Gemara on the End of Days: Tractate Sanhedrin 97b: Geula Depends on Teshuva

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Brown sign in the desert saying: viewpoint trail end

Discussion in the Gemara, Tractate Sanhedrin 97b, about the End of Days

Over on my own blog, I promised to bring the discussion from the Gemara, Tractate Sanhedrin 97b, where Chazal are talking about the advent of Moshiach and the end of days. After I started typing it all up, I realized it was also useful background for the ravberland.com blog, too, so I decided to post it up here, instead.

It makes for very interesting reading, not least because you can see that many of today’s ongoing disagreements about this subject are rooted in the disagreements our Sages were having back then.

This translation and notes is taken from the Artscroll edition of the Talmud Bavli. I strongly recommend you go and double-check all the original sources yourself whenever possible, to make sure you’re understanding what our Sages actually said, and not just what people think they said.

To make sure it’s very clear what is Torah source and what is opinion:

The Gemara’s text will be bold. The notes from the Artscroll edition will be in italics, underneath, and I’ll leave any comments I might have until the very end of the post, to avoid any confusion.

As always, I’m very happy for people to let me know if I’m misquoting anything, or making any mistakes, so I can correct them, so please do let me know, together with any relevant Torah sources.

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THE GEMARA ON MOSHIACH AND GEULA, TRACTATE SANHEDRIN 97B

Rav said: All the ‘Ends’ have passed and the matter of the Moshiach’s arrival only depends on teshuva and good deeds.

ARTSCROLL NOTES:

Maharal comments: [A]ll the various times predicted by the Sages as suited for the redemption have passed. Therefore, the only obstacle now preventing the Moshiach’s immediate arrival is our failure to repent.

Rashi: If all the Jewish people repent, the Moshiach will come. Otherwise, he will not come.

Maharsha: [T]he redemption will only occur when the people merit it through their repentance and good deeds. Since teshuva is dependent on man’s free will, the date of the redemption cannot be pre-determined.

Alternatively:

Ramban, Sefer HaGeula Ch 2: Rav agrees that there is a pre-ordained ‘End’. However, even at that date, the redemption will not occur unless the people are deserving of it. God will prolong the exile until the people repent.

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(Back to the GEMARA on the End of Days:)

A dissenting view:

But Shmuel says: It is enough for the mourner to endure his period of mourning. (The Gemara notes that this issue has been debated by the Tannaim.) This dispute between Rav and Shmuel is parallel to the following dispute between Tannaim:

Rabbi Eliezer says: If the Jewish people repent, they will be redeemed and if not, they will not be redeemed.

R’ Eliezer’s opinion corresponds to that of Rav.

Rabbi Yehoshua said to (Rabbi Eliezer): If they do not repent, they will not be redeemed?! Rather, the Holy One, may He be blessed, will appoint a king over them who decrees will be as harsh as those of Haman. And the Jewish people will repent. And in this way, [God] will bring them back to the right path.

The Gemara draws a parallel between Rabbi Yehoshua’s view and that of Shmuel, who maintains that redemption can occur even without repentance.

Maharsha: [E]ven according to Shmuel some measure of repentance is required. Shmuel’s words mean that it is sufficient for the Jewish people to repent as a result of their mourning – i.e. in order to escape a king’s harsh decrees. God can ‘force’ this type of repentance by creating conditions in which the people will realize that they have no other option. It is possible, therefore, for God to engineer such repentance at a given date as part of a preordained redemptive process.

This is in contrast to the opinion of Rav and R’Eliezer which maintains that since the necessary repentance must be self-motivated, God can’t ‘force’ it to occur at a preordained date.

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(Back to the GEMARA on the End of Days:)

The Gemara cites a Baraisa in which these Tannaim debate the issue:

It was taught in another Baraisa: Rabbi Eliezer says: If the Jewish people repent, they will be redeemed, as it is stated: Shuvu Banim shovavim ­– Return, o wayward children, [and] I will cure your waywardness.

From Jeremiah 3:22. The first clause sets forth a prerequisite for the fulfillment of the second clause. If the people repent, God will cure (i.e redeem) them. The verse proves that teshuva is necessary for redemption.

Rabbi Yehoshua said to him: But is it not already stated: For nothing were you sold, and without money shall you be redeemed? (Isaiah 52:3) The first clause, ‘for nothing were you sold’, means that you were exiled BECAUSE you committed idolatry, which has no value. The second clause, ‘and without money shall you be redeemed’ means that you will be redeemed even without repentance or good deeds.

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Rabbi Eliezer said to Rabbi Yehoshua: But is not already stated, Shuvu Ali, Return to Me and I will return to you?

From Malachi 3:7: First, the people must turn to God in repentance, and then God will turn to them and redeem them.

