An interesting person in Jewish history was King Menashe-interesting, that is, in a negative sense.
He was the son of King Chizkiahu, and one of his early acts was to kill his grandfather, the prophet Isaiah. This set the tone for his future actions, which included desecrating the Temple by extinguishing a flame which had been lit there by King Solomon.
He also became involved in various pagan cults and built a monstrous idol which he brought into the Temple. In his old age, according to a Midrash, he started feeling aches and pains, and in an effort to cure these, sought about for a form of worship which might help him. He went through all the pagan cults he knew, and then suddenly remembered a passage from parshat Nitzavim which his father Chizkiahu had read to him as a child.
"When all these things befall you- the blessing and the curse that I have set before you- and you take them to heart amidst the various nations to which the Lord your G-d had banished you, and you return to the Lord your G-d... then the L-rd your G-d will...take you back in love" (Deut. 30:1-3).
"Well", he thought, "the Jewish faith is worth a shot. I'll see if it helps my pains, and, if not, I'll know it's no better than all these pagan cults I've been dabbling in."
Menashe then engaged in prayer to G-d. The angels in heaven were furious at this attempt at teshuva by such a wicked man, and closed all the windows to heaven so that Menashe's prayer could not enter. G-d pleaded with the angels, but they refused to open the window. So G-d (allowing the angels to have their way) took a saw, and sawed out a hole beneath the heavenly Throne, so that Menashe's prayer could enter heaven.
We might side with the angels. Leaving aside Menashe's wickedness up to then, there is the provisional nature of this teshuva: if it cured his headache, fine, he'd stay with it; otherwise he'd go back to his idol worship. Hardly what we would call whole-hearted penitence! And yet it was enough for G-d to cut a hole beneath His throne through which to receive Menashe's prayer!
The best kind of teshuva is, of course, the whole-hearted kind. But it seems, from this Midrash, that this is not the only kind.
There is a Gemara in Kiddushin about provisional marriage declarations. If a man declares to a woman under the chupa, [bridal canopy] "Behold, you are married to me on condition that I give you $1,000", and he does not give her $1,000, then the marriage is not valid. But if he says, "Behold, you are married to me on condition that I am a complete tzaddik at this moment", then the marriage is valid, even if the man is completely wicked! How is this possible? The man might have done something really bad one minute before making this declaration, and do something else really bad one minute afterwards, but the possibility exists that at the moment of making the declaration he has just done teshuva, and is, at least at the moment, a complete tzaddik!
Now this isn't complete teshuva. According to the laws of teshuva, a baal teshuva [a penitent] must ask forgiveness from every person he has ever wronged, and make financial and other amends to such a person. He must also recite an oral confession to G-d which this man obviously has not done. Nevertheless, such a provisional teshuva, which was the kind that Menashe made, may be enough to convert someone into a complete tzaddik, at least temporarily.
There is a lesson here for us all. Many of us are afraid to make a commitment to a permanent change in lifestyle. Permanent is a very big word. Perhaps we would do better to make a less permanent commitment, yet a very real one.
On Yom Kippur, let us all stand tall as people and as Jews, and decide to make the attempt at teshuva, one step at a time, one day at a time. Worry less about forever and do more about today, today, and about tomorrow, tomorrow.
Rabbi Yaacov Haber
Rabbi Haber is National Director of the Department of Jewish Education of the Orthodox Union.
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