t decree whether a person is to be righteous or wrongful.
That being so it follows that the sinner alone brings harm upon himself, so it’s only right that he should weep and lament for his sins, and for what he has done to his soul and for all the harm he has done it. That’s what the next verse's statement, "Why then does a living man complain ... for the punishment of his sins?" (Ibid. 3:39) was referring to. That’s to say, since the capacity to purposely do all sorts of wrong was granted us, it’s only right that we do teshuvah and abandon our sinful ways, for we were granted that capacity as well. And that’s why it’s written immediately afterward: "Let us search and investigate our ways, and return to G-d” (Ibid. 3:40).
3. This is a fundamental principle and the very foundation of Torah and mitzvot. As it’s written: "Behold I have placed before you this day life and goodness, death and wrongfulness" (Deuteronomy 30:15) and, "Behold, I have presented to you this day a blessing and a curse" (Ibid. 11:26). That means to say that everyone has been granted the capacity to do anything in the human sphere, right or wrong, he would like to. It’s for that reason that it’s written: "O that there was such a heart in them' (Deuteronomy 5:26) which weans to say that G-d neither forces nor decrees that a person do right or wrong -- that is left to him [alone].
4. Were G-d to decree that a person be righteous or wrongful, or if there was something that drew a person onto a particular path, way of thinking, trait or deed from birth as the astrologers foolishly imagine, how could we ever be charged by the prophets to either do something or refrain from doing it, or to improve our ways and not comply
with wrongfulness -- if it was all preordained from birth or if one's nature drove him toward something impossible to escape from? What role would there be for the Torah? How, within any sense of justice or fairness, could the wrongful ever be punished or the righteous rewarded? Does not the Judge of the universe act justly? Yet do not wonder and ask, "But, how could a person do anything he wants and be able to act any way he wants? Can anything in the world be done without the permission or against the will of the Creator? Isn’t it written: "All that G-d wants done in heaven or on earth is done" (Psalms 135:6)? Just know that everything is done according to His will, even though we can act any way we want. But how could that be? Just as G-d wills that fire and wind ascend, that water and earth descend, that the spheres spin about in a circle, and that the rest of nature acts as He wants it to, so too does He want man to be free and to have the ability to act any way he wants, without any deterrents or impetuses, but rather of his own G-d-given volition. And that’s why G-d judges man according to his actions, and acts beneficially to him when he’s good and detrimentally to him when he’s wrongful. That’s what the prophet [meant when he] said: "This has been your own doing" (Malachi 1:9), and "They, too, have chosen their own ways" (Isaiah 66:3). And as Solomon said about it: "Rejoice, young man, In your youth ... but know that G-d will bring you to Judgment for all these things" (Ecclesiastes11:9) which is to say, know that you have the ability to act, but that you’ll nonetheless have to account for your actions.
5. Perhaps you’ll then say, “Isn’t it true that G-d knows everything beforehand? [It follows then that] He’d either know if someone will be righteous or wrongful or He wouldn’t. [Accordingly,] if He knows that someone will be righteous, then that person can’t not be righteous, whereas if you claim that even if He knows a person will be righteous that person could be wrongful [anyway], then [you’re saying that] G-d wouldn’t have known something fully [from the first, which is absurd]”. Understand that the response to that is as boundless as the earth and as wide as the sea, and that many fundamental principles and lofty mountains are suspended upon it. But just know and understand what I’m about to tell you. As we explained in the second chapter of Hilchot Yesodei HaTorah ("Laws of the Foundations of Torah”), G-d doesn’t know with a knowledge that’s external to Him as does man, whose knowledge is separate from his being. G-d and His knowledge are one [and the same], which is something humankind can never fully understand. For just as we can never hope to fully understand G-d's Essence, as it’s written: "No man can see Me and yet live" (Exodus 33:20), so too can we never hope to fully understand or grasp G-d's knowledge. The prophet referred to this when he said: "For My thoughts are not your thoughts, and your ways are not My ways, says G-d" (Isaiah 55:8). Since this is so, we consequently don’t have the power to understand how G-d can know all created beings and their actions. But know without a doubt that man's actions are in his own hands, and that G-d neither impels nor decrees what he’s to do or not do. This is not only known by tradition but by lucid scientific proofs as well. That’s why we were told through prophecy that a
man is to be judged according to his good or wrongful deeds. And this is, in fact, the principle upon which all of prophecy is based.
