This person permitted me to disseminate their Torah so long as I do not cite them by name. Therefore, from now on I will refer to them as The Adept. The Adept is an incredibly learned Torah scholar and the Torah they teach compares in quality to that of Rebbetzin Sarah Greer's, which is my highest compliment. Should I say anything untoward, assume it is my misunderstanding of The Adept.
The Adept decided to offer a lecture on Teshuva & Kappara (Repentance & Atonement) in Jewish Thought in honor of the upcoming Yom Kippur, Day of Atonement. Attached are the pages we shall make reference to throughout this lecture, with the understanding that it would also be helpful for you to have a Tanakh with you. Do not be daunted by the presence of this attachment or the supposed length of this post; The Adept's lectures are well worth any effort you may exercise. From now on, whenever I say 'I' in this post, assume it is The Adept who is speaking.
If for no other reason, you should read this in order to understand why we read the Book of Jonah on Yom Kippur.
Teshuva and Kappara in Jewish Thought
The general tendency in rabbinic scholarship is to focus on the end product of Jewish scholarship. It's crucial, however, to examine the issue's historical development through the course of Jewish intellectual history. There is much to gain if you study Jewish thought vertically, not horizontally. It is crucial to know the process that leads to these answers.
I am going to ask four questions.
1. Is there a biblical obligation to do Teshuva (repent)?
2. Why do we read Sefer Yonah (the book of Jonah) on Yom Kippur?
3. In the Shulchan Aruch (see passage 1 in the document above) there is a practice of doing Kapparot for every male in the house. However, the Rama says this applies to women as well and even to the unborn fetus within a pregnant woman! Why on earth does a fetus need a kappara (atonement)?
4. There is a compendium by Rambam called Hilchos Teshuva [Laws of Repentance]. (To digress, there is a famous Ramban where he praises the Rambam and says look, he wrote Hilchos Tehuva, an amazing piece of work!) In Germany, the Rokeach publishes Sefer Rokeach and has a section called Hilchos Teshuva as well. But there are huge differences between the two Hilchos Teshuva. How is it possible in the 12th century when we have 2 greats recording Hilchos Teshuva we have two totally different accounts? (Immediate thought: Foreign influence! But obviously we will not accept that.)
Let's address question 1. We want to look at the peshuto shel mikra of the Bible. In the peshat, is there a biblical obligation to do Teshuva? Now, to defend myself lest I am deemed a heretic for looking at the peshat, let's offer precedent for those who look at peshat.
1. Look at Sefer HaMitzvos, Mitzvah Chaf- The Rambam tells us it is a mitzvah asei d'oraita to build the Beit HaMikdash but also tells us he won't list separately everything included in the Beit HaMikdash (it's all subsumed under this mitzvah.) However, in the middle of the mitzvah the Rambam throws in a question.
The Mizbeach that we know of was made of copper; alternatively there was one made of gold. They were also made of stone. However, in Exodus 20:21 it states "Make me a Mizbeach [altar] of earth!"
כ מִזְבַּח אֲדָמָה, תַּעֲשֶׂה-לִּי, וְזָבַחְתָּ עָלָיו אֶת-עֹלֹתֶיךָ וְאֶת-שְׁלָמֶיךָ, אֶת-צֹאנְךָ וְאֶת-בְּקָרֶךָ; בְּכָל-הַמָּקוֹם אֲשֶׁר אַזְכִּיר אֶת-שְׁמִי, אָבוֹא אֵלֶיךָ וּבֵרַכְתִּיךָ. 20 An altar of earth thou shalt make unto Me, and shalt sacrifice thereon thy burnt-offerings, and thy peace-offerings, thy sheep, and thine oxen; in every place where I cause My name to be mentioned I will come unto thee and bless thee.
In Exodus 20: 21 there is the option of an altar of stone:
כא וְאִם-מִזְבַּח אֲבָנִים תַּעֲשֶׂה-לִּי, לֹא-תִבְנֶה אֶתְהֶן גָּזִית: כִּי חַרְבְּךָ הֵנַפְתָּ עָלֶיהָ, וַתְּחַלְלֶהָ. 21 And if thou make Me an altar of stone, thou shalt not build it of hewn stones; for if thou lift up thy tool upon it, thou hast profaned it.
