The Rambam writes in Hilchos Teshuva (6:3) that it is possible for a person to reach a point where he wittingly commits a great sin or many sins, and he will not be permitted to repent, as it says (Yeshaya 6:10), “Make the heart of these people fat … lest it understand with its heart so that it will repent ….” It says similarly (Divrei HaYamim II, 36:16), “They mock the messengers of Hashem … until His anger is aroused and there will be no remedy.”
The Rambam continues (6:4) that it is for this reason that the righteous and the prophets pray, as did Dovid HaMelech (Tehillim 86:11), “Hashem show me Your way,” i.e. do not let my sins obstruct my path to do teshuva. A similar kavanah, asking Hashem for guidance and direction, for the proper mindset to do His will, is also expressed in the request (Tehillim 51:14), “Support me with a generous spirit …” Dovid HaMelech asks that he should be given the opportunity to allow him to repent.
Although it is difficult to imagine, it seems that Dovid HaMelech – the exalted individual, leader of the Jewish nation, fearless warrior of Hashem – was afraid that he had possibly accrued so many sins that he could no longer repent.
The Sefer Kol Dodi asks: What happens to these people who are prevented from doing teshuva? Could it be that a person is denied the option of doing teshuva and has no hope of salvation? If the righteous and prophets fear that they have reached the point of no return – that they can no longer do teshuva – how will their prayers be helpful?
The Rambam is merely saying that the judgment obligates that the sinner be prevented from repenting. But this decree is unique in that the decree is never final, and the sinner can, in fact, still do teshuva. If the individual prays from the depths of his heart, he can remove all the obstacles and annul the retributions, because Hashem pardons and forgives.
With this we can understand the Medrash concerning the confrontation between Eliyahu HaNavi and the prophets of the Baal. We learn that two identical bulls were selected to be sacrificed, one for each side. However, the one for the Baal refused to go and could not be moved. Finally, Eliyahu told the bull that he would actually prove the greatness of Hashem and bring about a great Kiddush Hashem by going over to the side of the Baal. The bull was reluctant to concede, but he allowed Eliyahu to lead him to the side of the prophets of the Baal. The prophets of the Baal could not bring forth a fire to burn their sacrifice. Yet, it was only when the fire came down and consumed the offering, the water surrounding the altar, and the entire altar itself, that the people proclaimed, “Hashem hu HaElokim – Hashem is the G-d.”
This exemplifies what it means that one is prevented from doing teshuva. Even though the events clearly testified to Hashem’s greatness, the Jewish people did not immediately repent. It was only after Eliyahu prayed for them, and pleaded (Melachim I, 18:37), “Answer me, Hashem, answer me! And let this people know that You, Hashem, are the G-d …” that they did teshuva.
R’ Itzele Peterburger, the Kochvei Or, once told of a kindhearted king who ruled over many provinces. From time to time the king would take to the road, dressed in peasant’s clothes, to see how his subjects were faring.
Once, as the king roamed through the countryside, he was captured by a band of robbers who wanted to harm him. One of the thieves was more sympathetic; he protected the king and then helped him escape. When the king returned to his palace, he made a huge seudas hoda’ah (meal of thanks) and invited all the high-ranking officers of the kingdom, as well as the thug who had saved his life. The miscreant arrived in his usual casual attire, and when he entered the large dining hall, he was uncomfortable, seeing everyone else elegantly dressed, eyeing this lowlife who had intruded on this special night.
The king noticed the hostile glances of his guests, and immediately invited the hoodlum to sit right next to him. He then rose from his seat and explained to his guests what had happened, and how the individual seated next to him had saved his life.
When a person repents, Hashem, too, brings him closer – “Shuvu Yisrael ad Hashem Elokecha.” When a person does teshuva Hashem gives him a place of honor, seating that individual next to Hashem Himself.
As we approach the end of the Ten Days of Repentance for the new year 5784, I remind our esteemed readers of the special Yom Tov Fund that I personally administer and distribute directly into the hands of those who are most in need.
I humbly beseech of all our loyal readers of the Jewish Press and friends of Klal Yisrael to feel the pain of our brethren and to take a part in this great mitzvah. Let us give chizuk to families, individuals, and children in need. In the zechus of your contribution, may you merit blessing and success, a year of good health, nachas, happiness and prosperity. If you would like any special tefillos to be offered for a shidduch, shalom bayis, parnassah, or a refuah, please include the person’s name and the mother’s name.
Please send your contribution to Khal Bnei Yitzchok Yom Tov Fund, c/o Rabbi Dovid Goldwasser, 1336 E. 21 Street, Brooklyn, NY 11210.