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Elazar b. Durdaya

Dear Rabbi,

I recall once learning a gemara about a certain sinner (arayos, or similar, I think), who ends up crying himself to death in a final act of teshuvah and reportedly all is forgiven and he’s koneh olamo b’sha’ah achas (I hope I’m not confusing stories).
1. After his good cry, the man never faced the ta’avah again – how can we call that a good teshuvah?
2. One could almost glean from this gemara that death (was this suicide?) is a viable option if all other attempts at stopping one’s sinning fail.

What are your thoughts?
Thank you and kind regards,
Yaacov

Answer:

The Gemara (Avodah Zarah 17) speaks about Elazar b. Durdayah, who repented for his sinful life, died while crying, and was immediately accepted into the World to Come. Upon hearing of the tale, Rebbi cried, in seeing that some are able to earn their World to Come in an instant.

It is true that R’ Elazar never faced the trial again. But, as the Rambam writes (teshuvah 2:2), a person’s does not necessarily reach true teshuvah by facing the same situation, but when it is certain that he will never transgress again.

Certainly, the story does not represent a suicide. Rebbi called Elazar “Rabbi Elazar,” meaning that he teaches us something, and suicide is, of course, not permitted and not something to emulate under any circumstance.

Rather, the idea is that he regretted his deeds to the point of death. His regret was complete, and therefore he was immediately accepted into Olam Haba.

We learn from the tale that not only is a person able to change his “direction” in an instant, and be called a tzaddik (this can be seen from the Gemara in Kiddushin, which clarifies that a person can repent in an instant), but even ‘erase’ his sinful life by means of sincere, absolute regret.

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