1. There are many verses in the Torah and in the words of the Prophets that seem to contradict this principle [i.e., free will], and most people falter as a result. They come to believe that G-d decrees whether a person will act righteously or wrongfully and that man isn’t free to do what he wills. So I will now reveal a major principle that will help you understand those verses. When an individual or citizens of a nation sin of their own volition and free-will, as we have indicated, it’s only right that they should be punished. But only G-d knows how to mete out punishment. For there is punishment that justice demands be meted out in this world, either corporeally or monetarily, or against that person's young children (as one's minor children whose minds aren’t yet developed and who aren’t yet responsible for mitzvot are considered his possessions, as it’s written: "A man shall die of his sins" [Deuteronomy 24:16], which is to say, not until he becomes a “man” [i.e. adult]). Then there are sins that justice demands retribution for in the World to Come rather than in this one. And there are sins that demand retribution both in this world and in the World to Come.
2. But this is only so when the transgressors don’t do teshuvah. If they do, then teshuvah acts as a shield against retribution. For just as a person sins of his own volition and free-will, so too does he do teshuvah of his own volition and free-will.
3. Yet it is possible for someone to commit so heinous a sin or so many sins of his own volition and free-will that the True Judge would rule that the only fitting punishment would be to withhold teshuvah from him, and to not grant him permission to do teshuvah for his wrongfulness, so that he might die and be annihilated for his sins. G-d referred to that when He said through Isaiah: "Make the heart of this people fat, make their ears heavy, and cover over their eyes lest they see with their eyes, hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, do teshuvah and be healed" (Isaiah 6:10), as well as: "But they mocked the angels of G-d and despised His words, and scoffed at His prophets until G-d's wrath mounted against His people, and there came to be no remedy” (2 Chronicles 36:16). That’s to say that since they willingly sinned and rebelled so, they deserved to have teshuvah, the remedy, withheld from them. That’s also why it is written in the Torah: "And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart" (Exodus 4:21). That is, because he initially sinned of his own volition and brought harm upon the Jews who were living in his country (as it’s written, he said, "Come, let us deal wisely with them" [Ibid. 1:10]), it was decided that teshuvah was to be withheld from him so that he would be punished for that. And that is why G-d hardened his heart. But why would He have sent Moses to Pharaoh to tell him to free the people and to do teshuvah when He had already told Pharaoh that He knew he wouldn’t (as it’s written: "But as for you and your servants -- I know that you will not fear G-d the L-rd" [Exodus 9:30])? Because, "[In fact,] it is for this alone that I elevated you: to show you My power, and so that My name may be proclaimed throughout the land" (Ibid., 9:16), which is to say, to let everyone know that when G-d withholds teshuvah from a sinner, he cannot repent but must die as a result of the wrongfulness that he originally committed willfully.
So, too, in the case of Sichon [see Numbers 21:21-35]: it was necessary to withhold teshuvah from him because of the [serious] transgressions he committed, as it’s written: "For G-d the L-rd hardened his spirit and made his heart obstinate" (Deuteronomy 2:30); and in the case of the Canaanites, from whom teshuvah was withheld because of all the abominations they’d committed which lead to war with Israel, as it’s written: "For it was G-d who hardened their hearts, that they would come upon Israel in battle so He could destroy them" (Joshua 11:20); and in the case of Israel in the times of Elijah, when teshuvah was withheld from those who immersed themselves in various acts of rebellion, as it’s written: "You, G-d, have turned their hearts about" (1 Kings18:37) meaning to say, You’ve withheld teshuvah from them). It must be pointed out, however, that G-d did not decree that Pharaoh would harm Israel, that Sichon would sin in his country, that the Canaanites would act abominably, or that the Jews would serve idols: each individual transgressed on his own, and each deserved to have teshuvah withheld.
4. It’s in this spirit that the righteous and the prophets asked G-d in their prayers to help them along in the true path. As David said: "Teach me Your ways, G-d" (Psalms 86:11) which is to say: Don’t allow my sins to keep me back from the true path, that I might know Your ways and unify Your name. And as he also been said, "Sustain me with a willing spirit" (Ibid. 51:14) which is to say: Allow my spirit to fulfill Your wishes, and don’t have my sins withhold teshuvah from me; allow me to do teshuvah, and let me understand and know the true path. All other such verses should be understood in this manner as well.
