Regarding the question whether or not the Jewish People must do penitence before the long-awaited Redemption, the Talmud cites a dispute between Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Yehoshua.  Rabbi Eliezer opined that the Jews will be redeemed only if they repent, but Rabbi Yehoshua proved to him that Redemption can come even without repentance. 

Redemption without T’shuva

by Rabbi Ya’akov Moshe Bergman and Rabbi Moshe D. Lichtman

[From the book, “Question of Redemption.” For more of Rabbi Lichtman’s writings see the website:]


The Scriptural Sources

A number of verses in the Torah seem to indicate that the Jewish people will repent before the redemption begins:

You will return to the Lord your God and obey His voice, according to all that I command you today, you and your children, with all your heart and all your soul.  Then the Lord your God will return your captivity and have mercy on you, and He will return and gather you from all the nations where the Lord your God has scattered you.  (Devarim 30:2-3, Parashat Nitzavim)

Although it does not say so explicitly, the order of the verses implies that Israel will repent first, and only afterwards, in the second stage of redemption, HaShem will gather the exiles back to the Land.

Parashat Nitzavim is not the only place where Scriptures speak about the final redemption.  The prophets mention it numerous times, each time specifying a different order.  One example:

I will take you from among the nations and gather you from all the lands, and I will bring you to your own Land.  Then I will sprinkle pure waters upon you, and you will become cleansed; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols.  I will give you a new heart, and I will place a new spirit within you.  I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.  I will place My spirit within you, and I will cause you to follow My statutes, and you will guard My laws and fulfill them.  (Yechezkel 36:24-27)

Here, the order is inverted.  First, the exiles will return to the Land, and only afterwards, HaShem will help the Jews repent.  As I mentioned above, this is just an example; the same contradiction appears in numerous prophecies.


The Radak’s Answer

After citing many contradictory verses and statements of Chazal on this matter, the Radak writes as follows:

We can reconcile the verses [by saying] that the majority of Israel will repent [only] after they see the signs of redemption.  This explains the verse He [God] saw that there was no man […so His arm brought salvation to him] (ibid.) – [that is, God saw] that they would not repent until they see the beginning of salvation.  (Radak, Yeshayah 59:16)

In other words, redemption will begin when Israel is still in a state of sin.  The complete and final redemption – with the Third Temple and Mashiach – will arrive only when the entire nation repents, after seeing the beginning of redemption.

According to the Radak, there is nothing wrong with declaring the State of Israel “the first budding of our redemption,” even though it is a secular state.  On the contrary, the stage of nation-wide penitence will come only after the redemption has already begun.  The establishment of the State is only the first stage, from which repentance will sprout.


A Second Answer: Two Modes of Redemption

Another answer emerges from the words of R. Yehoshua ben Levi in Tractate Sanhedrin (98a).  He explains that redemption can come in one of two ways.  1) HaShem preset a specific time by which redemption must occur.  When this time arrives, HaShem will redeem us even if we have not yet repented (God forbid).  We pray for this type of redemption when we say, “He remembers the kindness of the Patriarchs and brings a redeemer to their children’s children for the sake of His name, with love.”  It will come, not because we deserve it, but for God’s sake and because He loves our forefathers.  In this scenario, redemption will happen slowly, through natural means.  2) If the Jewish people return to God wholeheartedly, He will redeem them before the set time.  Then, the redemption will occur quickly and supernaturally.

This answers our contradiction.  The discrepant verses refer to different forms of redemption.  The Torah in Parashat Nitzavim describes the speedy redemption that will result from a national teshuvah (repentance) movement, the “I will hasten it” (Yeshayah 60:22) form of redemption.  The verses in Yechezkel, on the other hand, speak of the “in its time” (ibid.) redemption, which will take place no matter what, even if the Jews are unworthy.

This explanation resolves another apparent contradiction between the two sets of verses quoted above.  In Parashat Nitzavim, the nation initiates the process of repentance.  In Yechezkel’s prophecy, however, God is the initiator, because the people failed to repent on their own.

The holy author of Or HaChayim, R. Chayim ben Attar, writes:

The end of exile will come about even if the Jewish people are completely wicked, God forbid (VaYikra 25:25-28).

The Vilna Gaon zt”l concurs:

Every generation has times [when Mashiach can come], based on the penitence and special merits of that generation.  But the final time for redemption does not depend on repentance, only on [divine] kindness, as it says, For My sake, for My sake I will act (Yeshayah 48:11).  It also depends on our Patriarchs’ merits, as it says, “He remembers the kindness of the Patriarchs and brings a redeemer to their children’s children for the sake of His name.”

