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Will Hashem punish you until you repent? Or has a sin a time limit?

If you steal a car and you don't repent will Hashem punish you until you repent?

If there is a time limit for sin can we understand how that works?

Do the Torah or any of the rabbis talk about this question?

  • Are you referring only to punishment in this world? – Y     e     z Feb 7 '16 at 22:37
  • @yEz, the question is about punishment prior to repentance. That'd imply in this world. – msh210 Feb 8 '16 at 2:26
  • @msh210 and what if one dies without repenting? Seems like he'd be in a "prior to repentance" state for a long time. Is that included in this question? – Y     e     z Feb 8 '16 at 3:33
  • That's prior to repentance (or, as the question words it, "until you repent") only if you hold repentance can be done after death. I've never heard of such a thing, @yEz, but there are many things I've never heard of. – msh210 Feb 8 '16 at 3:56
  • @msh210 I'm not sure why the fact that the question mentions repentance as the endpoint defines the question as only in the situation where that endpoint eventually arrives. The question would not take into account someone who lived for 45 years without repenting and then died, possibly suffering the whole time or possibly not, because he didn't repent in the end so he is different? – Y     e     z Feb 8 '16 at 4:16
5

The Ramcha"l in Mesilas Yeshorim Chapter 4 touches on this subject.

He writes:

Just as the Holy One Blessed be He does not allow any good deed, small as it may be, to go unrewarded, so does He not permit any bad deed, however small, to go un-judged and un-passed upon, contrary to the thinking of those who wish to talk it into themselves that the Lord Blessed be He, will not review the lighter things in His judgment and will not call them into account. It is an acknowledged principle (Bava Kamma 50a): "Whoever says that the Holy One Blessed be He overlooks things will have his life `overlooked.' "

If He desires justice, then, He must deal with each man according to his ways and according to the fruits of his acts, with the most minute discrimination, for good or for bad. This is what underlies the statement of our Sages of blessed memory (Yalkut Ibid.) that the verse "He is a G-d of faithfulness, without wrong; He is righteous and just" has application to the righteous and to the wicked. For this is His attribute. He judges everything. He punishes every sin. There is no escaping.

This means that bad deeds, however small, are judged. But more relevant to the question is what he writes here:

… the attribute of mercy ... provides that the sinner be given time, and not be wiped out as soon as he sins; …. the time extension constitutes not a pardoning of the sin, but rather G-d's bearing with the sinner for a while to open the door of repentance to him.

But for sins to be pardoned or ignored would be entirely contrary to the concept of justice, for then there would be no judgement and no true law in relation to things. It is, therefore, impossible for such a situation to obtain. And if the sinner does not find open to him one of the avenues of escape that we have mentioned, it is certain that the attribute of justice will not emerge empty-handed. As our Sages of blessed memory have said (Yerushalmi Ta'anith 2:1), "He withholds His wrath, but He collects what is His."

This means that there is no time limit for sins. The attribute of mercy may act to delay punishment and give the sinner an opportunity to repent.

I found no information either way about the idea that Hashem punishes until the sinner repents.

2

From Maimonides' Mishneh Torah (Repentance Chapter 1:1) it seems Teshuva - returning/repentance (at least nowadays*) is an essential ingredient of atonement for all categories of sin:

...[the sacrifices] do not atone for them until they repent and confess verbally, as it says: he shall confess the matter in which he sinned (Leviticus 5:5). ...their death or lashing does not atone for them until they repent and confess verbally. And also someone who has injured his fellow or damaged his property, even though he has repaid what he owes him, he has not atoned until he confesses and turns away from similar actions forever, as it says: From any of the sins of man (Numbers 5:6).

From the fact that without repentance, even suffering and/or death do not atone, it seems fairly implicit that there is no time limit, at least in this world**.

Similarly, the implication of 1:4 is that time and suffering only function toward atonement when teshuva is also involved:

Even though teshuvah atones for all, and the day of Yom Kippur itself atones - there are some sins that can be atoned for in their time, and some sins which are only atoned after time has passed. What case is that? If a person violated a positive commandment for which the punishment is not karet and did teshuvah - before he can even move he is forgiven, and regarding such people it is said: Return, backsliding children; I will heal your backslidings (Jeremiah 3:22). If a person violated a negative commandment for which the punishment is neither karet nor capital punishment and did teshuvah – the teshuvah suspends it and Yom Kippur effects atonement; and regarding such people it is said: For that day will atone for you (Leviticus 16:30). If a person violated [a commandment for which the punishment is] karet or capital punishment and did teshuvah – the teshuvah and Yom Kippur suspend it and the suffering that falls upon him effects atonement. And no matter how much time passes, he does not receive full atonement until suffering falls upon him; and regarding such people it is said: Then will I visit their transgression with the rod, and their iniquity with strokes (Psalms 89:33). What cases are we discussing? Cases in which he did not disgrace the name [of G-d] at the moment of violation. But someone who disgraces the name [of G-d], even if he does teshuvah, and Yom Kippur passes and he remains in his teshuvah, and suffering befalls him – he does not receive full atonement until he dies; the teshuvah, Yom Kippur, and the suffering all suspend and death atones, as it says: And the Lord of Hosts revealed Himself in my ears: Surely this iniquity shall not be atoned until you die (Isaiah 22:14).

Relatedly, we find a debate amongst the Tannaim and Amoraim regarding the dependence of the final communal salvation upon repentance (Sanhedrin 97b):

:אמר רב: כלו כל הקיצין ואין הדבר תלוי אלא בתשובה ומעשים טובים. ושמואל אמר דיו לאבל שיעמוד באבלו. כתנאי...

Rav said: all the deadlines have passed and the thing is only dependent on repentance and good deeds. And Samuel said: It is enough for the mourner to stand in his mourning. This is also disputed by the Tannaim...***

(See there the full discussion.)



*Interestingly, however, in the time of the Temple service, atonement (at least on the communal level) did not always require teshuva:

1:2 ...But if repentance wasn't done, the goat only atones for the light ones. What are "light ones" and what are "heavy ones"? The heavy ones are sins that have the obligation of death by court, or excision. And false or vain oaths, even though they do not have excision, are of the heavy ones. And the rest of the negative commandments, and the positive commandments which do not have excision - those are the light ones.

However, considering that the scapegoat is a communal offering, it seems well within reason to argue that Maimonides is commenting here only regarding communal atonement, not of individual atonement, which may well always require some form of actual repentance.

**There is a tradition that postmortem suffering has a general time-limit of one year (see e.g. Eduyoth 2:10; See also Rosh Hashanah 17a). To what level these types of ideas can be understood simplistically/literally is controversial at best. But the suggestions does seem to be one of finite suffering even absent actual repentance.

***See however the subsequent passage where indeed it seems that even Samuel's position is that repentance is necessary, but if the final deadline is reached, the level of threat becomes one that precludes real free will, i.e. the teshuva is forced (perhaps akin to the midrashic concept of the acceptance of the Torah - kafa aleihem har k'gigit). See also alternate versions of the debate. In any case, it could certainly also be argued that this view of non-dependence on free-willed teshuva might also only be at the communal level of redemption, not with regard to individual atonement.

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