Forgive me once… * A Talmudic lesson of forgiveness learned by a licentious hedonist. * The transformative power of t’shuva, returning to Hashem. * On Tanya for 29 Tammuz.
by Bing AI
In today’s lesson in Tanya, the Alter Rebbe addresses the concept of forgiveness and how it relates to both human beings and God. The Alter Rebbe begins by questioning the notion of humans being expected to forgive instantly. If forgiveness is a quality attributed to God, then how can mortals be expected to possess the same attribute?
The Alter Rebbe explains that when it comes to forgiveness in the mortal world, it becomes increasingly difficult for one person to grant pardon if the same offense is repeated. However, in the case of God, there is no difference between forgiving once or forgiving a thousand times. God's forgiveness is not limited or finite; it is infinite. Divine attributes, such as mercy, are boundless.
The Alter Rebbe refers to the verse "For His mercies have not ended" to illustrate the infinite nature of God's attributes. In the realm of infinity, there is no distinction between a small number of sins and a large number of sins. All are considered insignificant before God, who makes equal the small and the great.
Those who genuinely seek repentance are granted assistance from Above. The Alter Rebbe emphasizes that the prayers for forgiveness are preceded by a plea for perfect repentance and a commitment to avoid returning to folly and sin. This demonstrates a sincere desire for change and ensures that the opportunity for repentance is abundantly granted.
FROM LICENTIOUS TO REDEMPTION
Consider the Talmudic story about the sincere repentance of Elazar ben Dordaya: Rabbi Elazar ben Dordaya (before achieving the title Rabbi) was known to have engaged in licentious behavior. Once, he heard that there was a certain prostitute in a distant place who would accept a purse filled with a substantial amount of money as her fee. He took a purse filled with dinars and went to her. As he was with her, she happened to pass gas, and said: Just as this gas will not return to its place, so too Rabbi Elazar ben Dordaya will not be received with teshuva (repentance).
Rabbi Elazar ben Dordaya was overwhelmed by remorse. He went and sat between two mountains and hills, and said: Mountains and hills, pray for mercy on my behalf. They replied: Before we pray for mercy on your behalf, we must pray for mercy on our own behalf, as it is stated: “For the mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed” (Isaiah 54:10).
Rabbi Elazar ben Dordaya then said: Heaven and earth, plead for mercy on my behalf. They replied: Before we plead for mercy on your behalf, we must plead for mercy on our own behalf, as it is stated: “For the heavens shall vanish away like smoke, and the earth shall wax old like a garment” (Isaiah 51:6).
Rabbi Elazar ben Dordaya then said: Sun and moon, plead for mercy on my behalf. They replied: Before we plead for mercy on your behalf, we must plead for mercy on our own behalf, as it is stated: “Then the moon shall be confounded, and the sun ashamed” (Isaiah 24:23).
Rabbi Elazar ben Dordaya then said: Stars and constellations, plead for mercy on my behalf. They replied: Before we plead for mercy on your behalf, we must plead for mercy on our own behalf, as it is stated: “And all the host of heaven shall be dissolved, and the heavens shall be rolled together as a scroll” (Isaiah 34:4).
Rabbi Elazar ben Dordaya then said: This matter depends solely on me. He placed his head between his knees and cried aloud until his soul departed from his body. A Divine Voice emerged and proclaimed: Rabbi Elazar ben Dordaya is destined for life in the World-to-Come. (Avodah Zarah 17a)
This story teaches us about the power of taking responsibility for our actions and seeking forgiveness directly from G-d. Rabbi Elazar ben Dordaya realized that he could not rely on intercession from others but had to take responsibility for his actions and seek forgiveness directly from G-d. Through his intense crying and repentance, he was able to achieve redemption.