Sunday, September 12, 2010

the tshuvah of Acheir

The gemara (Chagiga 15) relates the tragic story of Acheir, the teacher of Rabbi Meir, who went "off the derech." Rabbi Meir asked his teacher why he did not repent, to which Acheir replied that there was no hope for him, as he had heard the Heavenly voice of a bas kol declare that Hashem's words, "Shuvu banim shovavim," Hashem's encouragement to repent, applies to all except Acheir. It was prophetically decreed that he could not do tshuvah! Nonetheless, the gemara continues that Rabbi Meir on other occasions tried to get his teacher to return, all to no avail. Tos. cites the conclusion of the story from the Yerushalmi -- R' Meir visited his teacher on his deathbed and once again asked him to repent. Acheir cried, and at that moment his soul departed. Rabbi Meir interpreted that cry as an act of tshuvah by his teacher in his final moments.

Whether or not one accepts the conclusion that Acheir indeed did do tshuvah, the story begs the question of what Rabbi Meir thought he would accomplish by his repeated entreaties to Acheir to repent. If the bas kol declared repentance impossible, why did Rabbi Meir still hold out hope for his teacher?

To relinquish one's past attitudes, direction, deeds, is exceedingly difficult. How is tshuvah ever possible? The answer is that we have the greatest possible help in our efforts. Hashem doesn't just command us to do tshuvah -- he takes the first step himself towards restoring a relationship with us and guiding us back to the right path. Without that assistance tshuvah is still possible, but it requires so much greater an effort.

R' Itzele Peterberger (Kochvei Ohr #6) writes that it was this encouraging voice of, "Shuvu banim," Hashem's extended helping hand, which the bas kol declared no longer accessible to Acheir. Yet, as Rabbi Meir realized, the door to return was still open. It would require commitment and effort and be a difficult road back, but it was a road that Rabbi Meir was willing to stand by his teacher in support should he choose to follow it.

We are not in Acheir's position. "Dirshu Hashem b'himatzo," this week Hashem inspires and encourages our teshuvah, extending his hand to help us. All it takes is a little effort on our part.


  1. RYBS's approach to teshuvah (based on Hil' Teshuvah 2) is based on the notion that the baal teshuvah makes himself a new person. Thus, the fate that was appropriate for the old person no longer applies.

    Along those lines, RYBS says that the bas qol was telling Acheir that teshuvah was closed off from him. However, if the man wished to return to being Elisha ben Avuyah, Elisha's teshuvah would be accepted.

    It's a little derush-y IMHO, but beatiful none-the-less.


  2. But then mai shena Acheir from anyone else? Everyone must become a new person for their tshuvah to be accepted, not just Acheir.

  3. Nothing -- that's why the story is instructive.

    What makes Acheir stand out is that he actually changes nickname when he goes astray. This gives us a tool, a pair of names, by which to refer to the unrepentant Acheir and the returned Elishah.

  4. As in the account of the teshuva that prompted Rebbi to cry out yesh kone olamo besha'a achas, (recounted here: part of the challenge of teshuva for the habitual sinner is overcoming the belief that it is futile to try to return.

  5. Anonymous4:30 PM

    On an unrelated note;
    I was going through your posts on Succos and read your "do kinnyanim derabanan have a chalos do'oraisa" (October 7 2009);
    you mentioned that varios gemaros bring cases that chachomim through hefker beis-din hefker could annul a marriage. Therefore this would be a question against the rambam who says that kinnyonei deranan can't cause a chalos do'oraisa.

    I thought of the following he'arah:
    In Gitin 78b the gemarah discusses 4 amos being konah a get for a woman so she is megureshes.
    The Rishomnim ask: How can a kinyan derabanan (4 amos; see bava metzia 10a) cause a get de'orasah?
    Rosh (siman 6) says because "kol demekadesh, adateh derabanan mekadesh, veafkuinhu rabanan lekiddushin mineh", a special takanah by get.
    Ran (D.H Heichi Dami) says rabanan were makneh to her the 4 amos and it belongs to nobody else because hefker beis-din hefker, even mido'oraisa, so she is konah.
    So the Ran in Succcah 46 goes leshitosoi to the Ran in Gitin 78b, that a kinyan derabanan can have a chalos de'oraysa, both in the cases of lending a lulav to a koton, and giving a get in 4 amos. However the Rambam in Succah will hold like the Rosh in Gitin.

    P.S I am the same anonymous as the one in "tnai on mitzvos" (Wednesday July 29 2010)who gave the answer. I am a 15 year old from London with a name Chaim.P. Keep up the fantastic posts and the vast lomdus, and a g'mar chasimah tovah and gut gebensht yoor.

  6. His name, Elisha, was supposed to signal a connection to Gechazi, as I recall.I believe it was a prostitute who gave him the name of Acher when he proved that he was truly "off" to her.

  7. >>>>part of the challenge of teshuva for the habitual sinner is overcoming the belief that it is futile to try to return.

    This is similar to R' Tzadok's approach -- Acheir had the power to do tshuvah despite the voice of the bas kol because tshuvah is higher even than what nevuah can reveal.

  8. Thanks for the he'ora Chaim P and a gmar chasima tova to you to.