The power of repentance
God’s hands are stretched out to receive penitents, but each and every day
that Israel do not repent, the measure of justice, waxing stronger and stronger,
hurls charges that Israel are guilty of swearing falsely, coveting their neighbors’
wives, and slandering their fellows. God responds by speaking in praise of
those in Israel who rise early to go to synagogues and academies and live in
full obedience to precepts of Torah. So, He concludes, there is ample reason
for His favoring Israel.
Repentance is even greater than prayer and greater than charity. Moses’
prayers did not help him enter the Land, but God accepted the harlot Rahab
because of her repentance (S, 37).
The respite from judgment during the ten days between New Year’s Day
and the Day of Atonement is given to Israel, so that they can resolve upon
The summons Lift up thy voice like a horn (Isa. 58:1) is meant as commendatory,
for the horn was created solely for the purpose of conveying good news,
as evident from the horn sounded at the giving of Torah and at the fall of the
walls of Jericho, and will be evident from the horn to be sounded at the gathering
of the dispersed of Israel (S, 38).
The disciples of the wise who are the teachers of Israel are exhorted to
forswear transgression lest they be punished in Gehenna, and Israel are exhorted
to avoid sin. By way of example, a story is told of one of R. ‘Akiba’s
most prominent disciples who fell in love with a harlot. She, however, conscience-
stricken, refused to yield herself to him and prevailed on him to desist.
Both, according to a Divine Voice, were destined for life in the world-tocome
Chapter 4 (EZ, Chapter 22)
R. Eliezer asked his disciples: Are you able to accept reasoned reprimands?
They replied: Please explain . I will,
he said: I shall Cry aloud, spare not (Isa. 58:1). He then went on: These
words of the prophet are to be considered in the light of what he was
earlier inspired by the holy spirit to say: Come now, and let us reason
together, saith the Lord (Isa. 1:18). Whom did Isaiah suppose God to
be addressing in this verse? Penitents, none other. For the hands
of the Holy One are stretched out to receive penitents as He asks,
When will they yearn for repentance so as to be received into
My presence as though they came in actual repentance? As the verse
They had the hands of the Man under their wings (Ezek. 1:8) intimates,
the Holy One sits on His throne of glory, the wings of the chariot’s
creatures [shielding all of Him from view except for] His hands which
are extended from under the wings toward ,
as He asks, When will Israel resolve upon repentance
? Each and every day, the measure of justice, waxing
stronger and stronger, stands before the Holy One and says in His
presence: Master of the universe, in the Torah it is written, Ye shall not
swear by My name falsely (Lev. 19:12). Yet Israel rise early and go to
marketplaces where they swear falsely; moreover, they covet their
neighbors’ wives and slander their fellowmen. [Since You do not exercise
the measure of justice against them], is it conceivable that there is
bias on Your part in favor of Israel? [The Holy One responds]: But
there are other Jews who rise early to go to synagogues and academies, , and young children who
go to schools. All these are circumcised . Nay more! I created in them the capacity to repent,
a blessing which is equal to that of the Torah. [They do these
good things of their own free will], yet you say that there is bias on My
part in favor of Israel!
In further comment, [R. Eliezer said]: Repentance is even greater
than prayer. God was unwilling to accept all the prayers our teacher
Moses uttered for permission to enter the Land of Israel, but through
her repentance the harlot Rahab was received. Indeed, she was called
Rahab—so R. Eliezer ben Jacob suggested—because her merit in repentance
was so substantial (rèhobah). seven kings and
eight Prophets from her.
In further comment, [R. Eliezer said]: Repentance is greater than
charity. Charity | requires expenditure of money, but repentance requires
no such expenditure: still the Holy One asks no more from
Israel than repentance by way of words, has when He says: Take with
you words, and return unto the Lord (Hos. 14:3).
S, p. 38
In still further comment, [R. Eliezer said]: Great is repentance, for
it heals Israel of their iniquities, as is said, Because of their penitence I
will heal them, and love them freely (Hos. 14:5).