The altar of stone is confirmed in Deuteronomy 27:6:
ו אֲבָנִים שְׁלֵמוֹת תִּבְנֶה, אֶת-מִזְבַּח יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ; וְהַעֲלִיתָ עָלָיו עוֹלֹת, לַיהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ. 6 Thou shalt build the altar of the LORD thy God of unhewn stones; and thou shalt offer burnt-offerings thereon unto the LORD thy God.
Rambam regarding the mizbeach adama in Mitzvah Chaf questions: Maybe this is another mizbeach! He is trying to figure out the plain sense of the verse, the peshuto shel mikra. He does explain it, answering that this is not talking about the Beis HaMikdash but rather bamos- then you could build a mizbeach made of earth.
So Rambam, despite all the Chazals, still explains the plain sense of the verse.
2. The Maharal of Prague in the Tiferes Yisrael, Chapter 57 states: Many people are troubled as to why there is no mention in the Torah of Olam Haba? (There are endless Chazals but in the plain sense of the verse it is not mentioned.)
There's the problem of theodicy to which Olam Haba is the answer- so why isn't it mentioned in the Torah? The question has to be asked in the plain sense of the words- why?
Now, to find out his answer you should read the rest of what he says. But the point is that there is precedent for looking at the peshat and we have a right to examine Torah to figure out answers.
So let's proceed:
1. Do we see a biblical obligation to do Teshuva in the Torah (Five Books of Moses?)
2. Do we have dramatis personae who preach the need to do Teshuva?
3. Do we have dramatis personae who do Teshuva in the form the Rambam outlines (regret, confession and stating they will never do the sin again?) Or Baalei Teshuva in the Torah who are identified as such?
At this point everyone in attendance at the lecture began throwing out names and ideas. "Of course we have Teshuva," we figured. "Look at Kayin, the brothers of Joseph, etc." However, what we soon realized is that none of these is a biblical dictum or commandment to repent. Also, none of these characters preach the need to do Teshuva- you do not have someone in the Bible walking around saying, "Repent, o' ye sinners!" Indeed, the ideas of repentance appear in the Midrash but not in the plain text. Noah, according to the plain text, simply builds the Ark as God commands him, does not intercede and does not request that others do teshuva. Abraham bargains with God, searching for ten righteous people in whose merit to save the city. Whenever the Jews do something wrong in the desert, Moshe falls on his face and begs God to blast and smite him, but don't take it out on the Jews. We do have some elements of Teshuva in that the brothers of Joseph certainly feel regret and the Jews contribute their gold to build the Mikdash in order to make up for the Golden Calf, but it is not referred to by this name.
Ramban in HIlchos Teshuva, Perek Zayin, Halacha Hey states: We find Teshuvah in the Neviim (Prophets!) They all speak about it. The Torah promised us that after the Jews do Teshuva they will be redeemed. He cites Deuteronomy 30: 1-3 as his source. However, he notes these verses are a prediction, not a legal obligation. He is also the only one who points to V'shavta ad Hashem Elokecha as a source; everyone else disagrees with him.
Rambam pointed to Numbers 5:7 as the source.
וְהִתְוַדּוּ, אֶת-חַטָּאתָם אֲשֶׁר עָשׂוּ, וְהֵשִׁיב אֶת-אֲשָׁמוֹ בְּרֹאשׁוֹ, וַחֲמִישִׁתוֹ יֹסֵף עָלָיו; וְנָתַן, לַאֲשֶׁר אָשַׁם לוֹ. 7 then they shall confess their sin which they have done; and he shall make restitution for his guilt in full, and add unto it the fifth part thereof, and give it unto him in respect of whom he hath been guilty.
But even here we only have the element of confession as opposed to the three elements that the Rambam refers to! And this is cultic confession (doing so before offering the Korbanot) as opposed to individual confession.
There are various people who write lists of the 613 Mitzvot and they don't list Teshuva but rather Viduy as one of the mitzvot- and only within the cultic setting of bringing a Korban.