5. What David meant when he said "G-d is good and just, so He guides sinners onto the path; He directs the humble in the ways of Justice" (Psalms 25:8-9) is that G-d dispatches prophets to sinners to let them know His ways and to bring them to teshuvah. He also means that G-d provides people with the capacity to learn and comprehend, because it’s only natural that when someone is drawn to wisdom and righteousness he’s more naturally attracted to it and pursues it. Our sages referred to this when they said: "One is helped, once he comes to purify himself" (Yoma 38b) which means to say that he’ll discover that he’s being helped along. Yet isn’t it written in the Torah: "Your seed will be strangers in a land not their own, and will serve [its inhabitants] who will afflict them" (Genesis 15:13), and doesn’t that seem to indicate that a decree was issued upon the Egyptians to harm the Jews? Isn’t it also written, "The people will rise up and prostitute themselves to the foreign G-ds of the land" (Deuteronomy 31:16), and doesn’t that seem to indicate that a decree was issued upon Israel to worship idols? So why should they be punished for it? [The answer is] because no one in particular was compelled to so prostitute himself. Each and every individual who prostituted himself for idolatry [like that] could have not done that if he’d so chosen. G-d was only depicting the situation of the world at that time. It was as if He were saying, "The nation will include righteous and wrongful people". Such a statement would never give the wrongful person the right to say he was compelled to do wrong because G-d let Moses know that there’d be wrongdoers within the nation. [In fact,] the verse: "There will never cease to be poor in the midst of the land" (Deuteronomy 15:11) was written in the same vein.
The same was true of the Egyptians: each and every Egyptian who harmed Israel was given the capacity to not do harm if he so chose; no one in particular was so compelled. G-d was simply letting Abraham know that ultimately his descendants were going to be servants in a land not their own. [It’s] also [true that] we haven’t the capacity to comprehend how G-d knows the future, as we already stated.
1. Since, as we explained, man was granted the capacity to do so, he should strive to do teshuvah, verbally confess his sins and reject them all, so that he might die having done teshuvah and merit life in the World to Come.
2. A person should always consider himself to be on the brink of death, and realize that if he were to die at that moment he would still be guilty of sins. So he should consequently do teshuvah immediately rather than say “I’ll do teshuvah when I get older” for he might die before then. That’s what Solomon meant when he said in his wisdom, "Let your clothing always be white" (Ecclesiastes 9:8).
3. Don’t think that one should do teshuvah for transgressions that involve [concrete] actions like promiscuity, robbery, or theft, alone. For just as a person has to do teshuvah for them, he also has to determine his bad traits and do teshuvah for those like anger, hostility, envy, sarcasm, the pursuit of wealth or glory, excessive eating, etc., because these, too, require teshuvah. For those sins are even more serious than the ones involving [concrete] actions. Because when a person is steeped in them, it’s very difficult for him to relinquish them. As it is said, "Let a wrongdoer abandon his ways, a transgressor his thoughts" (Isaiah 55:7).
4. One who has done teshuvah shouldn’t consider himself beneath a righteous person as a result of his past transgressions and sins. That’s not so, for he‘s just as beloved
and as desired by G-d as if he’d never sinned. Not only that, but he also enjoys a great merit for he has tasted sin, forsaken it and conquered his yetzer harah. As our sages said: "[Even] a completely righteous person cannot stand where those who have done teshuvah stand" (Berachot 34b), which is to say that such a person's worth is even greater than those who never transgressed, because he has conquered his yetzer harah to a greater extent than they.
5. Each and every one of the prophets enjoined us to do teshuvah. Because it is only through teshuvah that Israel will be redeemed. In fact, the Torah assured us that at the conclusion of the exile Israel will do teshuvah, and will consequently be redeemed immediately. As it’s written: "And it will be when all these things come upon you, the blessing and the curse that I have set before you, that you will consider [yourselves]in your heart [as you dwell] among all the nations where G-d your L-rd has banished you. And you will return to G-d your L-rd with all your heart and all your soul, and you will listen to His voice according to all that I am commanding you this day, you and your children. Then G-d your L-rd will bring back your exiles and will have mercy upon you. And He will once again gather you from all the nations where G-d your L-rd, had dispersed you" (Deuteronomy 30:1-3).
