Teshuva: God of Mercy & God of Justice

Rabbi Reuven Mann

Written by a student

Today I had the pleasure to host my Rebbe of three decades, Rabbi Reuven Mann on his too brief stop-over en-route home to Phoenix.  As always, we discussed various Torah topics. Today, he uncovered a new facet of Teshuva, "Repentance." Rabbi Mann newly outlined three stages in human corruption... 

The first stage is when man sins in a compulsory manner. As King Solomon states, "Man is not [fully] righteous in the land who does good and does not sin (Ecclesiastes 7:20)." This means that human nature is that all individuals submit to their urges, at some point. As the human condition is God's design, it is just that God pardons a person for caving to his frail tendencies. God made us all this way. Such pardon is an expression of the God of "Justice," as it would be unjust form God to hold man accountable for acting as he was designed.

Then there is man who sins not once…but continually, as were the people of Ninveh. The point of no-return is known by God alone. Yonah deserted Ninveh to the sea so as not to follow God's wish to warn Ninveh's inhabitants. But Yonah faulted in assessing that Ninveh's people had gone to far and were no longer deserving of God's mercy. God felt otherwise and forced Yonah back to Ninveh to warn them to repent, or suffer God's punishments. The lesson is that God is "merciful;" He allows man time to reverse his course, and He will fully accept penitent man…up to a point. As man sins grievously, God's acceptance of repentance in such a case is a "mercy", and not what strict justice calls for. God is acting over and above the call of justice.

Then there are the likes of Pharaoh. One who sins so brazenly that God's punishment is that repentance is not allowed; the man must suffer for what he has done, with no option to revert and repent. He must die in his willfully-committed sins. As repentance is a gift, God determines when this gift will be removed from one as wicked as Pharaoh. Repentance is not "due" to man after the first stage of a singular, compulsory infraction. After this stage, repentance is a gift.  But after that gift-stage, God may remove repentance altogether.