Thursday, January 10, 2013

Pharaoh's Impenetrable Heart.

Hashem hardened Pharaoh's heart so that he would not do teshuva and release the Bnei Yisrael.  This is stated several times.  In Shemos see 3:19, ואני ידעתי כי לא יתן אתכם מלך מצרים להלך ולא ביד חזקה, in Va'eira see 7:3 ואני אקשה את לב פרעה, and in Bo, 11:1, כי אני הכבדתי את לבו. From the emphasis and the repeated explanation that it was Hashem's desire to show the world how mighty Egypt would be like a plaything to Hashem, one might think that this was a singularity, a event exclusive to that one place and time.  It is not.  The ability to do Teshuva has been taken away from other people as well and continues to be a possibility.

I don't mean to provide excuses for people that want to fool themselves into thinking they can't do teshuva.  This only happens to highly accomplished resha'im.  If  you're not a world-class achiever in something else, you probably aren't a world-class Rasha either.  To emphasize this, here is something from the Brisker Rov, (quoted by Rav Shlomo Wahrman, author of שארית יוסף and Rosh Yeshiva of Hebrew Academy of Nassau County,) in HaPardes year Year 62 number 1, 1987, to the effect that even an Amaleiki can do teshuva.

 שמעתי מהגרי״ז מבריסק דתשובה מועלת גם לעמלקים דהרי בשמואל א׳ פט״ו כתיב לך והחרמת את החטאים את עמלק
 דמבואר דהוא רק בזמן שחוטאים משא״כ כשעושים תשובה דשוב אי״ז חטאים וכדאמרה ברוריא דביתהו דר״מ בברכות (י.) עה׳׳פ יתמו חטאים מי כתיב חוטאים חטאים כתיב וכוי אלא בעי רחמי עלויהו דלהדרו בתשובה ורשעים עוד אינם.

So no matter how bad you are, unless you are worse than an Amaleiki you certainly can do teshuva.  And let's not forget Gittin 57b, 
נעמן גר תושב היה נבוזראדן גר צדק היה מבני בניו של המן למדו תורה בבני ברק מבני בניו של סיסרא למדו תינוקות בירושלים מבני בניו של סנחריב למדו תורה ברבים מאן אינון שמעיה ואבטליון
But there are people who do lose access to Teshuva.  First, the Rambam:   (6 Teshuva 3)

ואפשר שיחטא אדם חטא גדול או חטאים רבים עד שיתן הדין לפני דיין האמת שיהא הפרעון מזה החוטא על חטאים אלו שעשה ברצונו ומדעתו שמונעין ממנו התשובה ואין מניחין לו רשות לשוב מרשעו כדי שימות ויאבד בחטאו שיעשה. הוא שהקב"ה אמר על ידי ישעיהו השמן לב העם הזה וגו'. וכן הוא אומר ויהיו מלעיבים במלאכי האלהים ובוזים דבריו ומתעתעים בנביאיו עד עלות חמת ה' בעמו עד לאין מרפא. כלומר חטאו ברצונם והרבו לפשוע עד שנתחייבו למנוע מהן התשובה שהיא המרפא. לפיכך כתוב בתורה ואני אחזק את לב פרעה. לפי שחטא מעצמו תחלה והרע לישראל הגרים בארצו שנאמר הבה נתחכמה לו. נתן הדין למנוע התשובה ממנו עד שנפרע ממנו. לפיכך חזק הקב"ה את לבו. ולמה היה שולח לו ביד משה ואומר שלח ועשה תשובה וכבר אמר לו הקב"ה אין אתה משלח שנאמר ואתה ועבדיך ידעתי וגו' ואולם בעבור זאת העמדתיך. כדי להודיע לבאי העולם שבזמן שמונע הקב"ה התשובה לחוטא אינו יכול לשוב אלא ימות ברשעו שעשה בתחילה ברצונו. וכן סיחון לפי עונות שהיו לו נתחייב למונעו מן התשובה שנאמר כי הקשה ה' אלהיך את רוחו ואמץ את לבבו. וכן הכנענים לפי תועבותיהן מנע מהן התשובה עד שעשו מלחמה עם ישראל. שנאמר כי מאת ה' היתה לחזק את לבם לקראת המלחמה עם ישראל למען החרימם. וכן ישראל בימי אליהו לפי שהרבו לפשוע מנע מאותן המרבים לפשוע תשובה שנאמר ואתה הסבות את לבם אחורנית כלומר מנעת מהן התשובה. נמצאת אומר שלא גזר האל על פרעה להרע לישראל. ולא על סיחון לחטוא בארצו. ולא על הכנענים להתעיב. ולא על ישראל לעבוד עכו"ם אלא כולן חטאו מעצמן וכולן נתחייבו למנוע מהן התשובה:

מונעין ממנו התשובה ואין מניחין לו רשות לשוב מרשעו.  That means "they withhold Teshuva from him and do not let him turn away from his wickedness."