6. Teshuvah is great because it brings a person closer to the Divine Presence. As it’s written: "Return, O Israel, to G-d your L-rd" (Hosea 14:2); "You have not yet returned to Me, says G-d" (Amos 4:6); and, "If you will do teshuvah, Israel, you will return to Me" (Jeremiah 4:1) which is to say, do teshuvah and you’ll cling to Me. And teshuvah brings
those distant from G-d closer to Him -- whereas just recently they were repulsive to G-d, despicable, far removed and abominable, they’re now beloved and desired, close and intimate. In fact, G-d uses the same terms to reject the sinful that He uses to draw those who do teshuvah closer, either individuals or the multitude. As it’s written: "And it will be that in the very same place where it will be said ‘You are not my people’ it will be said, 'You are the sons of the living G-d’" (Hosea 2:1). As it was said of Yachinyahu in his wickedness: "Depict this man as childless, as one who won’t prosper in his days" (Jeremiah 22:30) as well as, "Though Chinyahu the son of Yehoyakim, King of Yehudah, was the very signet on my right hand, I would yet tear him off from it" (Jeremiah 22:24); and yet when he eventually returned from his exile, it was said of Zerrubavel, his son: "On that day, says the L-rd of Hosts, I will take you, Zerrubavel, my servant, the son of Shealtiel, says G-d, and make you as a signet ring" (Hagai 2:23).
7. How outstanding teshuvah is! The very person who, just recently, was completely separated from the G-d of Israel, as it’s written: "Your transgressions have separated you from your G-d" (Isaiah 59:21); who would cry out and go unheeded, as it is written: "Though you will pray a lot, I will not listen' (Ibid. 1:15); who would do mitzvot, and have them rent from him, as it’s written: "Who asked this of you -- that you trample My courtyard?" [Ibid. 12], and "Would that there was one among you who would shut the doors so that you could not ignite a fire on My altar for no reason" [Malachi 1:10]) -- is today attached to the Divine Presence, as it’s written: "All of you who have attached yourselves to G-d your L-rd are alive today" (Deuteronomy 4:4); his cries are answered
immediately, as it is written: "I will respond to you even before you call to Me" (Isaiah 65:24); his mitzvot are received easily and gladly, as it’s written: "G-d already desires your actions" (Ecclesiastes 9:71), and even yearned for, as it’s written: "The sacrifices of Judah and Jerusalem are as sweet to G-d as they were in the days of old, and in antiquity" (Malachi 3:41).
8. Those who have done teshuvah are especially meek and humble. If fools were to harass them with their past by saying, "You used to do thus and such, and say thus and such", they wouldn’t care. They would hear them out and take solace in the knowledge that that all serves as a source of merit for them. For the more embarrassed and ashamed they are of their past deeds, the more meritorious and worthy are they. In fact, it‘s terribly sinful to say to one who has done teshuvah, "Remember what you used to do!”, to cite his actions to embarrass him, or to cite others' comparable deeds or circumstances in order to remind him of what he did. That is all forbidden. And we were cautioned not to do that within the context of verbal abuse, which the Torah warned us about by saying: “You must not abuse one another" (Leviticus 25:17).
1. The good that’s sequestered for the righteous is referred to as “life in the World to Come". It’s [a form of] life without death, [of] good without bad. It’s what the Torah was referring to when it said: "... that it may go well with you, and that you may have length of days" (Deuteronomy 22:7) which means according to the tradition, "... that it may go well with you" in a world that is all good, and "that you may have length of days" in a world that is everlasting, i.e., in the World to Come. This is the sort of delight and goodness that the righteous merit. The retribution the wrongful endure for their wrongdoing entails not meriting such a life and experiencing spiritual excision and death [instead]. One who doesn’t merit such a life will [simply] die as if never having lived, for he’ll be spiritually excised for his wrongfulness and will be undone like an animal. This spiritual excision is the one referred to in the verse [that reads]: "That soul will be utterly excised" (Numbers 15:31), which means according to the tradition, "that soul will be ... excised" in this world, "[and] utterly [so]", in the World to Come. That is, the soul that had been “excised” [i.e., cut off] from its body in this life will not merit life in the World to Come, which it will be excised from as well.
