SALT - Friday, 24 Elul 5777 - September 15, 2017

  • Rav David Silverberg
            Yesterday, we noted the Mabit’s discussion in Beit Elokim (Sha’ar Ha-teshuva, chapter 6) regarding the question as to the retroactive status of a sinner’s repentance if he subsequently repeats the offense.  One might have argued that the repeated offense demonstrates that the repentance was inherently deficient, and, as such, it is retroactively deemed worthless.  The Mabit, however, emphatically dismisses this argument, and asserts that as long as the individual sincerely repented and truly intended to avoid the forbidden act in the future, his repentance is valid even if he later repeats the misdeed.
            In developing this theory, the Mabit cites and explains a pair of verses in Tehillim, in the prayer composed by King David after his sin with Batsheva (51:7-8): “Indeed, I was created in iniquity; and my mother conceived me in sin.  Indeed, You desire truth in the mind.”  King David here notes the inherent frailty of human beings, the fact that we are, by nature, inclined to sin, subjected as we are to all kinds of negative tendencies.  In recognition of the human being’s innate complexity and weakness, all God requires of us is “emet va-tuchot” – sincerity of thought.  As long as we are sincere in our desire to improve, to grow, to live on a higher standard in the future than we have in the past, then we are fulfilling our obligations and meeting God’s expectations of us.  The Mabit explains that repentance cannot and will not reverse human nature, and eliminate all our negative inclinations.  These tendencies are latent within us, and will always remain.  And thus if we repeat a misdeed after repentance, this does not reflect a deficiency in the repentance; rather, the repeated offense is the result of a new, unrelated decision to yield to temptation.
            The Mabit alludes in this context to an analogy to a person sitting at a meal and, after eating his fill, decides to eat some more.  In describing the case of a penitent sinner who repeats the offense, the Mabit uses the term “nimlakh,” the halakhic term for a person who had finished eating and then changes his mind and eats more food.  The halakhic significance of “nimlakh” is that the individual in this case must recite a new berakha over the food he now wishes to eat.  Since the person had made the decision to stop eating, the berakha he had recited over his food cannot cover food which he eats subsequently.  Therefore, if he then decides to eat more, a new berakha is needed.  By using the term nimlakh in reference to a sin which one repeats after having repented, the Mabit appears to be comparing this situation to that of a person who decides to eat more after having completed his meal.  Halakha does not view the person’s decision as reflecting any sort of deficiency in his earlier decision to end his meal.  The fact that the individual must recite a new berakha proves that his decision to eat more food constitutes a new, independent choice, not a retroactive invalidation of his prior decision.  As such, when it comes to sin, too, a decision to repeat a sin after repentance is viewed as detached from, an unrelated to, the individual’s prior sin.  He is still regarded as having fully and truly repented, and his decision to repeat the offense is viewed as a new, separate act of wrongdoing.  (See Rav Moshe Roberts’ Beit Moshe commentary to Beit Elokim.)