Master of Repentance: There is No Gate that Tears Cannot Enter
“Seven things were created before the world was created: The Torah, repentance, the Garden of Eden, Hell, the Throne of Glory, the Temple, and the name of the Messiah…. תְשׁוּבָה (Teshuvah), repentance, as is written, Before mountains were spawned (Psalms 90:2), and it is written, You bring man back to the dust and say, שׁוּבוּ (shuvu), ‘Turn back, humankind’ (ibid., 3)” (BT Pesaḥim 54a).
“Rabbi Ḥama son of Ḥanina said: Great is repentance, for it brings healing to the world, as is said: I will heal their rebellion, I will love them freely (Hosea 14:5). Rabbi Ḥama son of Ḥanina raised [a difficulty]: It is written, Turn back, rebellious children (Jeremiah 3:22)—at first you were rebellious; and it is written, I will heal your rebellion (ibid.). This is not difficult: here out of love; there, out of fear.
Rav Yehudah raised [a difficulty]: It is written: Turn back, rebellious children—I will heal your rebellion, and it is written: For I have claimed possession of you and have taken you, one from a town and two from a clan, [and brought you to Zion] (ibid., 14). This is not difficult: Here out of love or fear; there, through suffering.
Rabbi Levi said: Great is repentance, for it reaches up to the Throne of Glory, as is said: Turn back, O Israel, to YHWH your God (Hosea 14:2). Rabbi Yoḥanan said: Great is repentance, for it overrides a prohibition of Torah, as is said: [And the word of YHWH came to me,] saying: Look, should a man send away his wife, and she go from him and become another man’s, can he go back to her again? Would not that land be wholly polluted? And you, you have whored with many lovers, and would you come back to Me? said YHWH (Jeremiah 3:1) [cf. Deuteronomy 24:4].
Rabbi Yonatan said: Great is repentance, because it brings about redemption, as is said, And a redeemer shall come to Zion, and to those who turn back from crime in Jacob (Isaiah 59:20). A redeemer shall come to Zion—why? Because of those who turn back from crime in Jacob. Resh Laqish said: Great is repentance, because through it rebellious deeds are counted as errors, as is said, Turn back, O Israel, to YHWH your God, for you have stumbled in your crime (Hosea 14:2). Crime—[surely] rebellious deeds, yet the prophet calls it ‘stumbling!’ Resh Laqish also said: Great is repentance, because through it rebellious deeds are counted as though they were merits, as is said, And when the wicked turns back from his wickedness and does justice and righteousness, for it he shall live (Ezekiel 33:19). This is not difficult: Here out of love; there, out of fear.
Rabbi Shemu’el son of Naḥmani said in the name of Rabbi Yonatan: Great is repentance, because it prolongs the [days and] years of man, as is said: And when the wicked man turns back from his wickedness that he has done and does justice and righteousness, he shall preserve himself in life (ibid. 18:27). Rabbi Yitsḥaq said: In the West [i.e., the land of Israel] they said in the name of Rabbah son of Mari: Come and see how different from the character of one of flesh and blood is the action of the blessed Holy One. As to the character of one of flesh and blood, if one angers his fellow, it is doubtful whether he will be appeased by him or not. And even if you would say, he can be appeased, it is doubtful whether he will be appeased by mere words. But with the blessed Holy One if a man commits a transgression in secret, He is appeased by mere words, as is said: Take words with you and turn back to YHWH (Hosea 14:3). And not only that: It is held by Him good, as is said: And take what is good (ibid.). And not only that: The verse ascribes to him as if he had offered up bulls, as is said: And we shall offer our speech instead of bulls (ibid.). Lest you say ‘obligatory bulls,’ it says: I will heal their rebellion, I will love them freely (ibid., 5).
It was taught: Rabbi Me’ir used to say, Great is repentance, for the entire world is forgiven on account of a single individual who repents, as is said: I will heal their rebellion, I will love them freely, for My wrath has turned back from him (Hosea 14:5). It does not say from them, but from him. What is בַּעַל תְּשׁוּבָה (ba’al teshuvah), a master of repentance, like? Rav Yehudah said: If the forbidden thing came to his hand a first time and a second time, and he escapes to the right in protest. Rav Yehudah [added]: With the same woman, at the same time, in the same place.
Rav Yehudah said: Rav raised [the following difficulties]: It is written: Happy, of sin forgiven, absolved of offense (Psalms 32:1); and it is also written: Who covers his crimes will not prosper, [but who admits and leaves off will be granted mercy] (Proverbs 28:13)? This is not difficult. Here, offenses that have become known; there, offenses that have not become known. Rav Zutra son of Toviah in the name of Rav Naḥman said: Here we speak of offenses committed by a man against his fellow, there of offenses committed by man against the Omnipresent.
