That is to say, God forgives sins only for one who regards himself as a remainder, i.e., of only secondary importance.
§ Rav Huna raised a contradiction between the two halves of a verse. It is written: “The Lord is righteous [tzaddik] in all His ways” (Psalms 145:17), indicating that God acts in accordance with the attribute of strict justice [tzedek], and then it is written in the same verse: “And kind [ḥasid] in all His works,” implying that He acts with grace and loving-kindness [ḥesed], going beyond the letter of the law. Rav Huna explained: Initially, at the time of judgment, He is righteous, but in the end, at the time of punishment, He is gracious.
Rabbi Elazar raised a similar contradiction: It is written: “But to you, O Lord, belongs kindness” (Psalms 62:13), implying that God acts beyond the letter of the law, and then it is written in the same verse: “For You render to a man according to his deeds,” implying that He rewards and punishes measure for measure. Rabbi Elazar answered: Initially, at the time of judgment: “For You render to a man according to his deeds”; but in the end, at the time of punishment: “But to You, O Lord, belongs kindness.”
Ilfai, and some say it was the Sage Ilfa, also raised a contradiction: It is written in the list of God’s attributes: “And abundant in kindness” (Exodus 34:6), and it is written in the same verse: “And truth,” which implies the attribute of justice. He answered: Initially, at the time of judgment: “And truth,” i.e., God employs strict justice, but in the end, when He sees that the world cannot survive on judgment based only on truth and justice: “And abundant in kindness,” i.e., He is merciful.
§ The verse states: “And the Lord passed by before him, and proclaimed” (Exodus 34:6). Rabbi Yoḥanan said: Were it not explicitly written in the verse, it would be impossible to say this, as it would be insulting to God’s honor. The verse teaches that the Holy One, Blessed be He, wrapped Himself in a prayer shawl like a prayer leader and showed Moses the structure of the order of the prayer. He said to him: Whenever the Jewish people sin, let them act before Me in accordance with this order. Let the prayer leader wrap himself in a prayer shawl and publicly recite the thirteen attributes of mercy, and I will forgive them.
The verse continues: “The Lord, the Lord,” and it should be understood as follows: I am He before a person sins, and I am He after a person sins and performs repentance, as God does not recall for him his first sins, since He is always “God, merciful and gracious” (Exodus 34:6).
Rav Yehuda said: A covenant was made with the thirteen attributes that they will not return empty-handed, meaning that if one mentions them, he will certainly be answered, as it is stated in this regard: “Behold, I make a covenant” (Exodus 34:10).
§ Rabbi Yoḥanan said: Great is repentance, for it tears up the sentence issued against a person, as it is stated: “Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and smear over their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and they will return, and be healed” (Isaiah 6:10), implying that if indeed they return and repent, they will be healed from all their sins.
Rav Pappa said to Abaye: But perhaps this was said before the sentence was issued, but after one’s sentence has been decreed repentance no longer helps. Abaye said to him: It is written here: “And they will return and be healed” (Isaiah 6:10). What requires healing? An illness does. Consequently, you must say that the reference here is to a sentence that has already been issued, and even so, after repentance, they will be healed.
The Gemara raises an objection from a baraita: If one repents in the meantime, between Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur, he is forgiven; if he does not repent in the meantime, then even if he later brings as offerings all the rams of Nebaioth in the world, which are of the best quality, they do not forgive him in the Heavenly court. This implies that once one’s sentence has been decreed, even repentance cannot alter it. The Gemara answers: This is not difficult: Here, where repentance is effective only before the sentence on Yom Kippur, the baraita is referring to repentance of an individual; there, where forgiveness is granted even after a sentence is issued, it is referring to communal repentance.
The Gemara raises an objection from another baraita: The verse states: “A land which the Lord your God cares for; the eyes of the Lord your God are always upon it” (Deuteronomy 11:12). God’s constant providence over Eretz Yisrael is sometimes for the good and sometimes for the bad. Sometimes for the good; how so? If the Jews were wholly wicked on Rosh HaShana, so that only a meager amount of rain was decreed for them for the year, but in the end they repented, what can be done? To add rain is impossible, as the decree was already issued. Rather, the Holy One, Blessed be He, causes those sparse rains to fall at the appropriate times on land that needs it, e.g., fields, vineyards, and gardens, all according to requirements of the land, and those rains are just as effective as a lot of rain.
Sometimes for bad; how so? If the Jewish people were wholly righteous on Rosh HaShana, so that much rain was decreed for them for that year, but in the end they regressed and sinned, what can be done? To reduce the amount of rain is impossible, as the decree was already issued. Rather, the Holy One, Blessed be He, causes the rain to fall not at the appropriate time, and on land that does not need it, e.g., forests and deserts, and the ample rain is no more beneficial than meager rain.
The Gemara asks: When it is for good, however, let Him tear up their sentence and add to the rain that had originally been decreed for them. Since the baraita explains that God does not do so, it implies that an evil sentence cannot be rescinded, even if the entire community fully repents. The Gemara answers: It is different there, because it is possible to achieve the same result in this manner, by causing the rain to fall at the proper time and in the proper place, without rescinding the original sentence.
Come and hear a proof from a different baraita: The psalm states: “They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters; these saw the works of the Lord, and His wonders in the deep” (Psalms 107:23–24). The psalm continues: “For He commanded, and raised the stormy wind, which lifted up the waves thereof…They reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man, and are at their wits’ end” (Psalms 107:25–27). It continues further: “Then they cry to the Lord in their trouble, and He brings them out of their distresses” (Psalms 107:28). And finally, “Let them give thanks to the Lord for His mercy, and for His wonderful works to the children of men” (Psalms 107:31).
Markers were inserted here before each one of verses 23 through 28. These markers, which are the letter nun inverted, are similar in meaning to the words but and only in the Torah, to tell us that just as the Torah’s words are precise and cannot be changed, so too, these people cannot have their sentence changed. This tells you that if they cried out before the sentence was issued, they are answered, but if they cried out only after the sentence was issued, they are not answered.
The Gemara answers: This is not difficult, for those who go down to the sea in ships are also considered like individuals. Even if there are many such people, they do not constitute an entire community but only a small defined group within it.
The Gemara continues: Come and hear: Beloreya the convert once asked Rabban Gamliel: It is written in your Torah: “The great, mighty, and awesome God who favors no one” (Deuteronomy 10:17), and elsewhere it is written: “The Lord shall show favor to you and give you peace” (Numbers 6: 26). How can this contradiction be resolved?
Rabbi Yosei the priest joined the conversation with her and said: I will tell you a parable. To what is this matter comparable? To a person who lent his friend one hundred dinars and fixed a time for repayment of the loan before the king, and the borrower took an oath by the life of the king that he would repay the money. The time arrived, and he did not repay the loan. The delinquent borrower came to appease the king for not fulfilling the oath that he had sworn by the life of the king, and the king said to him: For my insult I forgive you, but you must still go and appease your friend. Here also the same is true: Here, the verse that states: “The Lord shall show favor to you,” is referring to sins committed between man and God, which God will forgive; there, the verse that states: “God favors no one,” is referring to sins committed between a person and another, which God will not forgive until the offender appeases the one he hurt.
This is how the contradiction had at first been resolved, until Rabbi Akiva came and taught as follows: