Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Consequential actions - Reward and Punishment.

Hilchot Teshuvah in Rambam is a fascinating subject to learn. It is one of the places where we see the great Halachist and philosopher confront and blend smoothly the two components of Judaism: Thought and Practice. I have started learning it with two remarkable young men (teenagers) Shabbat afternoon and it is a great experience where I am forced to present it in a rational and cogent way. So I plan to post whenever I come up with a new insight.

ט [ד] אף על פי שהתשובה מכפרת על הכול, ועצמו של יום הכיפורים מכפר--יש עבירות שהן מתכפרין בשעתן, ויש עבירות שאין מתכפרין אלא לאחר זמן. כיצד: עבר אדם על מצות עשה שאין בה כרת, ועשה תשובה--אינו זז משם עד שמוחלין לו מיד, ובאלו נאמר "שובו בנים שובבים, ארפא משובותיכם" (ירמיהו ג,כב).
י עבר על מצות לא תעשה שאין בה כרת ולא מיתת בית דין, ועשה תשובה--תשובה תולה ויום הכיפורים מכפר, ובאלו נאמר "כי ביום הזה יכפר עליכם" (ויקרא טז,ל).
יא עבר על כרתות ומיתות בית דין, ועשה תשובה--תשובה ויום הכיפורים תולין, וייסורין הבאין עליו גומרין לו הכפרה, ולעולם אין מתכפר לו כפרה גמורה, עד שיבואו עליו ייסורין; ובאלו נאמר "ופקדתי בשבט, פשעם; ובנגעים עוונם" (תהילים פט,לג).
יב במה דברים אמורים, בשלא חילל את השם בעת שעבר. אבל המחלל את השם--אף על פי שעשה תשובה והגיע יום הכיפורים והוא עומד בתשובתו ובאו עליו ייסורין, אינו מתכפר לו כפרה גמורה עד שימות, אלא תשובה ויום הכיפורים וייסורין שלושתן תולין ומיתה מכפרת, שנאמר "ונגלה באוזניי, ה' צבאות: אם יכופר העוון הזה לכם, עד תמותון" (ישעיהו כב,יד).

(Hilchot Teshuvah 1:9-12)

I will translate/paraphrase (italicized) and intersperse with my comment and how I understood it (regular lettering in brackets).

Before I approach the text, I would like to preface it with a short discussion of the meaning of the word Kapparah in this context. Traditionally it is translated as forgiveness but it has a deeper meaning. We believe that our actions are consequential and every thing we do triggers a chain of events. Sometimes those events are beneficial at others counter productive and destructive. The magnitude of the consequences is what sets the relative value of our actions. In other words, certain actions that will bring a great change for the good or evil will be considered a great Mitzvah or a great Aveirah respectively. Punishment assigned to a transgression in the Torah is seen as a deterrent. The type of punishment the Torah metes out for a transgression represents the value it assigns to it based on the consequences it triggers; the greater the potential consequence, the greater the deterrent needed thus the greater the punishment. Forgiveness in a classical sense is hard to understand. Repentance may prevent one to repeat an Aveirah. What does it do to the consequences that were already triggered? How does repentance and forgiveness stop that? I believe that the word Kapparah refers to that. Its translation is to wipe away, in other words to wipe away the consequences of one’s action. The Torah is aware that no amount of repentance can stop something that is put in motion. However in certain situations as the perpetrator removes himself things tend to peter out by themselves. In other cases, they cannot be stopped but not repeating is a great step forward. At others, the removal of the perpetrator is the only thing that removes responsibility. He is no longer here to take responsibility. There cannot be full Kapparah – wiping away – of the act until things have run their course. (In some cases, the consequences may appear in later generations but that is another discussion).

Now we are ready to deal with the text[1].

9. Although repentance forgives for all [sins] as does Yom Kippur, some sins are forgiven [wiped away] immediately, others after a time. How is that? If a person transgresses on a positive commandment that does not have the punishment of Caret and he repents, he is forgiven immediately as it says: Return backsliding children, I will heal your backsliding.

[Generally, not performing positive commandments is not punishable as deterrence is not applicable. Inaction may be detrimental but the consequences are neither something measurable nor inevitable. Thus, repentance is seen as the end and no consequences are expected further. They are forgiven immediately. (Note the word Mochalin instead of Mechaperim – there is no need for wiping away – just forgiving).

