האומר אחטא ואשוב אחטא ואשוב אין מספיקין בידו לעשות תשובה
If one says I will transgress, and then repent; I will transgress and then repent,” Heaven does not afford him the opportunity to repent.
The Gemara (Yoma 87a) asks why one has to repeat the statement that he will transgress a prohibition in order to be denied the opportunity to repent, and cites the following saying of R. Huna :
Rav Huna said in the name of Rav whoever transgresses a prohibition and repeats the transgression a second time comes to consider the prohibition as if it were permitted.
Rashi comments: Since he has transgressed twice, he is not afforded by Heaven the opportunity to repent, because what is prohibited seems to him as if it were permitted.
This interpretation is beyond understanding, because if one actively performs a transgression, what difference does it make if he said that he will repent of the transgression, or if he did not say he will repent of the transgression? In either case, the prohibition having been deliberately violated, the prohibition would appear to him as if it were permitted. Moreover, what is meant by the phrase “he is not afforded by Heaven the opportunity to repent”? If the prohibition appears to him as if it were permitted, he would not repent even if Heaven did not afford him the opportunity to repent?
Our master explains that, contrary to the words of Rashi, the Gemara understood the Mishnah to mean what it appears to be saying: that it is only the one who transgresses a prohibition twice with the intention of repenting that is not afforded the opportunity to repent. And the Gemara’s question was how is this different from another Mishnaic statement that if one says that he will transgress and Yom Kippur will atone, Yom Kippur does not atone for his transgression? Thus, with regard to Yom Kippur, one need make the statement only once. The Gemara therefore asks why one must repeat his intention to transgress and repent before being denied the opportunity to repent.
But the two cases are actully very different, inasmuch as Yom Kippur comes automatically. For if we say that one who relies on Yom Kippur to atone for his transgression receives atonement for the first such transgression, then, given this assurance of subsequent atonement, the strap would be untied, and everyone would do as he pleased. However, if one transgresses with the intention of repenting, repentance still does not come automatically; it comes only if one resolves to repent and sincerely regrets his transgression. And who knows if he will in fact repent? Therefore, not everyone would dare to sin with the intention of repenting afterwards. But if so, what is the difference between a person who transgresses one time with the intention of repenting and a person who does so many times? And why is the latter not afforded the opportunity to repent?
The Gemara therefore concludes that the Mishnah was speaking about one who wishes to perpetrate a deception, knowing that, having committed a transgression twice, he would view the prohibition as if it were permitted, and would not repent of the transgression. He, therefore, cleverly says that he will not transgress twice consecutively without repenting in the interim, because to do so would prevent him from repenting of the transgression. Instead, he will transgress, intending to repent immediately, so that it will be as if he had not transgressed. Only then will he transgress again, and it will not appear to him as if the prohibition is permitted, because he will not have transgressed the prohibition twice consecutively, the first transgression having been nullified by his immediate repentance. Then, after the second transgression, he will repent once again, so that he may transgress yet again.
The Mishnah teaches that Heaven does not afford such a person the opportunity to repent the first time, because his planned repentance is meant to enable him to transgress later. But if he is unable to repent for the first transgression, he may be saved from the subsequent transgressions, because, his scheme having been thwarted, he will not feel safe in transgressing a second time.
The Gemara gives this answer, citing the dictum of R. Huna in the name of Rav that one who transgresses a prohibition twice considers the prohibition as if it were permitted. In other words, the Mishnah, contrary to the initial assumption, is not referring to one who transgressed two times with the intention of repenting. Rather, it is referring to one who wishes to circumvent the dictum of R. Huna, so that the prohibition that he intends to transgress should not come to seem to him to be permissible after the second transgression. He therefore says in advance that I will transgress and then I will repent and then I will transgress and then I will repent. Only in that case is he not afforded the opportunity to repent for the first transgression. This clear in the words of the Gemara. (שביבי אש)
האומר אחטא ויום הכפורים מכפר איו יום הכיפורים מכפר
If one says I will transgress and the Day of Atonement will atone, the Day of Atonement does not atone for his transgression
Commenting on the Mishnah, the Gemara asks whether the Mishnah disputes the opinion of Rebi that the Day of Atonement atones for both those who repent and those who do not repent. The Gemara answers that the Mishnah could even be in accord with the opinion of Rebi, because, as Rashi explains, Rebi could agree that one who transgresses in the expectation of being foregiven on the Day of Atonement is different from one who sins without the expectation of receiving atonement for that transgression, the former, by relying on the expectation of atonement to commit his transgression, disqualifying himself from receiving atonement for his transgression.
