The Gemara Avodah Zarah relates a fascinating story concerning a ba’al teshuvah named Elazar ben Durdayah. For many years he lived a frivolous life, steeped in immorality. They said about him that there was not a prostitute in the world that he had not visited. Once he heard of one who lived very far away in one of the towns by the sea, whose charms were so great that she demanded a large sum of money for her services. So he gathered a sufficient sum and crossed seven rivers to reach her. As he was with her, she told him that even if he repented, his teshuvah would never be accepted.

In his earnest search for penance and with a deeply troubled conscience, Elazer ben Durdaya sought external help, and he called out, “Mountains and hills, ask mercy for me.”

“Ask mercy for you? We must ask mercy for ourselves.”

“Heaven and earth, ask mercy for me.”

“Ask mercy for you? We must ask mercy for ourselves.”

“Sun and moon, ask mercy for me.”

“Ask mercy for you? We must ask mercy for ourselves.”

“Stars and planets, ask mercy for me.”

“Ask mercy for you? We must ask mercy for ourselves.”

Elazer sat upon the ground, and after a long and serious period of probing introspection, he placed his head between his knees and expired while crying, “Ein hadavar talui ela bi” — “It all depends on me — the responsibility is totally mine!” A voice emerged from above and declared, “Rabbi Elazer ben Durdaya is worthy of Eternal Life.”

When Rabbi Yehudah Hanasi, who is popularly known as the great Talmudic Sage “Rebbe,” heard this unusual act of honest introspection and teshuvah, he cried, saying “There are those who earn eternal life only after many years of work, and there is a person who is koneh olamo besha’ah achat — acquires his world in one hour!”

It seems that once Elazar ben Durdayah decided to repent, it did not take him a long time to accomplish it. Why, then, did Rebbe say that, “One can earn his world in sha’ah achat — one hour?” Why necessarily one hour?

In the early days of the world, Kayin and Hevel, the two sons of Adam and Chavah, desired to bring gifts to Hashem. Kayin, a farmer, brought an offering to Hashem of the fruits of the ground, and Hevel, who was a shepherd, brought of the firstlings of his flock and from the choicest.

The Torah relates that “Vayisha Hashem el Hevel ve’el minchato” — “Hashem turned to Hevel and his offering” — “Ve’el Kayin ve’el minchato lo sha’ah” — “And to Kayin and his offering he did not turn” (Bereishit 4:3-4).

The word “sha’ah” does not simply refer to a span of time. It also means to turn. When Hevel brought his offering, Hashem was pleased, and thus He, so to speak, “turned” towards him, i.e. He showed him His appreciation. With Kayin Hashem was not happy, so “lo sha’ah” — “He did not turn to him” — He did not show him any attention, and thus, Kayin knew that Hashem was not satisfied.

In light of this, it can also be that when Rebbe said, Yeish koneh olamo besha’ah achat” — “There are those who acquire their world with sha’ah achat” — he did not mean that they do it quickly within one hour, but that they accomplish it with “one turn.”

His reaching the conclusion that, “it all depends on me” occurred instantaneously. In one brief instance of self realization and self transformation Elazar ben Durdaya made a complete turn around and merited Olam Haba.

As mentioned, the Gemara prefaces Rebbe’s observation with the words, “bachah Rebbe” — “Rebbe cried.” Why did he cry?

Rebbe cried because he felt bad for all those people who do not want to make the turn in their lives because they perceive it as a very difficult thing to do. He cried, “Oh! If they would only realize how easy it is, many people would happily do it.”

After making his observation Rebbe went on to say: “Moreover, not only are those who repent accepted [by Heaven], but they are called ‘Rabbi,’ for the voice that emanated from above declared, ‘Rabbi Elazar ben Durdayah’ is worthy of eternal life.”

Rebbe’s message was that one who repents reaches the highest elevation. He is not someone who should be viewed with disdain and skepticism, but one worthy of admiration. Elazar ben Durdayah received the title “Rabbi” because as a Rabbi, whose duty it is to teach others, he becomes a living example and a teacher. Looking at him, many may learn that at any age and at all times, one can resolve to make the turn in life and become an entirely different person.

The famous chassidic master Rabbi Meir [Rosenbaum] of Premishlan (1703-1773) once said to his students, “We say of Al-mighty G‑d [that thanks to our teshuvah] ‘as far as east from west has He distanced our transgressions from us’ (Psalms 103:12). Perhaps one of you can tell me how far east is from west?”

The students grappled with this problem, and each one came up with a different astronomical figure. Suddenly, the Rabbi interrupted them and declared, “You are all in error! From east to west is only one swerve. When one stands facing east and turns around, instantly, he is facing west. This is the immediacy of teshuvah.”

On this auspicious day, let our resolve be to make the turn and remember what a wise man once said, “Hashem always allows a U-Turn.”