> Weekly Torah Portion > Intermediate > What's Bothering Rashi?

Forgiveness As You Said


Shlach (Numbers 13-15 )

by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek

This parsha tells of the episode of the Spies that were sent on a mission by Moses. Unfortunately because of their negative report regarding Israel's chances of successfully conquering the Land, the whole generation was punished.

Numbers 14:20

"After the sin of the Spies, Moses intercedes with Hashem to ask forgiveness for the people. And Hashem said 'I have forgiven, as you said.' "



As you said - Rashi: Because of what you (Moses) said 'lest they say: Hashem lacked the ability' (see above 14:16).



A Question: Isn't the verse's meaning clear enough? God said He will forgive, as Moses had requested. Why the need to comment here?

Another Question: Moses said several things in his plea for forgiveness, (verses 13-19); why does Rashi quote just this one phrase from Moses' plea? What's bothering him?

Your Answer:



An Answer: Hashem said that He was forgiving the people. But if this were so, why does He then say (verses 23-28):

"If they will see the Land that I have sworn to give to their forefathers, and all who anger Me shall not see it.... Say to them, as I live, by the word of Hashem , if I shall not do to you as you have spoken in My ears. In this wilderness shall your carcasses drop ..."

Punishing the people is in direct contradiction to God's saying He forgives them.

Can you see how Rashi's comment deals with this problem?

Your Answer:



An Answer: Rashi has chosen these particular words in Moses' plea precisely to answer this question. Moses made two main points in his plea to God:


  1. If the Israelites are destroyed by God and do not enter the Promised Land, then the gentiles will conclude that Hashem was incapable of fulfilling His promise to the Forefathers regarding the Land of Israel. This would be a chilul Hashem - a desecration of God's name.



  2. Moses appealed to God's mercy, as well, by paraphrasing the special prayer which Hashem had taught Moses after the sin of the Golden Calf (see Exodus 34:6). On that basis, he asked God to forgive the people their sin.


Rashi is telling us that when God said "I have forgiven," He does not mean a complete forgiveness; He means, rather, a qualified forgiveness, a forgiveness based on and limited to "your words." This means that God forgave only in accordance with that part of Moses' plea that referred to the chilul Hashem which would result if God didn't bring the people Israel into the Land of Canaan. God's forgiveness relates to the fact that, in spite of their sin, the nation of Israel - the next generation - will be brought by God into the Promised Land, thus there will be no chilul Hashem. On the other hand, this generation will be killed out. For this generation there is to be no forgiveness. Clearly the forgiveness was partial (see Ohr Hachayim).



But according to this understanding, we can ask another question of Rashi's interpretation. God said he would forgive "as you (Moses) said." But Moses' plea included other words in addition to the ones Rashi quotes. Why didn't Rashi also consider Moses' words "And now may the power of My Lord etc." (14:17) as what "Moses said" as well?

Hint: Read these verses carefully.

Your Answer:



An Answer: In light of Rashi's sensitive interpretation, we can understand the precision of the Torah's words. As we pointed out, Moses' plea had two parts to it. The second part, the explicit plea for forgiveness, was based on God's own words (in Exodus 34:6). Moses says in verse 14:17:

"And now let your strength wax great My Lord, as you spoke saying : 'Hashem, slow to anger etc.' "

Notice that although Moses said these words, they were not his own words - they were a paraphrase of God's words. In light of this we can appreciate that only the original words of Moses' plea were the words that Rashi quotes. It is as if God is saying: "I have forgiven, as YOU said, but not as I said," which, had I done so, would have meant a complete forgiveness! (See Nachlas Ya'akov.)



God had accepted Moses' plea for forgiveness, but only to a certain degree. On the one hand, He consented to have the next generation of the People of Israel enter the Land of Canaan, as He had promised the Forefathers. Nevertheless, He exacted punishment from the generation that sinned. We have here neither a sweeping amnesty nor a wholesale punishment.

This is God's "morality."

The Psalmist says (25:8):

"Good and upright is God, therefore He guides sinners on the [right] way."

On these words the Midrash adds a pithy insight.

"Why is He good? Because He is upright. Why is He upright? Because He is good."

An artfully succinct phrase which teaches us God's balance in judgement. If He were always good, then His goodness would lose all value. It is similar to a person who always has a smile on his face; the smile loses all significance. So the good, in order to retain its quality of kindness, must be tempered, at times, with righteousness. Likewise, righteousness, for it to remain righteous and not deteriorate into the callous, cold, impersonal implementation of the law, it too must so be tempered at times with a touch of kindness.

God maintains this sensitive balance in rendering judgment. Likewise in our case, while the Spies were punished, there was no collective punishment and the future generations did not suffer for the sins of their fathers.

Rashi's simple, laden-with-meaning, comment highlights the precision of the Torah's words. In so doing he also provides us with a perspective on Divine morality. With a few words, Rashi has treated us to a deeper dimension of understanding.


Shabbat Shalom,
Avigdor Bonchek

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