Thursday, August 31, 2006

Purity below, purity from Above

Posted by Ben

The Mishnah states that Rabbi Akiva said: “fortunate are you, O Israel. Before Whom do you cleanse yourselves? Who cleanses You? Your father in Heaven! As it is stated I will sprinkle pure water upon you, and you shall be cleansed. And it also says: The mikveh of Israel is HaShem. Just as a mikveh purifies the contaminated, so does the Holy One, Blessed is He, purify Israel.” It is noteworthy that Rabbi Akiva poses two questions. One is, “before Whom do you cleanse yourselves,” and the second question is, “Who cleanses you?” When one seeks to become pure, i.e. to gain atonement for his sins and find himself once again in the good graces of HaShem, he must realize that purity and atonement is a two-step process. One must attempt to purify himself, by cleansing himself from sin, and he must realize that only Hashem can purify him from all his sins. The Rambam alludes to this idea in Hilchos Teshuvah (2:2) when he writes that the definition of repentance is that the sinner distances himself from the sin, removes the sin from his thoughts, and accepts on himself not to commit the sin ever again. The sinner must also regret his past actions, and the One Who knows all hidden matters, i.e. HaShem, will testify on him that he will never commit this sin again. The Rambam states explicitly that in order to gain atonement, one must make all the effort that is necessary for the repentance process to be effective, but ultimately, one has to rely on HaShem to testify that he will never commit that sin again. This is parallel to the purification process, where one does everything he can to purify himself, but ultimately, it is HaShem who cleanses him from all sin.