Deuteronomy/Dvarim - Ekev
To Bribe G-d
Posted 2007 - Contributed by Asher ben
to Torah Portions Archive
In this week's Torah portion, Ekev, Moshe tells the Jewish people
about the relationship between them and G-d. When it comes to
judgment, he tells them, Hashem will not `show favor (i.e. overlook
sins) or take bribery'.
Overlooking a sin means that a sin will not be "counted" even though
G-d considers it bad. Bribery is casing a judge to issue a dishonest
verdict. Calling something bad, "good".
Rashi comments that when it says that Hashem will not overlook our
sins, it speaks only about a situation where the Jewish people do not
follow in Hashem's ways. This explanation is necessary in order not to
contradict the priestly blessing: "May Hashem show you favor". For a
loving father it is only natural to overlook the smaller mistakes of
his child. Therefore, in general Hashem overlooks our sins (when not
done with the intention to remove the yoke of heaven.)
Harder to understand is Moshe's statement that G-d doesn't take
bribes. Why would anyone think that Hashem, the true judge, would be
tempted to take bribes? Besides, we know that He keeps all the
Mitzvot, and one of them is not to take bribery!
TESHUVA AS BRIBERY
Interestingly enough, we find in Mishlei that Hashem takes bribes
from the wicked. The midrash explains: "What is the bribery He takes
from the wicked? -Their repentance and good deeds in this world.
Hashem said to the Jewish people: "My children, do teshuva while the
gates of repentance are still open! In this world I take bribes but
in the world to come, when I judge you, I won't."
One may think that doing many good deeds or writing out a big check
to charity would have an effect in the heavenly court. The Torah
tells us here that this is not so. To quote the sages: "If one were
to do a thousand good deeds and one sin, this one sin cannot be
compensated for by subtracting one or more good deeds. He will be
punished for the sin and receive reward for all the good deeds"
Moshe is saying that bribing Hashem with good deeds won't work. The
only way to bribe Him is with repentance. The reason behind that is
very simple. Punishment and reward are based on a person's record.
All deeds, good and not good, get recorded in the heavenly books. By
feeling regret, wishing that a certain deed was never done, the
record gets cleaned. Adding a lot of good deeds on the other hand,
gives us merit in the world to come, but do not cancel out our bad
According to this explanation however, repentance can't be considered
a bribe. A bribe is only to CHANGE the verdict unlawfully. Once there
is no sin on the record, there is no reason for punishment and
therefore no reason for a bribe.
The Talmud states that when one does teshuva out of sincere love for
Hashem, his sins turn into merits. The heavenly law is that one gets
punished for a sin. By erasing the sin, the law doesn't call for
punishment anymore. To consider the former sin a merit however, is
CHANGING the law. Thus one might argue that repentance IS considered
The problem with this theory is though, that the midrash seems to
call ALL forms of teshuva bribery, and not only the one that
transforms sins into merits.
DIFFERENT TYPES OF TESHUVA
According to the Torah, Teshuva means to refrain from
sinning and to make a firm resolution not ever to do that sin again.
As we just mentioned, there are higher forms of teshuva too.
Nevertheless even the simplest form of teshuva causes the sin to be
forgiven. That, one can argue, is not fair. There should be a
difference in the actual forgiving of the sin between someone who
does it out of fear of punishment and someone who does it out of love
for G-d and a desire to please Him. Since no difference is being made
between levels of repentance, it is possible to consider teshuva a
form of bribery.
How does teshuva work?
Three things nullify bad decrees. Tefilah (prayer), tzedakah
(charity) and teshuva. R'Huna says ..also change of name and good
deeds. … Others say also change of place. (Midrash)
Based on this midrash the Halacha tells us how one should act after
he repented for a sin. "He should always cry out to Hashem … do a lot
of charity…stay far away from what he sinned with, and change his
name, saying: I am someone else. I am no longer the person who did
those sins. He should change all his deeds for the better and exile
In other words; one should repent from the original sin first and
then change his identity and ALL his deeds.