It was taught: Rabbi Yose son of Yehudah said: If a man commits a transgression, the first, second and third time he is forgiven, the fourth time he is not forgiven, as is said: Thus said YHWH: For three trespasses of Israel, and for four, I will not turn it back (Amos 2:6); and it says: Look, all this God performs twice or thrice with a man, [to bring back his being from the Pit, to glow in the light of life] (Job 33:29). What is ‘and it says’ [i.e., why the additional proof text]? Lest you say this applies only to a community, but not to an individual. Come and hear: Look, all this God performs twice or thrice with a man.
Our Rabbis taught: As for the transgressions which one has confessed on one Yom Kippur, he should not confess them on another Yom Kippur; but if he repeated them, then he should confess them, on another Yom Kippur. And if he had not committed them again, yet confessed them again, of him is written: Like a dog going back to his vomit a dolt repeats his folly (Proverbs 26:11). Rabbi Eli’ezer son of Ya’aqov said: He is more praiseworthy, as is said: For my crimes I know, and my offense is before me always (Psalms 51:5). How then do I [explain], Like a dog going back to his vomit? In accord with Rav Huna, for Rav Huna said: Once a man has committed a transgression once and twice, it is permitted to him. ‘Permitted’—can it enter your mind that it is permitted to him?! Rather, it appears to him as if it were permitted.
One must confess the offense in detail, as is said, This people has committed a great offense, they have made themselves gods of gold (Exodus 32:31). These are the words of Rav Yehudah son of Bava. Rabbi Akiva said: [This is not necessary], as is said: Happy, of sin forgiven, absolved of offense. [Happy, the man to whom YHWH reckons no crime, in whose spirit is no deceit] (Psalms 32:1). Then why did Moses say: they have made themselves gods of gold? That accords with Rabbi Yannai, for Rabbi Yannai said [see BT Berakhot 32a]: Moses said before the blessed Holy One: Master of the Universe! [It is] the silver and gold that you gave to Israel in abundance, until they said: דַי (Dai), enough, [which] caused them to make gods of gold [a play on the name of a place called דִי זָהָב (di zahav), Di-Zahab (Deuteronomy 1:1)]” (BT Yoma 86a–b).
“Rabbi Yehudah said, ‘Everything in the world depends upon repentance and upon the prayer that one offers to the blessed Holy One—especially one who sheds tears in his prayer, for there is no gate that those tears cannot enter. What is written? She opened it and saw the child (Exodus 2:6). She opened—Shekhinah, who stands over Israel like a mother over her children, and She always opens in their defense. As soon as She opened she saw the child—a child of delight (Jeremiah 31:20), Israel, who sin before their King in everything and immediately turn back in repentance, crying before Him like a son before his father. What is written? And look, a boy crying! (Exodus 2:6)—once he cries, all evil decrees of the world are annulled. What is written? She had compassion on him—aroused in mercy for him, taking pity on him. She said, ‘This is one of the children of the Hebrews’ (ibid.)—not one of the children of the other nations, who are stiff-necked and hard-hearted. One of the children of the Hebrews—tender-hearted from their fathers and mothers, to return to their Lord. She called the child’s mother (Exodus 2:8)—who was weeping, as is written: A voice is heard on a height—wailing, bitter weeping—Rachel weeping for her children… (Jeremiah 31:14). He is crying, and the child’s mother is crying. Rabbi Yehudah said, ‘Of the time to come, what is written? With weeping they will come, and with consolations I will guide them (ibid., 9). What does this mean: With weeping they will come? By virtue of the weeping of the child’s mother, who is Rachel, they will come and be gathered in from exile” (Zohar 2:12b).
Thus says YHWH: A voice is heard in Ramah—wailing, bitter weeping—Rachel weeping for her children, refusing to be comforted for her children, because they are no more (Jeremiah 31:15).
“Rabbi Yehudah said, ‘Until the day that Shekhinah returns to that site together with the exiles of Israel, as is said: There is no hope for your future, declares YHWH: children will return to their land (Jeremiah 31:17). The blessed Holy One swore this oath to her, and as they return from exile, Israel are destined to stand by Rachel’s grave and weep there, just as she wept over Israel’s exile. So it is written: With weeping they will come (ibid., 9), and: There is reward for your labor (ibid., 16). At that moment, Rachel—who is by the road—is destined to rejoice along with Israel and Shekhinah, as the Companions have established” (Zohar 1:175a–b, cf. Bereshit Rabbah 82:10; Mekhilta, Pisḥa 14; BT Megillah 29a; Zohar 1:203a).