TESHUVA IN TANACH
Tanach is not meant to be a history book, but rather a blueprint for how we should be living our lives. The men and women who appear in the various books experienced things and set down certain ideas in order that we, their descendents, would learn from them. With this in mind, we will explore two sets of examples of teshuvah (repentance/return) found in Tanach and apply these examples to our definition of teshuvah.
In order to begin, we must have a definition of teshuvah itself. The standard work on this topic isRambam's Laws of Repentance found in his Yad HaChazakah. He sets down three stages of teshuvah: first, recognizing that one has committed a sin; second, admitting aloud that one has committed a sin; and finally, accepting that one will not do this sin again (see Laws of Repentance, 2:2).
The most obvious place to look for an example of teshuvah is where the first sin occurs. Living in the Garden of Eden, Adam and Chava were given two mitzvot, one positive and one negative. Each one had a consequence. First, the couple was obligated to populate the earth and rule over it (Bereishit 1: 28: "Pru u'rvu u'milu et ha'aretz v'kivshuha"). If followed correctly, this mitzva would result in a gender-equal partnership for all generations, as the verse continues, "Therefore a man will leave his father and his mother and cling to his wife, and they will be of one flesh." Man and woman are equal, jointly ruling over the land and everything in it (For more information on this concept, seeRav Yoseif Dov Soloveitchik's Lonely Man of Faith.). Second, Adam and Chava were given a negative commandment, namely that they were forbidden to eat from the Tree of Knowledge. Here the consequence of breaching this law was death (Bereishit 2:17: "U'me'etz hada'at tov va'ra lo tochal mimenu, ki b'yom achalcha minenu, mot tamut.")
After Adam and Chava ate from the Etz HaDa'at, they hid themselves from Hashem, apparently realizing they had done something wrong. When Hashem called out to Adam, asking, "Where are you?" (Bereishit 3:9), Hashem's intention was to give Adam an opportunity to admit what he had done wrong (see Rasag,Rashi, Radak), a key step in the teshuvah process. Unfortunately, the couple never admitted their sin. Instead, Adam blamed Chava, who in turn blamed the serpent.
What is interesting to note here is the range of punishments that Adam and Chava received. Throughout Tanach the major Rishonim have usually tried to discover a direct parallel between the crime and the punishment, a concept attributed to Hashem known as midda k'neged midda (literally, measure for measure). With a little delving, one can discover this relationship between Adam and Chava's sins and their punishments. Adam had been given the primary responsibility to rule over the land and everything in it, namely the plant and animal life. Instead, he let his desire for the fruit (plant) and the influence of the serpent (animal) overtake him, resulting in a total imbalance. Therefore, Adam's punishment would be that the land would now rule over him. Only through Adam's sweat and toil would the land produce anything of value, and, at the end of his life, Adam would be consumed by the land itself, both demonstrating that the land is in fact now stronger than Adam. [Note: According to Chizkuni, Adam's punishment was not death, despite the original warning, because he thought that he could trust Chava when she offered him the fruit, since Chava had been expressly given to him by Hashem to help him (ezer k'negdo).]
Chava's punishment was also measure for measure. By giving Adam the fruit, she influenced him negatively, rather than acting as an ezer k'negdo and equal partner. According to Rashi, Chava gave Adam the fruit because she realized she had done something wrong which would result in her death, and she did not want Adam to live on without her. Because she tried to dominate Adam, Chava was punished by losing her equal status to him. Instead, woman would now cling to and be dependent on man, who would rule over her (Bereishit 3:16 "v'el isheich t'shukateich, v'hu yimshol bach."). She would also have to endure difficulty in childbearing. Chizkuni connects the two punishments, stating that woman would have to submit sexually to man and subsequently bear children in a painful manner.
Obviously, Adam and Chava are not paradigms of teshuvah. They do not admit that they have done anything wrong even after they are punished. We note the post-script to this story, namely that Adam and Chava are then exiled from the Garden, because they can no longer be trusted not to eat from the Tree of Life (see Bereishit 4). Had they done proper teshuvah, it is possible that Hashem would have allowed them to continue living in the Garden.
The next example we will examine is the sin of Kayin. Kayin lived the punishment of his father, namely that he had to work the land in order to reap any benefits from it. After killing his brother, he was punished by being pushed away further than Adam had been. Kayin was sent into permanent exile, forced to wander forever. Initially, Kayin also did not admit his sin. However, in Kayin we see something resembling teshuva. After hearing his punishment, Kayin said, "My sin is too great to bear" (Bereishit 4:13 "gadol avoni mi'n'so"). This does not mean that Kayin felt his punishment was too harsh to endure, as Kayin used the word avoni. According to Ramban, Kayin was confessing to Hashem that his sin should not be forgiven, and that Kayin had no right to offer any sacrifice or prayer in his own defense. Kayin clearly recognized that he had done something wrong, although he did not expressly admit what that sin was. Because of his at least partial teshuva, Hashem gave Kayin a sign of protection so that in his eternal wanderings, he would not be killed.
We now turn to our second set of comparisons regarding teshuva. We will examine the sins of the first two kings of the Jewish people, Shaul and David. Each committed a personal sin and a national sin, and each received fitting punishments. How they reacted to their sins is the important lesson to be learned here.
