back Back

A Lesson in Forgiveness

By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim

In Parshat Chukat, the Torah records that following the passing of Aharon Hakohen, the Jewish people were attacked and forced to backtrack from their advance towards Eretz Yisrael. The people became frustrated and spoke against Moshe and Hashem, saying: “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in this desert, for there is no bread and no water, and we are disgusted with this rotten bread.” (Bamidbar 21:5) God brought upon them a plague of venomous desert snakes and many people perished. The Torah narrative continues as follows: “The people came to Moses and said, ‘We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord and against you. Pray to the Lord that He remove the snakes from us.’ So Moses prayed on behalf of the people.” (Bamidbar 21:7) Moshe prays to God and is instructed how to end the plague.

Rabbeinu Behaye (12th and 13th century scholar) learns an important lesson from this incident: “Someone from whom forgiveness is requested should not be cruel…” In other words, if someone who has sinned and harmed/hurt you in some way asks you for forgiveness, you should be forgiving and not treat that person with cruelty. In fact, Moshe Rabbeinu immediately takes up their cause and prays to God on their behalf. In a similar fashion, when Avimelech apologized to Abraham, Abraham prayed to God on Avimelech’s behalf. Another example of this can be found in the Book of Shmuel.

When the Jewish people sinned against Shmuel Hanavi and God, they approached Shmuel Hanavi and said, “We have sinned.”  Shmuel responds, “I also, far be it from me to sin to the Lord in ceasing to pray for you, but I shall instruct you in the good and proper way.” (Shmuel 1,12:23) Shmuel shows compassion and declares that it would be sinful of him not to forgive them. He commits to praying for them and seeking their wellbeing.

From these examples, we learn that it is wrong to withhold forgiveness from someone who is sincerely regretful and apologetic. Let us pray for and forgive those who have wronged us and sincerely seek our forgiveness.