Then, Reb Yisrael Salanter:

Reb Yisrael Salanter says that in the case of a regular person, Hashem seeks his Teshuva.  But a person might fall to a point where Hashem no longer seeks his Teshuva, and even if he makes tentative steps towards teshuva he will receive no divine assistance.  Then there is the very worst possible level, where not only does he receive no assistance or encouragement, but even if he manages to push himself to try to do teshuva, Hashem makes it impossible for him to follow through.  Teshuva does not exist in this person's world.  (I'm not sure if that means that he can't do Teshuva, or if it means that even if he does Teshuva Shleimah, it will not be accepted.  After all, from Middas Hadin, Teshuva is impossible. 

Finally, I found it interesting that several Achronim (the Nesivos, Rav Bergman, and several others, with approximately the same approach) use this idea to explain the discussion between Reb Meir and Bruria in Brachos 10a.  Reb Meir held that since they were beyond teshuva, there was no point in their living, and they would be better off dead, to avoid further sins, and the world would be better without them.  Bruria taineh'd that the inability, or the loss of siyata dishmaya to do teshuva is an onesh, and for onshim you can be mispallel.  So she told Reb Meir to daven that their onesh of "no access to Teshuva" should be removed, and then maybe they could be mashpia on them to do teshuva.   Or it could be they were arguing about whether they were on level two or three of Reb Yisrael Salanter's chart.  Neither pshat, I'm sorry to say, clicks in the words of Reb Meir or Bruria.  Also, I find it hard to believe that Reb Meir had any way of knowing that they were already on the madreiga of Ein Maspikin, because then the Tzadikim of Yerushalayim who weren't mochi'ach the resha'im (Shabbos 55a) would have the same excuse.  There are those that want to support this pshat by saying that Reb Meir recognized the syndrome from the fact that all his efforts to be mekareiv them, and their being unaffected by the proximity of such an Adam Gadol, so it must be that they are beyond hope.  Sorry, not convinced.   But it's a nice pshat anyway, because even if it's not a valid interpretation of the conversation between Reb Meir and Bruria, the idea that even a person from whom Teshuva has been taken away has hope, the hope that through Tefilla his access to Teshuva will be restored.

NOTE:  in the comments, Reb Micha Berger presents a formidable argument to the effect that it is incorrect to characterize the Kappara of Teshuva as being l'maala miderech hateva.  Please see there, where I cite  Rabbeinu Bachay and the Shla'h (partially cited in the notes in the Kad Hakemach and more fully in my comment) and Reb Micha's response and citations.
Reb Micha has since posted on this question at his Aish Das website, writing, as always, with serious thought and care.
 On that topic, here's a nice video about the human ability to change.


  1. So what's the problem with being מקבל גרים from עמלק?

  2. I guess he holds that when the Rambam 12 Isurei Biyah 17 says כל הגוים כולם can be taken as Geirim he means to include Amaleik.

  3. Hard to apply that Rambam, because בא סנחריב; however the one in Sanhedrin 18:6 seems to be dispositive.

  4. When you say "from Middas Hadin, Teshuva is impossible" I think this would have to refer to natural law, not moral law. After all, true teshuvah is the creation of something new in the soul, something different than what the soul was.

    But on the plane of moral law... Hashem judged Yishma'el "ba'asher hu sham -- as he was there", as we hear in the Torah reading for the first day of Rosh haShanah (Bereishis 21:17) Divine Justice is not in terms of what the person did in the past, but who he is in the present. And teshuvah does change that. The baal teshuvah is getting what he deserves (by this standard), after this miraculous transformation.