Some positive commandments if not kept interfere with the person’s development. It prevents him from growing in awareness of God. The consequence is Caret; the part of the person that gets in touch with divinity, what we call soul dies without reaching its potential. These also affect others such as family, friends and so on. Immediate forgiveness cannot happen. Immediate forgiveness is not an option until; all the consequences have run their course as we will see further.]

10. If a person transgresses a negative commandment that is not punishable by either Caret or the death penalty by a Beit Din, repentance suspends [I understand that to mean that in cases where the perpetrators’ active participation affects the outcome, his stopping now, reduces the effects] and Yom Kippur forgives. [Wipes out – in other words the consequences have a short duration]. As it says, “for on this day shall atonement be made for you.”

[I have to admit that I still need to work on how to understand how YK, a set date, can stop consequences. In the same vein, I have to address the problem of the Azazel goat forgiving even without repentance on certain transgressions as discussed in an earlier Halacha. I plan to talk about this in a separate post; in the meantime see MN 3:46.]

11. If a person transgresses [sins] that have Caret or death penalty and repents – repentance and Yom Kippur suspends and the sufferings that he endures complete the forgiveness [wiping off]. That person is not forgiven until he suffers. [As I understand it, once an act has triggered a consequence it cannot be stopped. Repetition can be avoided but one cannot pull back an effect that is already in the making. That person must therefore first suffer the consequences of his act. Based on the severity of the punishment, this type of sin must have triggered effects that cannot be stopped.] On these, it is said “then will I visit their transgression with the rod and their iniquity with strokes”. [The proof text is telling. David’s children sin, their actions have destructive consequences, but ultimately David’s dynasty will prevail.]

12. All this applies when there was no Chilul Hashem. [Profanation of God’s name occurs when there are spectators to the transgressions and they are therefore presumably influenced.] However, one who profanes God’s name, even after repenting, Yom Kippur has arrived while he is in a state of repentance and he is suffering the consequences of his actions, his sin is not wiped away completely until he dies. [The influence on others can never be wiped away with his personal repentance. After death, there is no further responsibility.] For Chilul Hashem the three, repentance, Yom Kippur and suffering suspends [as explained before no further new consequences as he repented but those already in motion cannot be stopped] and death brings total forgiveness as it says: “And the LORD of hosts revealed Himself in mine ears: Surely this iniquity shall not be expiated by you till ye die”.

This reading of Rambam fits with his general understanding of reward and punishment and they would be too many to quote here. Just a short quote from his introduction to Perek Chelek which I will not translate (now, maybe in another post):

פירוש המשנה לרמב"ם מסכת סנהדרין פרק י משנה א

וכל מי ששקע בתענוגות הגופניות והזניח את האמת והעדיף את השוא נכרת מאותו השגב, וישאר חומר מוכרת בלבד, וכבר ביאר הנביא שהעולם הבא אינו נישג בחושים הגופניים והוא אמרו עין לא ראתה אלהים זולתיך יעשה למחכה לו, ואמרו בפירוש דבר זה כל הנביאים כולם לא נתנבאו אלא לימות המשיח אבל העולם הבא עין לא ראתה אלהים זולתיך. אלב ההבטחות והפכן האמורים בתורה ענינן כמו שאבאר לך, וכך הוא, שהוא אומר לך אם תקיים את המצות הללו אעזרך על קיומן והשלמות בהן, ואסלק מעליך כל המעצורים לפי שאי אפשר לאדם לעבוד [את ה'] לא חולה ולא רעב ולא צמא ולא במצב של מלחמה, ולכן הבטיח בהסרת כל אלה ושיהיו בריאים ושלוים כדי שתשלם להם הידיעה ויזכו לחיי העולם הבא. נמצא שאין תכלית התורה שתדשן האדמה ויאריכו ימים ויבריאו הגופות, אלא ייעזרו על קיומה בכל הדברים הללו. וכן אם עברו יהיה עונשם שיבואו עליהם כל אותם המעצורים עד שלא יוכלו לעשות טוב וכמו שאמר תחת אשר לא עבדת את ה' וכו'. וכאשר תתבונן התבוננות נפלאה זו תמצא שהוא כאלו אמר אם עשית מקצת אלו המצות באהבה וחריצות אעזרך על כולם בהסירי מעליך כל העוצרים והמעכבים, ואם הזנחת מהם מקצתם מתוך זלזול אביא עליך מעכבים שיעכבוך מכולם עד שלא תשיג שלמות ולא קיום, וזהו ענין אמרם עליהם השלום שכר מצוה מצוה ושכר עברה עברה.

[1] This Halacha is almost verbatim the Gemara Yoma 86a.

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