Saying “Sorry” While You Still Can

In this week’s parsha, “Va’eira”, G-d hardens the heart of Pharaoh, and Pharaoh refuses to let the Jews leave. Is G-d playing “fair” with Pharaoh?

The ability to “say ‘sorry'”, to repent, or to do “teshuvah” in Hebrew, is not something that we can take for granted. Like the entire world, it is a creation of G-d, and G-d has complete control over repentance.

We see here that Pharaoh’s sin was so great that G-d took away his ability to repent for his sins.

But this does not just happen to Pharaoh. King David and many prophets and sages prayed to G-d that their ability to repent should never be taken away. In the silent prayer that Jews say three times a day (known as the Shemoneh Esrei), we ask G-d to enable us to do a complete repentance.

The sage Elisha ben Abuyah was a very learned man, but in his later years he sinned greatly. One day a Divine voice came from the Heavens and declared that all Jews have a portion in the World to Come – except for Acher (Elisha ben Abuyah later became known as “Acher“). But when Acher eventually died, he was taken to task by G-d for not even trying to repent – even though he was told explicitly that it wouldn’t help.

Unfortunately, this can happen today. Many people sin today. The “good” ones think that they will repent just a moment before they die. In fact, the Talmud has many stories of sinners who repent, then die, and then a Heavenly voice cries out that so-and-so has just entered Heaven. Yet it is not a certainty that one will always be able to repent just a “moment” before death. How many people either die suddenly, or get injured and fall into a coma, so that they never have the opportunity to repent? Or worse, how many people have a heart so hard that they refuse to repent.

The news this past week was filled with a story of a well-known religious man who apparently sinned during his lifetime. Big time, illicit, sins with dozens of people. Yet to his dying day this man proclaimed his innocence and refused to repent, and instead claimed that all his accusers were lying, and he was innocent. We can see clearly here a man of whom G-d said, “I will not allow you to repent, for your sins are too great!” He became stubborn like Pharaoh to a point that he became insane and killed himself.

While none of us wants to sin in the eyes of G-d, let us pray that if that happens, G-d will allow us the say, “I am sorry.” Being able to repent and to move on with life is a privilege and not a “right” – be thankful we have it and use it as soon as it becomes necessary!

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