Teshuva in the Talmud
The Talmud is full of stories of repentance. In this course with Rabbi David Sedley we will explore some of these and extrapolate the relevance to our daily lives. How can we become better people? What is required to achieve repentance?
Teshuva in the Talmud: Lesson 1
RABBI ELIEZER BEN DORDAI: This is one of the most famous and most peculiar stories in the Talmud. Rabbi Eliezer spent his entire life sinning, yet in one moment of sincere repentance he earned the World to Come. When Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi heard this he cried, and said that some earn their World to Come in many years and some earn it in a single instant. We will learn the Gemara together, and try to understand what it means to earn the World to Come in a single instant. And why did Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi cry?
Teshuva in the Talmud: Lesson 2
KETIA BAR SHALOM: A Roman officer who defended the Jewish people against Caesar, but paid for it with his life. Yet his act earned him a portion in the World to Come. We are familiar with the quote from the mishna in Sanhedrin which precedes Pirkei Avot, that all of Yisrael have a share in the World to Come, but this Gemara teaches that also non-Jews can earn their share in the World to Come. What messages can we learn from this story in the Gemara, and how should it impact on our preparations for Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur?
Teshuva in the Talmud: Lesson 3
YOSEF MESHITA AND YAKUM ISH TZROROT: Before Yitzchak blessed Yaakov the verse states: “And he came near, and kissed him. And he smelled the smell of his raiment, and blessed him.” The Midrash understands this allegorically, that the word “raiment” (begadim) should be read as “traitors” (bogadim). The Midrash says that Yitzchak only blessed Yaakov after he saw that in the future there would be wicked people, traitors to the Jewish nation, who would nevertheless return and repent. Yosef Meshita aided the Romans at the time of the destruction of the Second Temple. Yakum Ish Tzrorot taunted his uncle, Yosei Ish Tzreida as he was about to be killed by the Romans. Both of these two repented, and earned their share of the World to Come in a single moment. It was through them, and those like them, that Yaakov and the Jewish people earned the blessing from Yitzchak. In this shiur we will discuss the importance of sinners and repentance. We will look at different opinions as to why Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi heard that they had earned their portion of the World to Come in a single instant. We will also look at the concept that “In the place where penitents stand, completely righteous are unable to stand.”
Teshuva in the Talmud: Lesson 4
CHANANYA BEN TERADION’S EXECUTIONER: We end this series with the story of one of the Ten Martyrs (who we will also read about very briefly in Mussaf on Yom Kippur). Chanya ben Teradion was killed by the Romans for teaching Torah. He was wrapped up with a Torah scroll and burned. His students could not bear to see him suffer, so they told him to allow himself to die quicker, but he refused. Then the executioner (a gentile Roman) offered to hasten his death by removing the damp wool they had placed over his heart. Rabbi Chananya ben Teradion promised him a share in the World to Come if he would do so. There are so many peculiar and interesting aspects to this story (not least the prologue, which I have left out of this description). We will hopefully discuss them (but hopefully you will prompt me with the questions). There is also an implied halachic issue here – is it permitted to hasten one’s own death to prevent suffering? (And Tosafot ask whether it is permitted to commit suicide to avoid forced conversion). This is the last class in this series (though there will be another series coming along quite soon – “1648 and All That” in which I will look at the impact of the Chmielnicki massacres on the future development of Ashkenazi Jewry). Looking forward to seeing you all there. And I wish you all a G’mar Tov and a happy, healthy and blessed year.
Rabbi David Sedley lives in Jerusalem with his wife and six children. He was born and raised in New Zealand before making Aliya in 1992. He left Israel temporarily (for eight years) to serve as a communal Rabbi in Scotland and England and returned to Israel in 2004. He has translated Rabbeinu Yonah's commentary on Pirkei Avos and is the co-author of Sefiros: Spiritual Refinement Through Counting the Omer (both Judaica Press). Over the years Rabbi Sedley has worked as a journalist, a translator, a video director and in online reputation management. He also writes a weekly Torah blog on the Times of Israel.