Forgiveness – #BlogElul 25


In the 14th chapter of the Book of Numbers, we have a very serious rebellion on the part of the people of Israel. They refuse to go in and claim the land that G-d has promised them, and threaten to stone the two spies who try to encourage them. They desire to return to Egypt, to the land of slavery and security.

G-d is fed up to the back teeth with all this and tells Moses that he is about to destroy these annoying people and replace them with Moses’ offspring. Moses cunningly points out that in that case the whole project, derailed already, would become a laughing stock for all the surrounding peoples. It is kind of amazing that G-d falls for that kind of argument, which suggests that the threat was not very serious to begin with. Then we have this very interesting exchange, which is followed by the punishment of wandering in the desert for 40 years until all the generation of slavery has died (except for the two righteous spies):

יט  סְלַח-נָא, לַעֲו‍ֹן הָעָם הַזֶּה–כְּגֹדֶל חַסְדֶּךָ; וְכַאֲשֶׁר נָשָׂאתָה לָעָם הַזֶּה, מִמִּצְרַיִם וְעַד-הֵנָּה. 19 Pardon, I pray Thee, the iniquity of this people according unto the greatness of Thy lovingkindness, and according as Thou hast forgiven this people, from Egypt even until now.’
כ  וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה, סָלַחְתִּי כִּדְבָרֶךָ. 20 And the LORD said: ‘I have pardoned according to thy word.

These lines are enshrined in the Makhzor, the special prayer book for the High Holy Days – we repeat them many times, reminding G-d of this promise. The forgiveness that G-d gives us is according to the greatness of G-d’s lovingkindness, and not because we are so worthy. We are well-known for being stiff-necked and wandering from the path at the slightest provocation. But G-d forgives us because of Her greatness.

When we forgive those who deserve to wander in the desert of our affections for at least 40 years, we achieve something resembling the greatness of G-d. We aren’t doing it for their benefit, but for our own. Receiving forgiveness is a great gift, but giving it is even better.

Whom do you need to pardon according to the Torah’s word?

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