Rabbi Yehoshua said to [R’Eliezer]: But is it not already stated: For I made myself Master over you, and I will take you, one from a city and two from a family, and I will bring you to Zion?

From Jeremiah 3:14. Rashi: The phrase: ‘I made myself Master over you’ implies that God will bring the redemption even against the people’s will, i.e. even though they have not all repented. God will select the few righteous individuals – ‘one from a city, two from a family’ – and bring them to Zion.

Maharsha: R’ Yehoshua maintains that if the people have not repented of their own accord, God will ‘force’ them to repent by subjecting them to terrible calamities. The few who survive those calamities and repent as a result of them will merit to return to Eretz Yisrael.

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(Back to the GEMARA on the End of Days:)

Rabbi Eliezer said to [R’Yehoshua]: But is it not already stated: In repose and calm shall you be redeemed?

From Isaiah 30:15. Maharsha: The redemption will occur in conditions of peace and tranquility. This proves that the redemption will be brought about by self-motivated repentance, rather than by ‘forced’ repentance which is based on a desire to escape suffering and tribulation.

Rabbi Yehoshua said to [R’ Eliezer]: But is it not already stated: Thus says Hashem – the Redeemer of Israel, His holy one – to one who is despised by men, abhorred by nations and who is a slave of rulers. Kings shall see and rise, also princes shall prostrate themselves?

From Isaiah 49:7. Rashi: R’ Yehoshua understands the verse as meaning that the people will be despicable and abhorrent in a spiritual sense, because of their sins. Nonetheless, they will be redeemed.

Yad Ramah: R’ Yehoshua deduces that since the verse mentions only the degradation of the Jews as a reason for redemption, it implies that repentance is not necessary.

Maharasha: R’ Yehoshua interprets the verse as teaching that because the Jews will be despised and abhorred in exile, they will make teshuva in order to escape their dreadful conditions, and then they will be redeemed. Hence, ‘forced’ repentance suffices to bring the redemption.

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(Back to the GEMARA on the End of Days:)

Rabbi Eliezer said to [R’ Yehoshua]: But is it not already stated, IF you return, O Israel, says Hashem, you shall return to Me?

From Jeremiah 4:1. Maharsha, Rif in Ein Yaakov: This verse is the strongest proof R’ Eliezer has adduced until now, for his position that the people must repent of their own accord to merit redemption.

Rabbi Yehoshua said to [R’ Eliezer]: But is it not already stated, I heard the man clothed in linen, who was above the waters of the river. He lifted his right hand and his left hand heavenward and he swore by the life of the world that in a time, times and a half, and upon the cessation of the power of the holy people, all these shall cease.

From Daniel 12:7. Daniel saw a vision where one angel asked another when the exile will end. The verse describes the second angel’s response.

Rashi: When the power of the Jewish people has utterly ceased and they are at the end of their tether, their troubles will finally cease and the Moshiach will come.

Rashi, Yad Ramah, cf Maharsha: The verse gives a preordained date for the redemption. It thus refutes R’ Eliezer’s view that the redemption is contingent upon repentance alone and has no fixed date.

The Baraisa concludes:

And Rabbi Eliezer was silent.

Yad Ramah, Maharal: Rabbi Eliezer conceded that Rabbi Yehoshua was right.

Rambam (Hilchot Teshuva 7:5) declares: The Jewish people will not be redeemed except through repentance.

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Ad Kan.

Just to be clear, all the above stuff about geula and the end of days is straight up quotes from the Gemara and the commentators, not my opinion or my ideas.

To put this in plain English, this is what’s going on:

Rabbi Eliezer is arguing that the Jewish people have to make real, self-motivated teshuva for the geula to come, and so Hashem will wait as long as it takes for this to happen (like maybe, even another 200 years….)

Rabbi Yehoshua is arguing that there is a ‘fixed’ time for the geula, or end of days, to occur, and if the Jewish people haven’t made the necessary teshuva by that point Hashem will bring massive tribulations to the world to ‘force’ them to repent ahead of the deadline for geula. Whoever makes it through these tribulations will then make it to geula and Zion, i.e. Israel.

Rabbi Eliezer tries to argue, but eventually he concedes that Rabbi Yehoshua is correct.

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BH, the ‘Rabbi Eliezer’ of our generation is still continuing the debate, and there is still everything to pray for.

But first, we have to stop telling ourselves ‘fairy stories’ about what our Sages tell us will happen ahead of the time of geula, the end of days and Moshiach being revealed in the world.

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Handwritten note of Rav Kook describing Rabbi Berland as Rabbi Eliezer HaGadol

“Appended to this, in honor of Rav Berland shlit”a, he is Rabbi Eliezer HaGadol, who suffers in the hard exile of Am Yisrael. D Kook Tiberius.”

 

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