2. There’s no corporeality in the World to Come, only the bodiless, ministeringangel-like souls of the righteous. And since there’s no corporeality there, there’s neither eating nor drinking, nor anything else there that human physicality requires in this world. In fact, none of the physical things that occur in this world occur there: there’s no sitting,
standing, or sleeping; no death, sadness, amusement, or the like. As the early Sages put it: "There’s neither eating, drinking, nor intercourse in the World to Come. Rather, the righteous sit with crowns on their heads there and bask in G-d's Presence" (Berachot 17b). It’s thus clear that there’s no corporeality [there] by virtue of the fact that there’s no eating or drinking there. So when they say that the righteous "sit" there they mean to say allegorically that the souls of the righteous there are unburdened with effort or toil. And when they say that they sit "with crowns on their heads" the sages were referring to the righteous one’s mind’s "crown", their intellect, with which they merit life in the World to Come, and they are saying that it remains with them there. As Solomon put it: "look at King Solomon wearing the crown, the crown with which his mother crowned him" (Song of Songs 3:11), And as it’s written: "An everlasting joy will be upon their heads" (Isaiah 51:11), [meaning to say that] just as joy is an incorporeal thing that doesn’t sit on a head, so too does the "crown" that the Sages cited here refer to an incorporeal thing, which in to say, the mind. And what they mean when they say that the righteous "bask in G-d's Presence" is that they comprehend and grasp the truth of G-d to a degree which they could not have in a murky and lowly body.
3 The "soul" being referred to here in this context isn’t the [animating] spirit that the body needs, but rather the “form soul”, i.e., the mind with which one comprehends the Creator as much as he can, abstract entities, and other [such] things. It’s the “form” that we explained in the fourth chapter of Hilchot Yesodei HaTorah ("The Laws of the Foundations of Torah"). It’s what’s being cited here as the soul.
Such a life, because it is deathless, as death is only associated with corporeality, and there’s no corporeality there, is called a "bundle of life", as in "The soul of my lord will be bound in the bundle of life" (Samuel I 25:29). It‘s the greatest reward of all and the greatest instance of good, and it’s what all the prophets yearned for.
4. It’s called many things metaphorically, including: "G-d's mountain" (Psalms 24:3), 'The site of His holiness" (Ibid.), "The holy way” (Isaiah 35:8), "G-d's courtyard" (Psalms 92:14), "G-d's tent" (Ibid. 15:1), "G-d's pleasantness" (Ibid. 27:4), "G-d's palace" (Ibid. 5:8), "G-d's house" (Ibid.), and "G-d's gate" (Ibid. 118:20). Our sages metaphorically referred to the good awaiting the righteous there as a "meal”, but they invariably referred to it as the World to Come.
5. The ultimate form of retribution is excision of the soul from such a life and not allowing it to merit it, as it’s written, "That soul will be utterly excised" (Numbers 15:31). The prophets metaphorically referred to this annihilation as "the well of destruction", “ruination”, “the inferno” and “the leech”, each of which alludes to destruction and ruin in that it is a form of blight from which there’s no recovery, a form of damage for which there is never recompense.
6. Now, this goodness [that comprises the World to Come] might seem inconsequential to you, and you might imagine that the reward for fulfilling mitzvot and perfecting oneself in the ways of truth should involve enjoying good food and drink, having intercourse with attractive women, wearing purple embroidered clothes, living in
a house of ivory, using gold and silver utensils, and the like, as foolish and crass Arabs who are steeped in debauchery imagine [but you’d be wrong]. For as all wise and enlightened people know, those sorts of things are vacuous, empty and meaningless. And while there seems to be nothing better for us in this world than them, that’s because we’re corporeal and those sorts of thing satisfy our physical needs. The soul only craves and desires them because the body needs them to fulfill its wishes and to be healthy. But when there’ll no longer be a body, all these things will be done away with. The great good that the soul will encounter in the World to Come can in no way be fathomed or known in this world. For in this world, all we can conceive of is physical satisfaction, which we then yearn for. But that goodness [of the World to Come] is so exceedingly great that it can only be likened to the good things in this world metaphorically. For we can’t really compare the goodness that the soul will experience in the World to Come to the pleasures of this world like food and drink, which are unrelated. For that goodness is unfathomably and incomparably greater. And that’s what David was referring to when he said: "How great is Your goodness which you have hidden away for those who fear You” (Psalms 31:20).
7. And how David yearned and craved for the World to Come! As he said: "Were it not for my faith that I would see the goodness of G-d in the land of the living ....” (Psalms 27:13). The ancients already informed us that we don’t have the ability to fully grasp the goodness to be found in the World to Come; that only G-d Himself could ever know its
greatness, beauty or essential nature; and that all the goodness that the prophets foresaw for the Jewish Nation is merely the physical goodness they’ll enjoy in the days of the Messiah, when governance will return to the Jewish people. But the goodness of the World to Come is incomparable and unlike anything else. And the prophets purposefully didn’t evoke it so our impression of it wouldn’t be diminished. Hence Isaiah said: "For since the beginning of the world no one has heard, nor perceived by the ear, neither has the eye seen, O G-d, beside You, what He has prepared for him that await Him" (Isaiah 64:3), which is to say that it’s the sort of goodness that even the prophets themselves couldn’t envision that has been prepared by G-d for those who await Him. And as our sages put it: "The prophets only prophesied up to the days of the Messiah, but as to the World to Come, “neither has the eye seen, O G-d, beside You, what He has prepared for him that await Him” (Ibid.) (Berachot 34b).