A 19th century Gadol B'Yisrael who has his finger on the pulse of Judaism is R' Joseph Babad, the Minchas Chinuch, commenting on the 613 commandments. And he was really surprised that Rambam brought Numbers 5:7 as a source! The Minchas Chinuch says the Rambam doesn't really believe there IS a mitzvas asei to do Teshuvah. Minchas Chinuch says Teshuva is only a means toward an end- Kappara.
Basically, his argument is that Rambam considered Teshuva like Gittin. There is no mitzvas asei to write a divorce document; all it is is an appropriate legal means to an end, namely if the parties want to remarry. The divorce document is not a mitzvah and is not even a mitzvah kiyumis. For Rambam, Teshuva is sound advice- a means toward the end of Kappara!
However, The Adept added, this cannot be right because it is very clear the Rambam says this is a mitzvas asei.
So nobody knows where Teshuva is from- it is not at all clear. Does the Torah require one to do Teshuva? Very hard to see where.
As for questions 2 and 3, it is very hard to find someone preaching Teshuva in the biblical text and we certainly do not have Baalei Teshuva in the Torah who are identified as such.
What DO I find in the Torah again and again?
The concept of Kappara [Atonement].
* The whole book of Leviticus, Deuteronomy 21: 8 (Egla Erufa), etc- many things that need to be atoned for. There is a strong idea within the biblical text that sin needs to be atoned for.
Now let's look at Neviim (the Prophets.) Let's use our three- question format again.
1. Does anyone preach Teshuva in the Neviim? Yes! Every Navi! The purpose of the Navi is to chastise people so that they will do Teshuva.
2. Do we have models in Neviim who do Teshuva?
David (Samuel II, Chapter 12)
Achav (Kings I, Chapter 21)
Josiah (Kings 22, 22:19)
Menashe (Chronicles 2, Chapter 33)
Now, nowhere is the tension between the ideas of Teshuva and Kappara (Repentance vs. Atonement) more palpable than in Sefer Yonah. Let's discuss Sefer Yonah.
Firstly, what was the sin of the people of Ninveh? Chamas, violence.
Why did Yonah not want to go to Ninveh?
1. Rashi to Jonah 1:3 states it's because he didn't want to make the Jews look bad. He knew if he went to Ninveh and asked them to repent, they would, whereas the Jews had not been doing so. God would negatively compare the Jews to the gentiles. (Mechilta)
2. Abarbanel states: They're pagans! There were ovdei avodah zarah- so yes, they did Teshuva for chamas, but what about Avodah Zarah? (They worshipped Marduk, Ashur, etc.)
3. Rashi to Jonah 4:1- Yonah is upset because now the nations will say that I am a Navi Sheker, a false prophet. (Yonah had formerly said in 40 days Ninveh will fall.) (Pirkei D'Rabi Eliezer)
Now, let's look at the peshat. Jonah 4:2 tells you why he ran away!
ב וַיִּתְפַּלֵּל אֶל-יְהוָה וַיֹּאמַר, אָנָּה יְהוָה הֲלוֹא-זֶה דְבָרִי עַד-הֱיוֹתִי עַל-אַדְמָתִי--עַל-כֵּן קִדַּמְתִּי, לִבְרֹחַ תַּרְשִׁישָׁה: כִּי יָדַעְתִּי, כִּי אַתָּה אֵל-חַנּוּן וְרַחוּם, אֶרֶךְ אַפַּיִם וְרַב-חֶסֶד, וְנִחָם עַל-הָרָעָה. 2 And he prayed unto the LORD, and said: 'I pray Thee, O LORD, was not this my saying, when I was yet in mine own country? Therefore I fled beforehand unto Tarshish; for I knew that Thou art a gracious God, and compassionate, long-suffering, and abundant in mercy, and repentest Thee of the evil.
Jonah ran away because "I knew that Thou art a gracious God, and compassionate, long-suffering, and abundant in mercy and nicham al ha-ra- have compassion upon evil."
Let's compare this to God's description in Exodus 34:6-7.