Shaul committed two sins, each with different ramifications. First he committed a personal sin. The prophet Shmuel had commanded to him to go to an appointed place (Gilgal), wait for seven days, and offer a sacrifice with Shmuel when Shmuel would arrive, and Shmuel would then give Shaul further instructions (see Shmuel I 10: 8). This meeting occurred during the war when Shaul led the Jewish people to fight their indefatigable enemy, the Plishtim. After losing the first battle, Shaul went to Gilgal, waited for seven days, and offered the sacrifice without Shmuel present. When Shmuel chastised him, Shaul responded with several excuses, blaming the nation who was scattering, Shmuel who did not come on time, and the Plishtim who were regrouping for battle.
What is problematic here is that Shaul did not admit that he did anything wrong. Instead he blamed anyone and everyone, despite the fact that he was given a particular responsibility. There are two crucial problems with Shaul's actions in light of his status as the king: first, he was obligated to both assume responsibility on behalf of and to lead the nation (rather than blame them for his own wrongdoing); second, he was obligated to listen to the Navi, who was hierarchically greater in status. Shaul did neither of these things. However the sin itself did not affect the nation as a whole. Thus his punishment was personal, namely that his dynasty would end with him. While who is the king is certainly a national issue, Shaul's punishment did not directly affect the nation at that time, since he would continue to rule until his death.
Shaul's second sin was a national one. One of his first jobs as king was to destroy the nation of Amalek (see Sanhedrin 20b), "to kill man and woman, from baby to infant, from ox to sheep, from camel to donkey." (Shmuel I 15:3) The nation that had been the enemy of the Jewish people since the Exodus had to be destroyed completely, including seemingly defenseless children and animals. Shaul killed the nation, but he left alive Amalek's King Aggag, as well as the choicest of the animals with which to offer sacrifices. When confronted by Shmuel, Shaul again offered a range of excuses, blaming the nation for allowing the animals to live, saying that he did in fact listen to Hashem, and leaving Aggag alive according to what Hashem wanted. Only after eleven verses did Shaul finally admit, "I sinned" (Shmuel I 15:24 "chatati"). Now, however, it was too late. The punishment Shaul received from this sin had national ramifications, namely that he would no longer be king. Not destroying Amalek as instructed had national consequences, as this nefarious enemy would continue to hurt the Jews for generations to come (remember the Purim story). Thus, although Shaul attempted to do teshuva by saying the key word "I have sinned," it was too little too late.
Our final example of teshuva is that of David. He too committed two sins, one personal and one national. The first involved Bat-Sheva, a married woman with whom David had relations (Note: See Radak on Shmuel II 11:4, who states that it was common practice under David's reign for husbands to write their wives conditional divorces, lest they did not return from war, and Bat-Sheva's husband Uriah had written just such a divorce). David later sent Uriah to the front lines so that he would be killed, allowing David to marry the now pregnant Bat-Sheva.
From a purely textual perspective, this sin is heinous. The Navi Natan was then sent to David, but rather than giving him his punishment directly, Natan first told David a parable. In brief, he described a rich man, who had many sheep, and a poor man, who had one young lamb that he loved like a child. The rich man took the lamb of the poor man, rather than use his own stock to feed a guest. David reacted with anger, saying that this rich man deserved death for what he had done, and that he should pay the poor man four times in return. Natan then exclaimed that David was (the one represented by) the rich man, and that Hashem would punish his family for what David had done. Like Shaul, David admitted, "I have sinned," (Shmuel II 12:13), but he offered no excuses in his defense. Instead he accepted Hashem's will as just. When the child born to Bat-Sheva became deathly ill, David fasted, cried, and prayed that the child be spared, "because maybe Hashem would have mercy on the boy" (Shmuel II 12:22). However, once the child died, David accepted the punishment and moved on. We see here an example of a personal sin and a personal punishment, with David doing a complete teshuva.
The final sin to be examined here occurred at the end of David's reign. Throughout Tanach, when a leader would count the people, he would do so by having each person donate an object (usually money) and then count the object, rather than the individuals themselves (see for example Bamidbar 1). David decided to count the Jewish people through a normal headcount, and, despite his general Yoav's opposition, did so. Immediately upon hearing the number, David realized he had made a grave mistake, admitting his sin to Hashem (See Shmuel II 24:10). He realized that the sin was his alone, saying, "I made a foolish mistake" - niskalti (Note: This is the same word that Shmuel used when he came to Gilgal, but Shaul did NOT admit his mistake). As the king, he was solely responsible for the sin. Once the nation was punished, David continued to admit that he was exclusively at fault, "and these sheep, what did they do?" (Verse 17 -- Again note the linguistic connection between this and u'me kol hatzon of Shaul. See Shmuel I 15:14)
When the Navi Gad came to David with various options for punishment, David continued to rely on Hashem to help him. Verse 14 later became the beginning of the Tachanun prayer, one of begging and supplication, where we ask Hashem to forgive our sins. In fact the rest of Tachanun is also taken from David's writings (Tehillim 6), an additional proof that David was the paradigmatic character of teshuva.
Throughout this Chabura, we have examined different examples of teshuva. One's admission of wrongdoing is extremely difficult, as it forces him to recognize his own faults and fallibility. This is particularly important for a leader of the Jewish people, who is not omnipotent, but rather subservient to both Hashem and His messengers (i.e., prophets). Adam and Shaul lost their leadership positions because of their failure to recognize their mistakes. Their blaming others was their fatal flaw, as of course Hashem knows who is responsible for a particular action. King David, the most powerful ruler, the one who attained the title "Servant of Hashem," reached such heights because he realized that there are no secrets from Hashem.
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