I recently read a fascinating story that I’d like to share with you.

​​Moses ben Nachman, commonly known as Nachmanides, and also referred to by the acronym Ramban, was a leading medieval Jewish scholar in the 13th century, in Girona, Catalonia.

He had a disciple, Avner, who strayed from the path of observant Judaism, left his community and became an important government official.

One Yom Kippur, Avner sent guards to the synagogue, ordering the Ramban to appear before him. In his palace, before the eyes of his former teacher and master, Avner slaughtered a pig, roasted it and ate it on this holiest of fast days.

The Ramban couldn’t contain his anguish and cried, “What caused you to fall so low? What compelled you to abandon the holy teachings of your ancestors?”

“It was you, my master!” Avner roared derisively. “Your teachings completely disillusioned me and caused me to reject Judaism.”

“You were once teaching the Torah portion of Ha’azinu,” he explained. “You taught us that in this brief Torah portion of 52 verses, the Torah encodes all the details of the long history of the Jewish people until the coming of Moshiach. You claimed, too, that encoded in its verses are the names of every Jew to have ever lived.

“This is obviously preposterous!” thundered Avner. “How could 4,000 years of history and millions of names be compressed into 614 words?”

“What I said is absolutely true,” declared the Ramban.

“If so, then I must be found there, too. Where is my name, and where is my fate?”

The Ramban’s expression grew serious. He prayed silently to G‑d to reveal this secret.

“Your name, Avner, can be found in verse 26. Tell me, what is the third letter in these words: AmaRti (reish) AfEihem (aleph) AshBita (beit) Me’eNosh (nun) ZichRom (reish)?”

The verse reads: “I [G‑d] said in my heart, that I would scatter them, causing their memory to cease from mankind.”

Here, G‑d rebukes the Jewish people for turning away from the path of the Torah and becoming so evil that He wanted to destroy them.

Avner turned deathly white and began to wail bitterly.

“Is there any hope for me?” he begged. “Is there anything that I can do to rectify my terrible sins?”

The Ramban looked compassionately at his former student. “The verse itself has provided the rectification. It says that G‑d will scatter them till their memory is erased. You must run away, never to be heard from again.”

Avner boarded a ship and was never seen again.

Notice that the name encoded in the third letters of this verse is not Avner, but includes the prefix “R,” which stands for Rabbi Avner. Even though up until this point Avner led a life that was the complete antithesis of what a rabbi stands for, the Torah calls him “Rabbi.”

Avner had free choice to choose whether or not he would repent. But the Torah is confident that ultimately the holiness of his soul will shine through, and that through repentance he will have transformed himself not only into an Avner, but an illustrious Jew, a rabbi.

What a lesson in how we must view every Jew, even ourselves—with the confidence that even a great sinner like Avner can, and will, become a great rabbi.