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Teshuva in Responsa X

The Rokeah speaks of teshuvat ha-mishkal, ‘balance repentance’—i.e. severe penances for each sin in order to cancel it out. The Rokeah’s words are ‘words of tradition’ and should ideally be followed, but the penances of Rokeah involve prolonged fasts for each individual sinful act.


This man, who sinned for a period of three years, could not satisfy the requirements of the Rokeah even should he live as long as Methuselah. Various Kabalistic books, which, says Rav Landau, he had read in his youth, have different schemes, but in any event, fasting is only secondary. Repentance chiefly involved giving up the sun, confessing it with a broken heart and turning to the love of God.

The Rokeah’s prescriptions are not an end in themselves. They are no more than a means of bringing home to the sinner how grievous was his offence. Therefore, says Rav Landau, he is always lenient with regard to fasting as a penance where a scholar, who can ‘slaughter his evil inclination with the sword of the Torah’, is concerned.

For all that, this man cannot be let off scot free. The study of Torah is the best means for finding atonement, but he should study solid subjects for instance, the Mishnah together with the Commentary Tosafor Yom Tov, which should be studied in depth, and the Talmud, the Codes and the Bible. He should also study the following moralistic works: Bahya’s Duties of the Heart, omitting the opening, purely philosophical chapter; the Shelah of Isaiah Horowitz, where he does not speak of the Kabbalah; and the section on repentance in Maimonides’ Code.

He should recite Psalms regularly, for there is no better way of setting the heart aflame with the love of God. The more recent prayers should be avoided. One cannot improve on David,

The man should rise at midnight to mourn the destruction of the Temple. In the midsummer, when it is so hot, he should not fast, but otherwise he should fast once a week.

During the month of Elul he should fast two or three times a week and every day of the Ten Days of Penitence.

After three years, he can relax a little, provided that he rises each night to study the Torah.

He should avoid all frivolity and jesting, keeping his eyes on the ground and never gaze at women. During the three yeas he should not drink wine, except on the night when he intends to have marital relations.

Rav Landau says that he reduces to dictate as a penance any abstention from a normal sex lif,e since the scholar has obligations towards his wide and, in any event, this depends on individual temperament. He should work it out for himself, preserving a balance but never erring on the side of severity. The Rabbis say in connection with sex, the left hand should reject but the right hand should bring near.

The scholar is a wealthy man, so he should give much alms. A good way of doing this would be to work out the number of fasts demanded by the Rokeah and give a proportionate amount in charity – i.e. a number of coins for the number of fasts due. God will them forgive him and his sins will be no more.

Sot. 47 a

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