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"Carrying Sinners"

Ki Tisa (Exodus 30:11-34:35 )

by Rabbi Yehonasan Gefen

After the terrible sin of the Golden Calf (Chet Ha'egel) Moses pleads greatly for God to forgive the Jewish people. After granting His forgiveness, God then informs Moses of His 13 Attributes of Mercy. He tells Moses that whenever the Jewish people are in need of mercy they should cry out this prayer.

One of these traits is that God is "noseh avon v'pesha v'chataat"; this is normally translated as meaning that God forgives iniquity, willful sin and error. However, the literal translation of the word 'noseh' does not mean 'forgive', rather it means, 'carries'. What does it mean that God 'carries' sin?.

Rav Noach Weinberg zt"l explained with an analogy of how a bank may act with a person who has a mortgage with it.(1) He regularly pays his mortgage on time, but at some point he may hit hard times and struggle to pay for a couple of months. The bank could react in two possible ways: it could come down hard on him, demanding that he pay immediately. Alternatively, it could act with tolerance and patience, recognizing that the borrower is generally a reliable person who is enduring temporary difficulties, and will soon be able to resume payment of the mortgage. Accordingly, the bank will 'carry' the borrower, supporting him patiently, until he is able to recover. Rav Weinberg explained in this vein, that when a person sins, God does not punish him immediately, rather He 'carries' him, enabling him to continue unaffected, giving him a chance to do teshuva .(2).

One of the most fundamental aspects of a person's spiritual growth is to emulate God's Attributes, because by being 'like' God, so to speak we become closer to him. How can a person emulate God's trait of 'carrying sinners'? There are many occasions in a person's life when he will encounter people who suddenly experience a significant deterioration in their behavior This may manifest itself when a child or student starts behaving in an undesirable way. The parent or teacher's natural inclination may be to treat him in a strict fashion in the hope that such treatment will force him to improve himself. Experience proves that this approach is often unhelpful and on many occasions can be harmful. The root of the mistake in this heavy-handed approach is that it fails to take into account the reason for this person's sudden deterioration. A more constructive approach may be to accept that there is some mitigating circumstance which has caused the change in behavior and to treat him with patience and understanding until the cause has been discovered. One can then address this factor and strive to reduce its harmful effect. In this way, one can emulate God's trait of 'carrying sinners' by avoiding immediate punishment and facilitating an improvement.

The following story illustrates the importance of using this trait. A student in Yeshiva had suddenly begun breaking Shabbat in the view of his fellow student. His Roshei Yeshiva (heads of the Yeshiva) decided that there was no other option but to expel him from the Yeshiva. They traveled to Rav Shach to attain confirmation of the correctness of this approach. Rav Shach asked them what was the financial situation in the boy's home and if there was Shalom Bayit (matrimonial harmony) in the home? The Roshei Yeshiva were surprised by these questions and said, "How should we know what is happening in his home?" Rav Shach suddenly stood up and shouted at them with tears in his eyes, "Rodfim! (3) Leave my house! I do not want to speak with you! You don't know the situation in his home, you are not thinking about his personal situation. All that you know is to throw him out onto the street!".

After investigations it was revealed that the parents of this student were divorced a week earlier because of severe financial difficulties!(4) This incident teaches us of the importance of the trait of 'carrying sinners'; failure to use this trait properly could have easily resulted in driving away a boy permanently away from Torah. In truth, all that was needed was an effort to understand the root of his sudden negative behavior..

When a child or student begins consistently acting in a destructive fashion, the parent or teacher may instinctively resort to harsh discipline; however, the trait of 'carrying' teaches us that it may be more constructive to try to discern the cause of this change in behavior. Similarly a student may experience a downturn in his conduct, but as the Rav Shach story teaches us, it is advisable for the educators involved to seek out the reason for this downturn before punishing him. It seems that the importance of using this attribute is not limited to teachers and parents. Through the course of a person's life he inevitably encounters friends or colleagues who experience a sudden deterioration in their behavior. By emulating God's trait of 'carrying sinners' a person can avoid a damaging response to such behavior and instead help the person stem the decline. May we all merit to help each other in times of difficulty.


1. Heard in the name of Rav Yaakov Haber Rav of Kehillat Shivtei Yeshurun, who heard this from Rav Weinberg over 35 years ago in a vaad on Tomer Devorah given in Yeshivas Torah Ohr.

2. See Mesillat Yesharim, Ch.4, p. 41-2.

3. A rodef is a person who chases someone else with the intent of killing him.

4. Rav Yitzchak Lorenz 'Binat HaMidot', p. 10.



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