Unfortunately, we have not yet merited seeing the hastened redemption.  However, the fixed redemption is progressing according to God’s predetermined pace, irrespective of the nation’s spiritual state.


Varying Opinions Among the Sages z”l

Chazal discuss the relationship between redemption and repentance at length.  In Tractate Sanhedrin (97b), Rav and Shmuel debate the issue.  Rav holds that the redemption depends solely on repentance, while Shmuel says, “It is sufficient for the mourner to remain in his state of mourning.”  (Rashi: “If [the Jews] fail to repent, [God] will not remain in His state of mourning forever; there is certainly an end to this situation.  Another explanation: The pain of exile is sufficient for the Jews; they will be redeemed even without repentance.”)  The Talmud links this Amoraitic dispute with an earlier, Tanaitic dispute between R. Eliezer and R. Yehoshua.  R. Eliezer opined that the Jews will be redeemed only if they repent, but R. Yehoshua proved to him that redemption can come even without repentance.  After all, God assured Daniel that the redemption would come by a specific date (see Daniel 12:7).  Now, if redemption depends on repentance, which is a function of free will, how can there be an absolute date for redemption?  Perhaps Israel will not repent by then!  R. Eliezer had no answer to this proof, so he remained silent.  The author of Yad Ramah understands this to mean that R. Eliezer conceded to R. Yehoshua’s viewpoint and accepted his opinion.  The Ramban also concludes that R. Yehoshua’s is the accepted opinion in the Talmud (Sefer HaGeulah, sec. 2, p. 277).[1]

We mentioned above (chap. 2) that according to R. Yochanan, redemption can come even to a generation that is completely corrupt (Sanhedrin 98a).  This also proves that the redemption does not depend on repentance.

Many later-day authorities share this opinion, as well.  For example: the Or HaChayim HaKadosh (cited above), the Ramchal (Da at Tevunot, p. 21), the Vilna Gaon (cited above), and the greatest halachic decisor of the previous generation – the Chafetz Chayim.  He writes in Shem Olam (Shaar HaHitchazkut, chap. 13):

In any event, there is a set time for our redemption.  That is the period of “in its time,” which will come about even if [the Jews] are completely unworthy.

The Rambam’s Opinion

The Satmar Rebbe (R. Yoel Teitelbaum zt”l) claims that the Rambam disagrees with this determination.  The Rambam writes in Hilchot Teshuvah (7:5):

All of the prophets charged [the Jews] to repent, and Israel will be redeemed only through repentance.  The Torah has already promised that the Jews will repent at the end of their exile and immediately be redeemed, as it says, It shall be when all of these things come upon you… You will return to the Lord your God…  Then the Lord your God will return your captivity… (Devarim 30:1-3).

The Satmar Rebbe built the foundations of his viewpoint – that redemption will come only after Israel repents – upon this quote from the Rambam:

The Rambam established for us in his [book of] laws that redemption cannot possibly occur if [the Jews] do not repent.  He also wrote that Scriptures state clearly and our Holy Torah promises that repentance [will] precede redemption.  Therefore, anyone who thinks otherwise – that redemption can take place without repentance – goes against explicit verses and denies the Torah (may the Merciful One protect us)…  And there is certainly no difference between one who denies this promise and one who denies the [general] promise of the coming of Mashiach.  (VaYoel Moshe, Ma amar Shalosh Shavu ot, sec. 42)

The Satmar Rebbe’s Explanation

Elsewhere, however, the Satmar Rebbe himself implies that this Rambam does not contradict our claim that the redemption has already begun, even though we have yet to repent.  R. Teitelbaum asks how the Rambam goes against the Talmud’s explicit conclusion that repentance is not a prerequisite for redemption (see above, Sanhedrin 97b).  One of his answers is that the beginning of redemption can take place even before the nation repents, whereas the Rambam’s statement refers only to the end of the process – the complete redemption (VaYoel Moshe, ibid. 41).  Granted, the Satmar Rebbe interprets the phrase “beginning of redemption” in accordance with his general viewpoint – that is, only God can initiate it.  Nevertheless, his explanation undermines his entire proof, for even he agrees that the first budding of redemption does not depend on repentance, even according to the Rambam.

The Turei Even’s Answers

The author of Turei Even (R. Elazar Rokeach) provides us with another explanation of the Rambam’s words in Hilchot Teshuvah.  From where did the Rambam learn that “Israel will be redeemed only through repentance”?  The Kesef Mishneh (R. Yosef Cairo) asserts that he derived it from Tractate Yoma (87b): “Repentance is great, for it brings the redemption closer.”  Now, we explained above that there are two modes of redemption: “in its time,” which is independent of repentance, and “I will hasten it,” which depends solely on repentance.  It follows, then, that the statement in Yoma (and, consequently, the Rambam’s statement, as well) refers only to a scenario in which we try to bring the redemption before its time, and that can only happen if we repent first.  However, when the predetermined time of redemption arrives, God will redeem us even if we have not yet repented.