    Similarly, the book in the metaphor "vekhol maasekha basefer nikhtavim -- and all your actions are written in the book" is probably a reference to one's own soul. Actions change "ba'asher hu sham", which in turn changes how he is judged.

    And so, teshuvah is a middas haRachamim insertion into a middas haDin process. The outcome is din, the possibility of reaching that outcome required Rachamim. "Rachamim shebaDin."

    So, I would take RYS Salanter as saying that Hashem does not assist with this miracle in allowing teshuvah to happen for the truly evil. But why not? "Lo chafotz bemos hameis, ki im beshuvo midarko vechayah -- [Hashem] does not desire the death of the dead, but that he return [does teshuvhah] from his way and live." Hashem Himself prefers teshuvah.

    I think (RYS doesn't say or imply the following, it's just my conjecture to resolve his statement with that quote) that we are referring to the rasha who so internalized his evil that such a change would be a change in the person's essence, not some incidental attribute. Par'oh couldn't do teshuvah because at that point, a post-teshuvah person wouldn't be Par'oh anymore.

    (Personally, I prefer the Ramban's approach to "hichzaqti es libo" and "hikhbadti es libo".)

  5. Hi, Micha.
    See Rabbeinu B's Kad Hakemach,

    and the Shlah,where he quotes his father in the Emek Bracha who says
    שורת הדין היה נותן מי שחטא לאדון הכל אין לו מחילה עולמית אפי׳ בתשובה גמורה כמאמר הנביא במה אקדם.... וכמ"ש רז"ל במדרש שאלו לחכמה חוטא מה ענשו אמרה חטאים תרדוף רעה שאלו לנבואה חוטא מה ענשו אמרה הנפש החוטאת היא תמות וכו' עד שאלו להקב"ה חוטא מה ענשו אמר יעשה תשובה ויתוד' ויתכפר.... הנך רואה כי
    •!החכמה האנושית והמדריגה הנבואית לא גזרו בחוטא שוס תיקון כלל .... כי באמת התשובה אין לה מקום לפי שורת הדין והשכל אבל הוא דרך חסד

    I will say, however, that your distinction between natural law and moral law provide an interesting way to read what they are saying. Though I'm not sure that Rachamim/Chesed could be characterized as law of any sort. They seem to be fundamentally and inherently non-law.

  6. I was distinguishing between two kinds of din.... The E-lokim of Bereishis pereq 1 refers to Hashem as author of natural law. The E-lokim of the H' E-lokim in pereq 2 is the Author of moral law.

    Similarly in Shemoneh Esrei we make a distinction between E-lokeinu, Who wrote the rules everyone is subject to (natural law) and E-lokei Avoseinu, Who wrote the laws one has to elect to follow (moral law).

    But this is more a topic for a post on my blog than a comment raising a tangent on a post on yours...

    Back to what I was suggesting... A person's sins scar (R' Yonah, Ramchal, R' Chaim Volozhiner) or dirty (Ikkarim, Ran)his soul. This broken soul or soul that has a blockage from receiving Hashem's Good therefore suffers. (More on this perspective, including citations, in my 10 Yemei Teshuvah reader, pp 41-44.)

    So I was suggesting that teshuvah's violation of middas hadin is in this possibility to create new attitudes, yeish mei'ayin, in the soul. A violation of natural law, in which teshuvah shouldn't be possible. Teshuvah is thus beyond normal reason and prophetic consciousness.

    Once teshuvah is rendered possible (through middas harachamim), the person actually gets what the healed / cleaned soul deserves al pi midas hadin (moral law).

  7. When you do post, I will b'n link to your post. But, as I wrote in the post, I disagree with what you say, though I'm not sure if I'm disagreeing with the substance or the way you present it. I was taught that the entire concept that teshuva makes any difference at all is a special gift from the Ribono shel Olam, beyond rachamim. You can change yourself as much as you want, you can become a new man, a different person, and it won't make an iota of a difference.

  8. I have to add something.
    First of all, I am aware of all the drashos about recreating yourself into a new person. Doesn't do anything for me. You are your past and your present, and you can't erase the past. If a man is chayav missas beis din, and does teshuva such that the whole famalia shel maala is mei'id that he did teshuva, does it patter him from missas beis din? No, it does not.

    Second, people tell themselves all sorts of things. You can call yourself born again as much as you like, but you were born and you lived for a long time before your apotheosis. An overlay of change is just delusional nonsense almost all the time. Like Reb Yisrael Salanter said about the fire in the house- when he yells "Where's my son???" he means his natural but estranged son.

