I

“All the prophets enjoined the principle of teshuvah (returning to G‑d; repentance), and Israel will be redeemed specifically by virtue of teshuvah. The Torah already assured that Israel will ultimately repent, in the final period of the galut, and then they will be redeemed immediately...”

-Maimonides, Hilchot Teshuvah 7:5

Teshuvah erases the sins of Israel which impede the redemption. In fact, however, the significance of teshuvah goes beyond this.

Teshuvah is rooted in the very essence of man’s soul, and that is why it is able to correct all the blemishes and defects caused by sins. Redemption means a manifestation of the Divine essence in the world, and that is brought about by teshuvah. The very principle of ge’ulah (redemption), therefore, is most intimately bound to the concept of teshuvah.

II

“Who, O G‑d, is like You, who pardons iniquity and overlooks transgression for the remnant of His heritage! He does not retain His anger forever, for He delights in mercy.”

-Michah 7:18, cited in the Minchah-haftarah of Yom Kippur

Teshuvah brings about the ultimate redemption, as our sages taught: “[The redemption] depends only on teshuvah” (Sanhedrin 97b). Maimonides thus rules that “The Torah already assured that Israel will ultimately repent, in the final period of the galut, and then they will be redeemed immediately” (Hilchot Teshuvah 7:5).

This does not mean, however, that the redemption will not occur unless this is presently being fulfilled fully in the simple sense of these words. For:

a) There is not a single Jew who has not already had thoughts of teshuvah several times in the course of his life. Jewish law stipulates that the mere thought of teshuvah transforms even the most wicked person into a most righteous one.

b) People living in our times who presently do not observe the Torah and its mitzvot are like “infants taken into captivity among heathens” and raised by them (thus not knowing any better). They are “victims of duress,” and “the Torah exonerates victims of duress.” Moreover, when such “captives” observe even a single mitzvah, it is most precious and dear unto the Almighty. In fact, we see that precisely nowadays there are thousands of such “victims of duress” who have already returned, and many more who are constantly returning to their spiritual roots, to the path of the Torah.

c) The redemption will actually occur even before the Jewish people repent. Thus it is written, “He will redeem Israel from all its sins” (Psalms 130:8), and the commentators explain: “Even sin will not impede the redemption, for He will redeem Israel from sin.”

This is seen also from the text of the Tachanun-prayer which cites first, “G‑d, redeem Israel from all its afflictions” (Psalms 25:22), and only thereafter the verse, “He will redeem Israel from all its sins” (Psalms 130:8). In other words, first G‑d will redeem the people of Israel from the distress of the galut, and thereafter He will redeem them from their sins.

Rabbi David Kimchi thus explains Michah 7:18 ,“Who, O G‑d, is like You, who pardons iniquity and overlooks transgressions for the remnant of His heritage! He does not retain His anger forever, because He delights in mercy”:

Those that remain when the Redeemer comes... though they will be guilty to the point that they should not leave the galut because of their evil deeds, G‑d will not look at their behavior forever “because He delights in mercy…” His mercy shall prevail over their sins when the time of redemption arrives!