Furthermore, the author of Turei Even points out that our Sages have opposing views on this matter, and even the Rambam contradicts himself, implying elsewhere that the redemption will begin even before Israel repents (see Hilchot Melachim 12:2).  R. Rokeach explains that the Rambam did not want to give a decisive ruling on this question, so he purposely left contradictions in his words.  He included all of the opposing views in his code of law, assuming that when Mashiach arrives, we will find out who was correct.[2]


[1] Some authorities apparently disagree.  The following Hebrew footnote discusses the matter:

יש המפרשים שאף לשמואל ורבי יהושע הגאולה תלויה בתשובה, וכל מחלוקתם היא אם התשובה תהיה מרצון ישראל או בכפיה, על ידי שיעמיד ח”ו מלך קשה כהמן שיכריח את העם לשוב. פירוש זה אכן מובא במהרש”א על המקום (וכן נראה מהילקוט שמעוני ירמיהו ער). אולם המהרש”א עצמו מציין שרש”י חולק עליו, ולדעתו “יהיו נגאלין בלא תשובה כלל”. גם מהרמב”ן, הרד”ק, אור החיים הקדוש, הרמח”ל, הגר”א והחפץ חיים זצ”ל שהבאנו בפנים, ועוד רבים, מוכח שהבינו כפירש”י. פשט הדיון בגמרא מהפסוקים, וכן פשט דברי שמואל, אינו משמע כלל כפירוש המהרש”א. בירושלמי תענית (פרק ראשון) מפורש שלדעת ר’ אליעזר הגאולה תלויה בתשובה ותהיה דוקא על ידי מלך קשה כהמן, ולר’ יהושע אינה תלויה בשום תשובה: “אמר לו רבי יהושע: וכי אם יעמדו ישראל ולא יעשו תשובה, אינן נגאלין לעולם? אמר לו רבי אליעזר: הקב”ה מעמיד עליהן מלך קשה כהמן, ומיד הן עושין תשובה והן נגאלין”. (ראה שם במפרשי הירושלמי). גם במדרש תנחומא (בחוקותי ג) מצאנו מחלוקת זו, ושם סובר ר’ אליעזר שתהיה התשובה על ידי מלך קשה כהמן. ר’ שמעון חולק ואומר: “בין עושין תשובה ובין אין עושין תשובה, כיון שהגיע הקץ מיד נגאלין”. ועוד, הלא מפורשת דעת ר’ יוחנן שם, שהגאולה תבוא גם בדור שכולו חייב. האם הוא חולק על כל דעות התנאים? ובכל מחלוקת רב (שתולה בתשובה) ור’ יוחנן, קי”ל להלכה כר”י. גם האדמו”ר מסאטמר זצ”ל (מאמר שלוש השבועות פרק מ’) דחה לגמרי פירוש זה של המהרש”א, מכח דברי הרמב”ם. הלא הרמב”ם פסק (הלכות מלכים פרק יב) שהמלך המשיח יכוף את ישראל לקיום התורה, הרי שלא יעשו תשובה לפני התגלות המלך המשיח. ראה גם בכסף משנה בהלכות תשובה המובא לקמן, שציין כמקור לרמב”ם את הגמרא ביומא ולא את הגמרא הזו בסנהדרין! מ”מ אף לשיטת המהרש”א, עדיין ניתן לתרץ כדברי הרד”ק שרק בהמשך תהליך הגאולה יעשו תשובה, ועיין מה שכתבנו בהקדמה לחוברת בשם הרמב”ן בספר מלחמת ה’.

[2] R. Yisachar Shlomo Teichtal quotes R. Yonatan Eybeschitz as saying that our desire to return to Eretz Yisrael is the penitence that the Torah spoke of in Parashat Nitzavim (Eim HaBanim Semeichah, p. 165).  One who studies the parashah carefully will notice that after we return to the Land, another phase of repentance will occur – The Lord, your God, will circumcise your heart (Devarim 30:6).  This refers to complete penitence, a return to all 613 mitzvot.  R. Tzvi Yehudah HaKohen Kook zt”l expresses the same idea in LeNitivot Yisrael (vol. 1, HaMedinah KeHitkaymut Chazon HaGeulah), distinguishing between repentance “to (אל) HaShem” (Devarim 30:10), which refers only to a physical return to the Land, and repentance “unto (עד) HaShem” (ibid. 30:2), to fulfill all the mitzvot.



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