    Third thing: Let's grant that people can really change fundamentally. I smoked for forty years, and stopped two years ago. It was not easy. Having gone through it, I could do almost anything that requires discipline- I could lose as much weight as I want, I could stop breathing if I had to. But I didn't recreate myself. I just stopped doing what I had been doing. That doesn't make me a new man. That does not make me a new man. I makes me the same man that overcame a habit or behavior. That does not make me a new man.

  9. We do disagree. You're saying "... the entire concept that teshuva makes any difference at all is a special gift from the Ribono shel Olam, beyond rachamim."

    To cast what I'm saying to parallel wording: the entire concept that teshuvah is possibe is a special gift from the RSO, a large expression of His Rachamim.

    (I don't know what "beyond Rachamim" means. But I think the difference between "beyond" or "with much" Rachamim is nit-picking.)

    You ask: "You are your past and your present, and you can't erase the past. If a man is chayav missas beis din, and does teshuva such that the whole famalia shel maala is mei'id that he did teshuva, does it patter him from missas beis din? No, it does not."

    You are not your past. You WERE your past -- that's what makes it your past. You are shaped by your past, as the Chinukh puts it "Ha'adam nif'al lefi pe'ulosav." But the past is the past, not the present.

    Beis din shel matah and beis din shel ma'alah have different jobs. And for that matter, they judge different things. "Ba'asher hu sham" is said of HQBH, not man. People do not assess the health of a person's soul, they judge his actions.

    If a murderer who since did complete teshuvah is judged by beis din shel mata, the teshuvah makes no difference do them. They're judging actions. But if that person is truly as far from being capable of murder as the rest of us at the time of his death, and he dies without ever facing beis din, his judgment in beis din shel maalah does reflect that teshuvah. Because Hashem judges who he is -- ba'asher hu sham. Not actions.

    What places teshuvah beyond justice is not that the court looks at the healed soul differently than has he never done teshuvah. It's that we can change. That we can alter the trajectory of your life. Quitting smoking didn't "just" take a lot of will-power, it literally took a gift from the Almighty. And that gift is the rachamim associated with teshuvah.

    I presented what I thought was a compelling list of rishonim and acharonim who disagree with your last comment. You dismiss them as "derashos", although none of them were darshening -- these are sefarim presenting how the world works. Why not check the sources?

  10. Micha- I have to admit that I was approaching the conversation with an absolute unwillingness to consider changing my mind. I've always felt that the בריה חדשה concept has been overused and misapplied: True, a person can go from משוקץ ומתועב to אהוב נחמד, but that requires an absolute change of personality. גר שנתגייר כקטן שנולד דמי, but not stam a baal teshuva. Just because I changed a habit, or several habits, and even eliminated the hidden drives that motivated me to acquire those habits, doesn't change who I am.

    But I admit that my approach was an emotional one of obdurate refusal to consider reconsidering my opinion. I will, bl'n, try to examine the list of rishonim and achronim. Which list do you mean? In the Aseres Yemei Teshuva reader? Or in the comment about scars/stains?

  11. Wow, kudos on that cheshbon hanefesh! I wish I was that self-honest!

    Anyway, the list of sources named in the comment is the list of sources for which I have citations in the reader. I made have missed someone preparing the comment, maybe not.

  12. You added "in the comments, Reb Micha Berger argues that it is not completely true to say that from Midas Hadin Teshuva is impossible." That's not what I said, though.

    I said that from midas hadin, teshuvah is indeed not possible. It would actually defy the laws of nature and psychology.

    What I disagreed with was the notion that teshuvah causes an unfairly (in the sense of non-din) positive judgment. No, once the miracle occurs, the resulting person gets exactly what is fit for that person.

    The Rachamim is in the chance to do teshuvah, not in its outcome.

    So, midas hadin in terms of natural law is violated, but given that break, midas hadin in terms of G-d as Creator of justice is not.

  13. I posted. See

  14. Now that you've seen my post, do you understand what I'm trying to say in the comments here? Or do I need a revision?

    And if you did, are you willing to agree at least partially?

  15. Just for others to know, I sent Reb MIcha a private email on the topic. I expect the discussion to continue at his website.