Sins Endanger Lives, Repentance Saves Them
Rabbi Moshe Cordovero, zt”l writes in Tomer Devorah that each sin which a person performs creates a destructive angel. This is the meaning of our Sages’ statement: “A person who performs one sin acquires for himself one prosecutor.” This prosecutor stands before God and says: “So-and-so created me!”
Now, as a rule, no being exists in this world which does not depend on God’s continuous support. What keeps this prosecutor alive? Logic dictates that God should say, “I do not sustain destructive angels. Let it go to the person who created it, and let its creator sustain it!” If this were to happen, the destructive angel would immediately descend to the world and destroy or claim the soul of the person who created it, and they would both die.
Nevertheless, God does not say this. He sustains this destructive angel until one of three things happens. Either the sinner repents and the prosecutor is destroyed by the penitent’s suffering, or the True Judge destroys it by bringing suffering and death upon its creator, or its creator goes to hell and is punished there for his sin. This is what Kayin meant when he said: “My sin is more than I can bear.”
This idea is frightening and shocking because it is all said about one sin. What can we say and how can we speak, we who are full of innumerable sins (may God have mercy upon us). Remaining sinful and not repenting is truly dangerous. Our teacher, the Chida, zt”l writes that anyone with a heart will be disconcerted by this.
A sinner forces God, so to speak, to sustain the destructive angel which he created to anger God. The mind reels at the shame and stupidity of the sinner. Truly, if a person thinks deeply about this, “his legs become weak” on account of fear, and trembling seizes him when he realizes the extent of his foolishness and stupidity in allowing himself to be seduced by his evil inclination.
Our teacher, the genius, Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, shelita quotes the holy books as saying that sin and punishment are not separate entities. Rather, the sins which God commanded us to avoid are intrinsically poisonous to body and soul, burning, ravaging, and destroying them. Therefore, even someone who sins unintentionally needs atonement, because sin is like a fire which keeps consuming until all is destroyed. It is as if a sinner has swallowed poison and therefore his father, our teacher, the genius who wrote Kehillot Yaakov and was known as “The Steipler,” zt”l, expresses a similar idea.
Sin, he maintains, is like cancer (r”l). If someone knew that taking a specific action or eating a specific food might lead him to get cancer (r”l), he would certainly run away from it as fast as he could. He would live in fear of accidentally doing something dangerous. If he actually did trip up, he would be scared to death. It is only the kindness of God that allows repentance to wipe out a sin. Repentance is comparable to chemotherapy. Certainly, no one is going to be lazy when it comes to saving his life. He will undergo the best treatments available. So too, a person must use everything he has in order to repent. To put it simply, it’s about saving his life.
Rabbi Yosef Churba is the founder of Sephardic.Org as well as Rosh Yeshiva of Magen Avraham Yeshiva in Brooklyn NY. It is with his guidance that this amazing website remains on the correct path in order to inspire Jewish people around the world.