Moses ben Maimon (1135-1204) was a Spanish rabbi, physician, philosopher, and commentator on the Talmud. Better known as Maimonides or Rambam, he fled Spain when a Muslim conqueror offered the choice of conversion or death. He eventually became the physician of the Sultan Saladin, the leader who retook Palestine from the Crusaders. Maimonides is revered in the secular and Jewish world as a great intellect, a man of remarkable accomplishments in philosophy, Jewish law, and leadership. He was a rationalist, anti-mystical, and persuaded that Aristotelian philosophy could, with Torah, discover all truth.
Maimonides’ Mishneh Torah is a fourteen volume masterpiece. His decisions about the laws of Israel are regarded with finality and are reflected in the later law codes which are the basis of Orthodox Jewish practice today. Maimonides was able to absorb the entire content of the Talmud like few in history.
The following excerpts from Mishneh Torah (7:2-4, 8) on repentance reflect themes in rabbinic literature. They are also scriptural themes and find themselves reflected in the words of Yeshua and the apostles as well.
Death and Repentance
A man should always consider himself as if he is about to die; he may die when his time is up while still behaving sinfully. He should therefore repent of his sins immediately. Let him not say: “When I grow old I shall repent,” since he may die before getting old. Solomon in his wisdom said: Let your garments be always white [as burial garments] (Ecclesiastes 9:8).
Sinful Ways and Thoughts
Do not say repentance is limited to sinful acts, such as fornication, robbery, and theft. Just as a man must repent of these, so he must scan and search his evil traits, repenting of anger, hatred, envy, scoffing, greed, vainglory, excessive desire for food, and so on. One must repent of all these failings. They are worse than sinful acts; when a person is addicted to them, he finds it hard to get rid of them. The prophet says: Let the guilty man give up his way, and the evil man his thoughts (Isaiah 55:7).
God’s Love and the Penitent
Let not the repentant person imagine that he is far removed from the merit of the righteous on account of the iniquities and sins he committed. This is not so. He is tenderly loved by the Creator as if he had never sinned. Besides, his reward is great, since he had tasted sin and got rid of it by suppressing his evil impulse. The sages said: “Where repentant sinners stand the thoroughly righteous cannot stand” (Berakhot 34b); that is, their merit is superior to that of persons who never committed a sin, because the repentant had to exert greater effort in suppressing their impulse.
Humility, Shame, and Repentance
Those who repent should be exceedingly humble in their behavior. If ignorant fools insult them by mentioning their past deeds and saying to them: “Last night you were doing this and that; last night you were saying this and that,” they should pay no attention to them, but on hearing this they should rejoice, knowing that this is their merit. As long as they feel ashamed of their past deeds and are disgraced because of them, their merit and worth are enhanced. It is a flagrant sin to say to a repentant person: “Remember your past deeds,” or to mention them in his presence so as to embarrass him, or to recall similar incidents that are reminiscent of what he did. All this is forbidden along with all kinds of insulting words against which Torah warns us, as it is written: You must not vex one another (Leviticus 25:17).