From HaGaon Rav Yaakov Sasson Shlit”a, a grandson of Maran ztvk”l, head of the Yeshiva for Rabbanim Tiferet Rashbi
(translated by our dear friend Rav Daniel Levy Shlit”a, Leeds UK)
We are taught in the Talmud (Yoma 85b), Rabbi Akiva said, happy are you Yisrael! Before whom are you purifying yourselves and who purifies you? Your Father in Heaven! As the pasuk states: “And I shall sprinkle upon you pure waters and you shall be purified” (Yechezkel 36:25), and so it states: “Hashem is the mikveh of the Jewish People” (Yirmiyahu 17:13), just as a mikveh purifies the impure, so Hashem purifies the Jewish People!
Maran Rabbenu Rav Ovadia Yosef zt”l (Me’or Yisrael Drush 1 Shabbat Shuva) asks that from the first pasuk that Rabbi Akiva quoted “And I shall sprinkle upon you pure waters”, we see that it is Hashem purifies the Jewish People, but then what is added by his statement “just as a mikveh purifies the impure, so Hashem purifies the Jewish People”. Let’s clarify the question more clearly. We would not know logically that a mikveh purifies the impure, it is only because Hashem decreed so in His Torah that a mikveh purifies the impure. If so what is the connection between the mikveh on the one hand and the fact that Hashem purifies the Jewish People? How may we deduce from the halachot of mikveh that Hashem purifies the Jewish People? In truth it is Hashem that purifies the Jewish People, so why do we need the connection between the mikveh of water? It should simply suffice to say that Hashem decreed that He purifies the Jewish People!
Maran zt”l explained that in truth from the pasuk “Hashem is the mikveh of the Jewish People” we do not deduce that Hashem purifies the Jewish People, rather Rabbi Akiva’s intention was to teach a different point altogether. Namely, that from the halachot of immersion we may learn the halachot of teshuva (repentance).
Just as with regards to a mikveh is states, “and he shall wash his whole body in the water” (Vayikra 15:16), and from here we learn that even if one finger is outside of the mikveh [when he immersed his body] and even if he immersed that finger alone afterwards [whilst the rest of his body was outside of the mikveh] the immersion has not been effective. Likewise, with one who repents and thinks to himself, now when I repent and I accept upon myself the yoke of mitzvot as stated in the Torah, except for one mitzvah that I cannot observe, for example like talking lies, like many weak people do, for without lies and trickery they think they cannot live chas veshalom! And so such a person says, lies I’ll leave to remedy in my old age, when I no longer engage in commerce, that’s when I’ll stop lying.
Or for example, a man who shaves with a razor blade and he finds it difficult to give up, and for this he does not want to repent just now and does not seek forgiveness and atonement. About such a person Rabbi Akiva said just as a mikveh purifies the impure, only when his whole body is immersed in the mikveh, so Hashem acts likewise, He doesn’t purify the sinners unless when they repent it is with complete repentance and they don’t leave out one sin that they do not repent for.
Maran zt”l added that it is well known that there are 248 mitzvot that we do and 365 mitzvot that we mustn’t do, these correspond to the 248 bones and 365 sinews in a man’s body. Each mitzvah corresponds to a particular bone or sinew. So it transpires that when a person decides to continue to sin in a particular matter then that bone remains outside the boundary of teshuva, and that person is missing one bone from becoming purified with the mitzvah that is linked to the teshuva process. And so he is not forgiven at all until he accepts upon himself the mitzvah of teshuva in a complete way, all of the mitzvot without exception.
“May Hashem enable us to return to Him and may we return, renew our days as before” (Eicha 5:21).