A scholar once asked our master about the Gemara in Shevu’ot (13) which asks, according to Rebi, who holds that the Day of Atonement atones even for transgressions by those who do not repent of their sins, how could anyone receive the punishment of כרת (premature death) for violating the Day of Atonement and could only put forward an unpersuasive answer. Why, the scholar asked, did the Gemara not say that only one who violates the Day of Atonement in the expectation that the Day of Atonement would atone for the violation is punished with כרת? Our master answered persuasively that if the only possibility of punishment for violating the Day of Atonement is for a violation committed in the expectation of receiving atonement for the violation on the Day of Atonement, then the Scripture ought not to have prescribed the punishment of כרת for violating the Day of Atonement, but should have only stated the positive obligation to fast and to refrain from working on the Day of Atonement. In that case no one would ever violate the Day of Atonement in the expectation of being pardoned for a violation of the Day of Atonement. If one knew that the punishment for violating the Day of Atonement was כרת, no one would violate the Day of Atonement in the expectation of being granted a pardon for violating the Day of Atonement. And we certainly could not say that the punishment of כרת was prescribed only to punish one who violated the Day of Atonement in the expectation of receiving atonement for the violation.
אמר רבי עקיבא אשריכם ישראל לפני מי אתם מטהרים? מי מטהר אתכם? אביכם שמשמים, שנאמר וזרקתי עליכם מים טהורים וכו
R. Akiva said: How fortunate are you, Israel; before Whom are you purified, and Who purifies you? It is your Father in Heaven, as it is stated: “And I will sprinkle purifying water upon you, and you shall be purified” (Ezekiel 36:25). And it says: “The ritual bath of Israel is God” (Jeremiah 17:13). Just as a ritual bath purifies the impure, so too, the Holy One, Blessed be He, purifies Israel.
There are two dangers that threaten our souls causing us to do evil, waiting for us like snakes on our path to the Eternal: first, physical desire that entices us to transgression and evildoing; second, our livelihoods, whose difficulty is too great to bear, compel us to depart from the path of the Eternal. But when Israel dwelled on its land, the Holy Land toward which the eyes of the Eternal were always directed, the physical desires was not aroused excessively and the evil inclination did not rule over the people to push them away from the Eternal because it is a place dedicated to the Eternal whose atmosphere promotes the primary wisdom — reverence for the Eternal. They also found sufficient sustenance for their lives without excessive toil, for the land was pleasant and peaceful, everyone dwelling under his own vine or under his own fig tree. Their transgressions were then very serious if they deviated from from the path of the Eternal and stood on a path that was not good. It was therefore very necessary for them to offer their sin offerings on the Fast Day to expiate their great guilt.
However, once Israel departed from its land and was exiled to another land, the evil inclination rose up as an enemy to force them off the path of the Eternal, for, outside Israel, his power was strengthened, and there was no one to deliver them from his power, as the Sages said, anyone who dwells outside the Land of Israel is like one who is abandoned by God. In addition, outside the land of Israel, one’s livelihood is secured with bitterness, because one must sacrifice his life to earn his bread which makes it too burdensome to observe the commandments of the Eternal. People will transgress against God to desecrate the Sabbath and the Holidays or will deal deceitfully with another to obtain a piece of bread rather than endure the disgrace of hunger? But the transgressors’ guilt is not too great to bear, because the merciful Eternal forgives them when they repent and return to Him. And despite being unable to gain atonement from either Priest or Altar, we can still rely on our Father in Heaven? He alone will truly treat us with kindness.
