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Rosh Hashanah 17

ROSH HASHANAH 17 & 18 (8, 9 Av) - these Dafim have been dedicated by Rabbi Eli Turkel of Ra'anana, Israel, to the memory of his father, Reb Yisrael Shimon ben Shlomo ha'Levi Turkel (Yarhzeit: 10 Av).


It was taught by a Tana of the school of Rebbi Yishmael that Hashem is "Ma'avir Rishon Rishon" -- He passes over the first sin that a person commits and does not hold the person accountable for it. Rava adds that if a person ends up having more Aveiros than Mitzvos, then Hashem counts each sin, even the one that He originally passed over.

This Gemara, however, seems to contradict the Gemara in Yoma (86b). The Gemara there says that Hashem gives a person *three* chances. Hashem forgives the first three sins that a person transgresses, but the fourth sin He does not forgive. Our Gemara says that only the first sin is forgiven, while the Gemara in Yoma says that the first three sins are forgiven! How are these two Gemaros to be reconciled?


(a) The RAMBAM (Hilchos Teshuvah 3:5) says that the Gemara in Yoma is saying that when Hashem wants to determine whether the person has mostly Aveiros or mostly Mitzvos in the first place, He ignores the first few sins. After Hashem judges without those sins, if there remains a majority of sins, then the person is punished for all of them, including the first sins. But if he is found to have a majority of Mitzvos without those two or three sins, then Hashem continues with the attribute described in our Gemara -- He erases Rishon Rishon, i.e. *every* remaining sin, one by one. Once the first sin has been erased, than the next one becomes the first and is also erased, and so on until all of the sins have been erased.

(b) The RITVA understands from the words of the RIF and RABEINU CHANANEL that both Gemaros are saying the same thing. When the Gemara here says that Hashem is "Ma'avir Rishon Rishon," it means that Hashem erases the first sin, and then the second becomes the first and so He erases it, and then the third becomes the first and so He erases it, but He stops there and does not erase any more sins. He erases the first three sins and no more, just like the Gemara in Yoma says. (The RAN, though, says that the Rambam probably understood the words of the Rif the way *he* explains -- (a) above.)

The RIF and RABEINU CHANANEL say that Hashem applies this attribute only to a person who is an upright, virtuous person who has never before sinned. When such a person sins, Hashem forgives his first three sins.

(c) The RITVA cites another explanation. The attribute of "Ma'avir Rishon Rishon" refers to the *fourth* sin. The first three sins are *competely* erased and are not recalled even if one ends up having a majority of sins. This is the subject of the Gemara in Yoma. The fourth sin, though, is erased through Hashem's kindness, but if one ends up having a majority of sins, the fourth sin is counted along with them.

(d) The RA'AVAD (Hilchos Teshuvah 3:5) explains that in our Gemara, we are discussing the yearly judgment, when every year Hashem weighs all of a person's Mitzvos and Aveiros. The Gemara in Yoma, though, is discussing a person who has not sinned at all since he has become obligated to observe the Mitzvos (e.g. a child who was recently Bar Mitzvah). Since he is not yet accustomed to fighting his Yetzer ha'Ra, Hashem forgives his first three Aveiros, treating them with less strictness, even if the sins are very severe and would normally require afflictions and Yom Kipur to exculpate. Hashem forgives them, if the person does Teshuvah, without afflictions and Yom Kipur, because they are the first three that he has done.

(The RITVA says a similar explanation, but he maintains that Hashem entirely forgives the first three sins, and they are never taken into account, because a person that young is not yet fully responsible for his actions, even though he is Bar Mitzvah.)


QUESTION: The Gemara relates that whenever the Jewish people perform the declaration of the Thirteen Attributes of Hashem's mercy as listed in the Torah (Shemos 34:6-7), Hashem forgives them of their sins. The Gemara quotes the first phrase in the verse, "Hashem Hashem," and explains that it means that "I am Hashem before a person sins, and I am Hashem after a person sins and does Teshuvah." Rashi explains that this means that Hashem has mercy, Rachamim, on a person before he sins.

Before a person sins, why does he need Rachamim if he has not yet sinned?


(a) The ROSH says that Hashem knows what a person is going to do, but He only punishes the person after he has actually sinned. Hashem has mercy on the person and lets him continue to go unpunished until he actually commits the transgression -- a person is judged "ba'Asher Hu Sham" (c.f. Bereishis 21:7)

(b) The ROSH gives a second answer and says that the Gemara in Kidushin (39b) states that if a person sins only by thinking about a certain sin, Hashem in His mercy does not count it as if the person sinned. However, if a person thinks about committing Avodah Zarah, then Hashem considers the person's thought to be like an action, as if the person had actually sinned.

This attribute of Hashem's Rachamim, explains the Rosh, applies to a person who sins with Avodah Zarah though thought. Only after the person does the action does Hashem then join the thought of idolatry with the action of idolatry, and He punishes the person for both. Until the person commits the act itself, though, Hashem does not punish the person for the thought of doing the act, but He has Rachamim on the person.

(c) Other Rishonim (see Chart) do not count the two words, "Hashem Hashem" as two separate attributes but as a single attribute of mercy. Accordingly, when the Gemara says, "I am Hashem before a person sins," it does not mean, as Rashi explains, that Hashem has Rachamim on a person before he sins. Rather, it means that Hashem lovingly accepts a person even after he sins *to the same measure* that He accepted him when he was free of sin.

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