ו וַיַּעֲבֹר יְהוָה עַל-פָּנָיו, וַיִּקְרָא, יְהוָה יְהוָה, אֵל רַחוּם וְחַנּוּן--אֶרֶךְ אַפַּיִם, וְרַב-חֶסֶד וֶאֱמֶת. 6 And the LORD passed by before him, and proclaimed: 'The LORD, the LORD, God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth;
ז נֹצֵר חֶסֶד לָאֲלָפִים, נֹשֵׂא עָוֹן וָפֶשַׁע וְחַטָּאָה; וְנַקֵּה, לֹא יְנַקֶּה--פֹּקֵד עֲוֹן אָבוֹת עַל-בָּנִים וְעַל-בְּנֵי בָנִים, עַל-שִׁלֵּשִׁים וְעַל-רִבֵּעִים. 7 keeping mercy unto the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin; and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children's children, unto the third and unto the fourth generation.'
Let's focus on the words v'nakeh lo yenakeh. What does that mean? It's similar to mos yumas- verily, you shall die. You shall surely die! So v'nakeh lo yenakeh means 'but you certainly shall not be cleansed!"
Yes, Hashem is all these things and has all these qualities (Rashi says this) but the plain sense of the text is that God does not cleanse entirely. You sin? You pay! God remembers sins and punishes for sins (spread out over several generations.)
Now, Yonah knows what it says in the Torah and he is raised on the Torah (this is before the time of canonical Navi and Kesuvim.)
Indeed, look at Yonah's very name! He is Yonah ben Amitai- the son of Emes! Emes is the attribute of Din, Judgment. When Yonah talks about God's qualities in 4:2 the word 'Emes' is missing. 'V'nicham al ha'ra' is used instead, suggesting that God forgives the entire sin. There is nothing here about Emes. So what is Yonah saying to God? He is saying: Sin requires kaparah, atonement! It's the Neviim who came along and stressed this concept of Teshuva alone! The people of Ninveh need to atone, not just repent!
Look at passage 2 in the attachment above: It was asked to Wisdom, the sinner, what is his redemption? The evil a person does pursues him. The Prophets were asked and they said the nefesh ha'chotais hi tamus- the person who sinned shall die. David said that professional sinners will be wiped out. The Torah was asked and said to bring an Asham [guilt offering] and make atonement. They asked God and God answered that teshuva alone is the kappara [atonement].
Why do we read Sefer Yonah on Yom Kippur? Because Yom Kippur hangs upon the concept of Kappara! That was the whole Avodah in the Beit HaMikdash with the Kohen Gadol. But we don't have any of that! So we are despondent. In that case, that is why we read Sefer Yonah, because it shows that genuine Teshuva alone works! God is willing to accept repentance alone in place of atonement.
(See passages 3, 4 and 5) in the sheets above and you will see that yes, there was once a time where sin required kaparah, atonement, but nowadays Teshuva suffices.)
So why the differences between the two Hilchos Teshuva compendiums?
In Ashkenaz they preserve the tradition of Torah and Kappara- that's why we have penances of all sorts, etc.
In Spain the Rashba and Rambam banned Kapparos/ so the Mechaber who is Sephardi is very unhappy about Kapparos.
These two different strands of thought (atonement vs. repentance) were united by Chazal, then separated out into the two different strands once more. See passage 8 on page 2.
When and/or why does everything change? See Ezekiel 18.
There, God (in Navi) comes to say: I will change everything so the only people who are punished are those who do the sins (and not later generations.) The Gemara says that God's own teaching was overturned here (somewhere at the end of Mesechtas Makkos.)
[We have run out of time, but read through the rest of the sources on your own; they support this point.]
"The beauty of Judaism," concluded The Adept, "is that there are many different notions and ideas and during different time periods different ones rise to the top. It doesn't stay frozen. For example, the words mos yumas are all over the Torah but the Gemara says that never would have happened. How can that be? The answer is that times change. At the time of the Torah, the way to cleanse oneself of sin was through atonement. Later on it changed to repentance. In truth, there is basis for both ideas within the text; it is simply which one floats to the top depending on the generation. Judaism is not one size fits all."