Halacha for Thursday 5 Elul 5779 September 5 2019

Question: If one sins and it is difficult for one to repent and one has not yet done so, is there any benefit in one’s Mitzvah observance or is there no point at all?

  מרן זצ"ל בביקור בעיר נצרת, ימי הרחמים והסליחות

Answer: It is well-known that the Teshuva process is usually categorized by “Desist from evil and do good,” i.e. one must first repent for all the sins one has committed against Hashem and only then should one perform Mitzvot and other good deeds which will stand to one’s merit. Indeed, the Rambam writes in his Hilchot Teshuva (Chapter 7): “How lofty is the level of Teshuva as yesterday, one’s sins separated him from his Father in Heaven, as the verse states, ‘Your sins separated between you and your G-d.’ Additionally, he would pray but not be answered, as the verse states, ‘Even if you pray copiously, I shall not listen.’ Moreover, if he performs Mitzvot, they shall be torn to pieces before him as the verse states, ‘Who asked this of you, trampling my courtyards etc. I have no desire for you, so says Hashem, G-d of hosts, I shall not want meal-offerings from your hands; your Olah offerings have outnumbered your sacrifices so that they may eat meat.’ However, today (after one has repented), one cleaves to the holy presence of Hashem, as the verse states, ‘And you are the ones who cleave to Hashem, you are all alive today.’ Furthermore, when he prays he shall be answered immediately, as the verse states, ‘Even before they call me I shall answer.’ When he performs Mitzvot, they shall be accepted joyfully and graciously, as the verse states, ‘For Hashem has already accepted your actions.’”

Based on the words of the Rambam, it would seem that Hashem has no desire for the Mitzvot of one who is still steeped in sin, for this individual is not loved by Hashem and his Mitzvot are torn to pieces before him. If so, any effort one puts forth in one’s Mitzvah observance before becoming a complete Ba’al Teshuva (repentant person) is for naught and it will not benefit the individual at all.

Nevertheless, this is indeed not the case, for the Yalkut Shimoni (Hoshe’a, 529) states that anyone who possesses sins and did not succeed in performing Teshuva may trade them in for good deeds and he should then repent and it will be accepted. Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l explains that the meaning of this Midrash is that if one attempts to repent but has not yet been successful, since one intends to ultimately perform Teshuva, one should not refrain from performing Mitzvot; rather, one should invest in performing Mitzvot and good deeds and then, when one finally succeeds in repenting fully, all of his Mitzvot and good deeds will retroactively be accepted willingly by Hashem.

We must add that the Mitzvot one performs before one succeeds in performing Teshuva will help in eventually repenting fully, for if one sins and then tries to do Teshuva and during that time invests in Torah study and Mitzvah observance, this learning will certainly shower one with holiness and this will in turn assist him to overcome the Evil Inclination from now on. When one later repents, his Teshuva shall be accepted and he shall likewise collect reward for the Mitzvot he has performed.

Maran zt”l uses this concept to explain the incident recorded in the Gemara Masechet Avodah Zara (17a) regarding Rabbi Elazar ben Dordaya, a tremendous sinner who eventually repented. When he realized how great his sins were, he placed his head between his knees and cried so bitterly that his soul departed from him. A Heavenly voice then rang out, “Rabbi Elazar ben Dordaya is invited to enter the World to Come,” for his Teshuva had been accepted. Regarding this story did Rabbi Yehuda Ha’Nassi cry and exclaim, “Some acquire their share in the World to Come in a moment.” The obvious question is: Why would Rabbi Yehuda Ha’Nassi cry about a Ba’al Teshuva’s acceptance into the World to Come? The answer is that Rabbi Yehuda Ha’Nassi cried because Rabbi Elazar ben Dordaya did not have the opportunity to properly amass Mitzvot and good deeds during his lifetime, especially regarding Torah study, and in the World to Come, he would no longer be able to perform the Mitzvot. Were Rabbi Elazar to perform the Mitzvot even before he succeeded in repenting, he would have merited reaping reward for these Mitzvot through his Teshuva and his lot would have been so much greater!

8 Halachot Most Popular

Thermometers on Shabbat

Question: Is it permissible to use a thermometer on Shabbat? Answer: Clearly, there is no room to take one’s temperature with an electronic/digital thermometer. Our discussion will revolve around using a thermometer that is not electronic and contains mercury which expands and rises as it h......

Read Halacha

A Driver’s License-“Lashon Hara”

Question: If an individual wishes to obtain a driver’s license and I am aware of a medical problem that will impair him from driving, may I relay this information to the Department of Motor Vehicles? Answer: The Rambam (Chapter 1 of Hilchot Rotze’ach) writes: “Anyone who has the......

Read Halacha

Various Dangers- A Car on the Road

In the previous Halachot, we have discussed the positive Torah commandment for one to make a railing around one’s roof so that no one falls from there. After explaining this Mitzvah, the Rambam (Chapter 11 of Hilchot Rotze’ach U’Shmirat Nesfesh) adds: “Similarly, it is a M......

Read Halacha

Widows and Orphans

The Torah states (Shemot 22): “You shall not oppress any widow or orphan. If you oppress them and they call out to me, I shall surely hear their cry. My anger shall flare and I shall kill you with the sword; your wives shall then be widows and your children orphans.” The Torah explains t......

Read Halacha


Sleeping on Shabbat is Enjoyable- An Incident Regarding Maran zt”l During His Visit to the United States

Question: Is there a Mitzvah to sleep on Shabbat in order to fulfill the edict of “Sleeping on Shabbat is enjoyable” or is it preferable to delve in the holy Torah all day long? Answer: We find that the Rishonim already mention that there is a Mitzvah to sleep on Shabbat, for “s......

Read Halacha

An Orphaned Student and a Divorced Woman

Question: I am a teacher and I have an orphaned girl in my class. How must I act when she misbehaves? Similarly, a colleague of mine is a divorced woman. Is there any special prohibition to cause them pain? Answer: In the previous Halacha we have explained that Hashem has commanded us not to oppr......

Read Halacha

The Order for Lighting Shabbat and Chanukah Candles

There is a disagreement among the Rishonim as to the order of lighting Shabbat and Chanukah candles on Erev Shabbat Chanukah. The Ba’al Halachot Gedolot (commonly referred to as “Behag”) is of the opinion that Chanukah candles must be lit before Shabbat candles because women cu......

Read Halacha

A Woman Scholarly in Torah

In the previous Halachot we have discussed the laws of rising for an elderly man or woman as well as the obligation to rise before a Torah scholar and the wife of a Torah scholar. In the previous Halacha we have explained that Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l writes that a female student mu......

Read Halacha