Rose Honey instead of Hot Lead

One may ask: “If a person has done many things that are bad and hurtful, can they ever be forgiven?” The Holy Word teaches:

“I have blotted out, as a thick cloud, your transgressions, and, as a cloud, your sins: return to Me; for I have redeemed you.   Seek you the L-rd while He may be found; call you upon Him while He is near. (Isaiah 44:22, 55:6)”

It is told that there was a certain man who had been wicked all his life, and he was well aware that it would be very hard for his repentance to be received in heaven. On one occasion he jokingly asked Rabbi Moshe ben Shem-Tov de Leon of blessed memory (1250-1305 c.e.) whether there was any hope for such a great sinner. The holy rabbi thought for some time and answered: “When anyone is guilty in any of these ways, he must confess in what way he has sinned” (Leviticus 5:5). The holy rabbi listened to everything the man had to say and then sadly ruled, “The only remedy and atonement for you is to accept the punishment of death as an atonement for your transgressions.”

Then the wicked man asked him: “If I do accept a sentence of death, shall I have a share in the Garden of Eden?” “Yes,” said the holy rabbi; and the wicked man pleaded: “Swear to me that my place will be near you!” Then Rabbi Moshe ben Shem-Tov de Leon swore to him that he would be near him in the Garden of Eden. When the man heard this, he took a deep breath and expressed, “I prayed to the L-rd my G-d and confessed: “O L-rd, the great and awesome G-d, who keeps his covenant of love with all who love him and obey his commands (Daniel 9:4) hear my words that come from the depths of my heart.” The sinner with his broken heart gathered up his courage and followed him to the central shul (synagogue).

Once there, the rabbi ordered that hot lead should be brought to him. They brought the lead, and he puffed air at it with the bellows until the lead was boiling. Then he sat the wicked man on a bench and tied a cloth over his eyes and said to him: “Confess all your sins to our G-d and accept your death as a return for the sins with which you have angered your Creator all your life.” At this, the man burst into a great and exceedingly bitter gush of tears as he proclaimed, “I confess my iniquity; I am troubled by my sin.” (Psalm 38:18). Round about him stood many of the community’s elders and sages. And then the rabbi said to him: “Open your mouth wide, and I shall fill it with boiling lead.” And the man opened his mouth very wide in the presence of all the people who stood round about him, in order to accept the fullness of death and so gain life in the World to Come.

At this, the said rabbi took a spoonful of warm rose honey and dropped it into his mouth and said to him: “He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy. (Proverbs 28:13) May your many sins depart from you and your transgression be atoned!”

The man, his heart sincere and broken began to cry at once in bitter grief: “Holy rabbi! For the honor of our Maker, the King who is King above all kings, the Holy One, blessed be He slay me now indeed, so that I may not see the evil of losing my soul; for why should I live. My sins have mounted higher than my head, from the sole of my feet to the crown of my head, there is no sound place in me; so what have you done to me? Why have you deceived me?”

The holy rabbi answered him: “We are taught: “The L-rd is near to all those who call upon Him, to all who call upon Him in truth” (Psalms 145:18) For He cleanses a soul from sin, when he makes confession. (Psalms of Solomon 9:12) and “the spirit of man is the lamp of the L-rd, searching all his innermost parts.” (Proverbs 20:27). As long as the lamp of your spirit burns, there is time to make repairs. Do not dread and have no fear, for G-d has already seen all your deeds and has forgiven you. No go forth live by the Holy Words of the L-rd and  sin no more.”

Thereafter the man never left Rabbi Moshe ben Shem-Tov de Leon’s house of study and spent his days in fasting and true repentance.

May all your tales end with Shalom (peace)

Tell it to your children, and let your children tell it to their children, and their children to the next generation. (Joel 1:3) Please share this story with others


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