Yechezkel Perek 33

In 33:12 Yechezkel states that a righteous person who discards his religious observance will not be rewarded for his mitzvos. Rashi, (3:20) explains that this concept refers to one who regretted his mitzvos. Additionally, Yechezkel adds that a wicked person who repents will be rewarded for his mitzvos. How does this apply to the concept of teshuva?

Teshuva is a huge chesed from Hashem that allows us to undo any previous misdeeds via simply regretting, comitting not to re-sin and confessing. It is an unnatural opportunity given to us by Hashem out of pure chesed/rachamim, as the Mesilas Yesharim states in perek 4. However, we find that the same concept applies in reverse to our mitzvos; if one regrets having performed a mitzvah then one gets no reward for it. This would imply that there is a natural phenomenon whereby once one regrets a deed, that deed is no longer a part of him. This understanding of teshuva does not fit with the Mesilas Yesharim’s description of teshuva as a unique kindness.

We will suggest three approaches:

  1. The Chofetz Chaim (cited by Rav Elchonon in his kovetz ma’amarim) reconciles this difficulty by explaining the two different types of teshuva. Teshuva Mi’Yirah (repentance stemming from fear of Hashem) follows the standard natural procedure, and just as one who regrets his positive deeds can nullify them, one who regrets his sins can also nullify his wrongdoings. However, there is an additional type of teshuva know as Teshuva Mi’Ahava (repentance stemming from love of Hashem). This form of teshuva is indeed miraculous as it is able to convert sins into merits for the person who repented.This is Hashem reaching beyond the call of duty and is by no means ‘natural’.
  2. Rav Elchonon Wasserman (kovetz ma'amarim) rejects the answer of the Chofetz Chaim, and maintains that the aforementioned Mesilas Yesharim implies that every form of teshuva, whether from fear or love, is miraculous. Rav Elchonon thus offers an alternative understanding of teshuva. Every mitzvah (and sin) is composed of two elements. The first element is the fact that one is following the will of Hashem, and the second element is the real spiritual benefits of a mitzvah which Hashem inserted into the world's makeup (see Netziv, start of Bechukosai). For example, when the Avos performed mitzvos before the Torah was given, they were tapping into the spiritual effects of performing a mitzvah, but they could not have had the component of listening to Hashem, for they had not been commanded. Conversely, if one put on tefillin every day but found out that they were not kosher, he would have the element of 'listening to Hashem' without the spiritual benefit of the tefillin. Every sin has the same two components; the fact that one is rebelling against Hashem, and the individual spiritual damage that comes from each sin. One who accidentally eats non-kosher food will still have the spiritual damage of the non-kosher food, but will not be guilty of rebelling against Hashem.

When one does teshuva for a sin, it is natural that Hashem eliminates the aspect of transgressing the Divine will, for as when one regrets performing a mitzvah, one has changed the willingness to listen to or rebel against Hashem. But if one regrets a mitzvah, there is no way to take away the spiritual fact that he has received the benefit of the mitzvah. The miraculous aspect of teshuva is that regarding sins, Hashem will cancel out the negative spiritual repercussions for one’s actions.

  1. The answer given by Rav Yitzchak Hutner is that in truth, teshuva is a supernatural gift that Hashem has given us, as described by the Ramchal. The Rambam writes that “Hashem gave us the Torah which is a tree of life. Whoever fulfills what is written within it and comprehends it with complete and proper understanding will merit the life of the world to come.” (Hilchos Teshuva 9:1) If living a Torah lifestyle and performing mitzvos means that one is ‘Attaching himself to the tree of life’, then a righteous person who regrets his righteous past and good deeds has detached himself from the source of life and thus it is only natural that he will ‘die spiritually’. However, a sinner who does teshuva is trying to connect to the ‘tree of life’, but since he is devoid of mitzvos, he is detached from the life source.. Therefore teshuva is entirely miraculous as Hashem provides him with life despite him being disconnected from the source of life. According to nature, if someone has been detatched from the source of life, there is no possibility of them living even if they connect to the source of life. In this sense, teshuva is indeed miraculous.