8. Our sages didn’t refer to it as “the World to Come" because it doesn’t yet exist or because this world would eventually be destroyed and be replaced by it. That’s simply not so. The World to Come exists right now. As it’s written: "How great is Your goodness [right now, G-d], which You hid away for those who revere You" (Psalms 31:20). The only reason it’s called "the World to Come" is because it comes upon a person after life in this world which is experienced while in a body and a soul [together] and that occurs beforehand to all.
1. Since it’s known that the reward for observing mitzvot and the goodness we merit by following G-d's path for us as enunciated in the Torah is life in the World to Come, as it’s written: "... that it might be well with you and that your days may be lengthened" (Deuteronomy 22:7), and that the retribution to be meted out to the wrongful who abandon the ways of righteousness as enunciated in the Torah is spiritual excision, as it’s written: "That soul will be utterly excised and its transgression will remain with it" (Numbers 15:31) -- why then are we told throughout the Torah that if we obey [it] we’ll enjoy thus and such, and if we don’t, that thus and such will happen to us, all of which are this-worldly, like satiety or famine, war or peace, sovereignty or subjugation, settlement in the land or exile, success or failure, and all other such matters enunciated in the covenant? In fact, all of those things are true and will continue to be so: When we observe the mitzvot of the Torah, we enjoy all the goodness of this world and when we transgress we suffer all the bad cited. Yet, all that goodness isn’t the ultimate reward for observing the mitzvot nor are all those bad things the ultimate retributions for transgressing the mitzvot. The answer is that G-d gave us the Torah, which is a tree of life. And whoever follows what’s written in it and comes to understand it clearly and correctly will merit a life in the World to Come that corresponds to his deeds and wisdom. But we’re also promised by the Torah that if we observe it happily and with soulsatisfaction, and delve into its wisdom at all times, that all the things that would prevent
us from observing it like illness, war, famine, and the like, will be eliminated; and that G-d will bring upon us all the good things that would make us stronger yet in our Torahobservance like satiety, peace, prosperity, and the like, in order for us not to have to spend our days placating our bodily needs, but to be free instead to delve into wisdom and to fulfill the mitzvot that will earn us life in the World to Come. That’s why it’s said in the Torah after we’re promised all the good things of this world: "And it will be accorded us an act of righteousness because we were careful to observe it" (Deuteronomy 6:25). But the Torah is also letting us know that if we willfully abandon it and busy ourselves instead with the passing fancies of the day, which is alluded to in the verse: "And Yeshurun grew fat and scoffed" (Ibid. 32:15), that the True Judge will revoke all the goodness of this world which enabled us to scoff and will bring upon us all the bad things in order to prevent us from acquiring the World to Come, and so that we might be undone in our wrongfulness. The Torah referred to this when it said: "Because you did not serve G-d your L-rd happily and whole-heartedly for all the good, you will serve the enemies whom G-d Himself will send to you" (Ibid. 28:47-48). So the import of all of the blessings and curses enunciated there is accordingly that if you serve G-d happily and observe His ways He’ll bring all those blessings upon you and keep the curses away, in order for you to be free to pursue the wisdom of the Torah, to engage in its study, and to [consequently] merit life in the World to Come and enjoy the good of a world that is all good, as well as length of days in a world that is endless. You’ll consequently merit two worlds: a good life in this world which will then bring you to life in the World to Come. For if you don’t acquire wisdom or good deeds here, you’ll never
merit it, as it’s written: "There is neither deed, reckoning, knowledge, or wisdom in the nether-world" (Ecclesiastes 9:10). But if you abandon G-d and wallow in food, drink, promiscuity, and the like, He will bring all those curses upon you and withhold all the blessings. And your life will be so consumed with terror and fright that you’ll have neither the presence of mind nor the well-being to fulfill the mitzvot. As such, you’ll lose life in the World to Come and will have thus lost two worlds. For when a person is preoccupied in this world with illness, war and famine he neither engages in wisdom nor performs