This is what R. Akiva meant in saying “How fortunate are your, Israel”. Even if our city was destroyed and our sanctuary devastated, we may nevertheless still rely on our Heavenly Father. In other words, forgiveness of our sins can still be found, for when we say “far from us is any comforter” who would pour his spirit upon us, the blessing from Heaven above for understanding and wisdom and also the earthly blessings “blessings of the deep that couches below” (Genesis 49:25) have been removed, leaving us only with our bodies, so that only with the sweat of our brow can we eat our bread. Our earthly condition is a powerful excuse with which to seek foregiveness for our sins, just as we received forgiveness by way of the service in the Temple on the Day of Atonement.
To strengthen and reinforce his words, R. Akiva quotes the words of Ezekiel the prophet (Ezekiel 36:25) who, speaking of the bitter exile, said: “וזרקתי עליכם מים טהורים ואטהר אתכם מכל טומאותיכם ומכל גלולכם אטהר אתכם” (I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean: I will cleanse you from all your uncleanness and from all your fetishes). The difference between “טומאה” (uncleanliness) and “גלל” (fetish) is that טומאה is invisible while גלל is something disgusting that is visible to anyone. And these two concepts correspond to the two kinds of sins mentioned above, because one who defiles his body with impure food and illicit relations is considered disgusting in body and soul as the Tosaphot wrote in Hullin that it is exceedingly disgraceful for one to eat forbidden foods that leave a defective impression on a person to such an extent that the Sages said that an animal that was fed impure (non-kosher) food is unfit to be brought to the altar as a sacrifice, and illicit relations have a similar effect on a person. Such transgressions are therefore referred to as גלל.
However, what a person does, owing to poverty and compulsion, when desecrating the Sabbath or to acting wrongfully to another person has this advantage over the former category of transgressions inasmuch as such transgressions do not render a person’s body and soul disgusting like a trampled corpse. Such transgressions are called טומאה because their impression on a person’s body and soul are not so apparent. This is the meaning of the verse “וזרקתי עליכם מים טהורים ואטהר אתכם מכל טומאותיכם ומכל גלולכם אטהר אתכם”. From a high and faraway place, I will sprinkle water upon you, for I am in Heaven and you are in thw land of your enemy. And this in itself is an excuse for your misdeeds and therefore you will be purified from you uncleanliness, and from your fetishes I will purify you.
R. Akiva mentins a further advantage associated with exile that did not exist while the Holy Temple stood, quoting Jeremiah 14:8 “מקוה ה’ מושיעו בעת צרה” (O, Hope of Israel, its deliverer in time of trouble) to teach us that, just as a mikveh (ritual bath) purifies those that are ritually unclean, so does the Holy One Blessed Be He purify Israel, for our dependence on our Heavenly Father alone will revive a correct spirit within us and direct our hearts toward Him to serve Him provided that Israel raise their eyes upward and devote their hearts to the service of Heaven. The purification of the mikveh occurs when one is separated from everything and submerged beneath the waters of the mikveh, so also with Israel, if they rely, and direct their eyes, only to the Eternal to seek His favor, they will be purified and their souls will cleansed even more than they would have been by the sin-offering and the scapegoat brought in the Holy Temple, for the Merciful desires our hearts.
In this manner, we can explain the verse ישראל נושע בה’ תשועת עולמים ן in the liturgy of the Day of Atonement which means an eternal salvation from generation to generation, even when Mount Zion is desolate with no occasion to offer sacrifices Israel’s eternal salvation will come directly from the Eternal. This is why it says that the the hope of Israel is the Eternal. Just as the mikveh purifies one who immerses himself fully in the water, so that he is surrounded by an abundance of water, so too does the Holy One Blessed Be He purify Israel when they look upward and their eyes are focused only upon Him.