Since these two things were mentioned together in the midrash, we
must say that they are linked in Halacha (Jewish law) too. This
implies that `change of identity' is not accomplished by refraining
from doing the sin that is being repented for, but only when one's
whole character is improved. This implies not only changing the bad
ways but also the good ways. Since better is better then good, even
the good ways can, and should, be improved.
SIN AND SINNER
There are two ways of looking at repentance.
-From the sin's point of view: Before the repentance there is a sin;
after teshuva it gets erased.
-From the sinner's point of view: Before he repents, he is
a `sinner'; after teshuva he gets a new identity. The practical
difference would be in a case where a sin has lasting results. For
example, a child from an illegitimate relationship is a living
testimony to the sin. No matter how much remorse the parents feel,
the sin will not be completely erased as long as that child is alive.
If in such a case the sinner would do a proper teshuva, including
an `identity change'; he wouldn't be punished for it. Although the
result of the sin is still existence, it won't be considered a sin
done by HIM. The one who did the sin no longer exists.
On Rosh Hashana we say in the prayers that Teshuva, Tefilah and
Tzedakah can overturn bad decrees. We don't mention the rest of the
Halacha there about becoming a new person and changing the previous
Teshuva, Tefilah and Tzedakah all deal with erasing the SIN. The
actual repentance erases the blemish on the record. Depending on how
sincere the teshuva is, the dirt will be erased more intensely. The
prayers and charity are in a way part of the teshuva too. In a human
relationships one has to be extra nice after a quarrel, so too we
have to show extra involvement in Torah and mitzvah observance after
having transgressed G-d's will.
Becoming a new person deals with transforming the SINNER.
The Rosh Hashana prayer talks about nullifying a bad decree against a
sinner. Once the person has done teshuva in a way that it changed his
identity, there is no reason to worry about a bad decree against a
sinner who no longer exists.
In order to testify in a rabbinical court, one has to be a `kosher'
witness. It is customary to remind the official witnesses (for
example: at a wedding ceremony) to do teshuva in their minds. Even if
the witness has done certain sins in the past that would disqualify
him from this role, the teshuva makes him `Kosher' again.
Although proper teshuva is done by feeling regret for the particular
sins that were done, complemented by prayer etc., the mere decision
that he will never sin again is enough to render him fit for
In order for a sin to be erased, a stronger, more intentional teshuva
is definitely required. In order to be considered a totally new
person, in a way that cleanses a person of his sins and their
consequences, more is needed than having a single positive thought.
Nevertheless, we can talk here about an identity change on a smaller
It can be compared to an embryo in its earliest stage in the womb. It
takes nine months of pregnancy and many years of childhood to grow
into an adult.
Doing teshuva from the depth of the heart is an adult teshuva.
Deciding in ones mind not to sin ever again for the sake of the
wedding ceremony, is teshuva as an embryo in its earliest stage. It
is the first step on the road leading back to Hashem. But it has the
potential to become an adult teshuva.
Now we can understand why teshuva is not considered bribery in a
negative way, even when no attention is paid to the level of
intensity. To our eyes, whether we look at the sin or at the sinner,
there is a difference in levels of teshuva. Only proper teshuva can
erase the sin and change the identity of the person who sinned.
Accepting a low form of repentance we consider `unfair'. When teshuva
is referred to as a bribe, it is done so in OUR terms. In Hashem's
eyes, however, it is not considered bribery. To Him it is clear that
the first step contains the potential for the highest form of
teshuva. He knows that it is only a matter of time for this potential
to be activated. Therefore He is completely justified in accepting
everyone's teshuva equally.
This also explains why the midrash says that the bribery consists of
repentance and GOOD DEEDS.
We said earlier that good deeds do NOT have the ability to erase sins
from the record. Why then does the midrash say that Hashem can be
bribed with repentance and good deeds?
According what we just explained, we can understand it though.
Only when teshuva is done in a way that it will result in good deeds,
and with time a complete personality change, it is considered bribery.
In the laws of teshuva there is another very interesting law.
"The Jewish people will only be redeemed because of teshuva. But the
Torah promised already that at the end of the exile everyone will
repent and they will be redeemed immediately."
May it be right now with the coming of Moshiach.
Translations in Torah Portions of the week are partially taken from the ArtScroll
Stone Edition Chumash and from
Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch Chumash
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