Halakhic Positions of Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik
by R. Aharon Ziegler
“Veloh Tisov Nachala Mi’mateh L’mateh Acher”-“And no heritance will be transferred from one tribe to another”.(Bamidbar 36;9). Elisha ben Abuya, known as “Acher”, was a Tanna who adopted false theological beliefs. The Gemara Chagiga (15a) recounts how he (allegedly) heard a voice from heaven, encouraging everyone to do Teshuvah (Repent) “With the exception of Acher”, at which point he felt that Teshuvah would not be accepted from him. According to Rav Soloveitchik, he could not possibly have heard such a Bat Kol, heavenly voice, because that would go against the very basic concepts of Judaism.
The Gemara Bava Batra, (113a) discusses whether the transfer of land between tribes discussed in the Torah (ibid) takes place via the son or husband. The Gemara concludes that the pasuk cannot be referring to transfer via the son because a son in never called Acher-he can never be considered “other”. The word “son” and “Acher” are mutually exclusive. Elisha be Abuya felt that he had become so estranged from the Jewish religion and GD, that he no longer fit within the category of GD’s sons. Based on this, he concluded that the heavenly voice which invited and encouraged everyone to do Teshuvah, excluded him. He was no longer a son, he was “Acher”, permanently estranged from GD.
Elisha be Abuya was of course wrong and, mistaken! No matter how far a Jew strays, he is never so distant that Teshuvah is precluded. GD remains hidden in the recesses of the heart of even the worst people. Elisha, who was so depressed and desponded with his life, heard an imaginary voice, a voice which did not really exist. FOR THERE ARE NO EXCEPTIONS TO TESHUVAH! Indeed, Talmud Yerushalmi (Chagiga 2:1) records that Elisha confessed (recited Vidui) just before he died, and that his disciple Rabbi Meir responded, “My Master died while crying.” Even Acher, who forsook his past and gave up his world, reached the moment of truth, when he broke down and cried. Who was it that brought tears to his eyes? HaKadosh –Baruch – Hu, Himself! The Thirteen Atributes of Mercy, begin with the repetition of” HaShem, HaShem”. The first HaShem-means, that GD removes Himself from the sinner, abandons him. But the second HaShem, tells us that GD is there even AFTER man sins. He extends His hand and stretches His right arm to receive penitents, and lead them back home to their Father in heaven. NOTHING STANDS IN THE WAY OF TESHUVAH.