Letters — Jan. 2021
Turk Hill: There is much debate nowadays about Torah codes. You hear a lot about them and yet most Jews are unfamiliar with them. An interesting article about them can be found here: bit.ly/torahcodes In the above link, the author argues that there is no proof to Bible codes. Admittedly, I find myself mostly in agreement with him yet still having a strong emunah in the Torah. What do you think of the Torah codes?
Rabbi: If Torah codes can be duplicated in other books, this exposes Torah codes as just “codes”—a mundane mathematical matter and not a divine phenomenon. But if Torah codes cannot be produced elsewhere, that is significant. But we should consider that from our prophets through our sages and rabbis, not one praised the Torah outside of its wisdom, its brilliant cryptic style, its depth, and its complete address of all matters. And if, while doing all this, Torah also contains codes, that is astonishing. But I would add that these codes—as present findings—do not unveil wisdom, but are references to past events. Of course, those codes were there prior to the events, so this indicates God’s knowledge of the future, but this we know already from Torah.
When to Forgive
Reader: When must we forgive and when is it time to remember the harm others caused?
Rabbi: When does God not forgive?
Perhaps there is among you some man or woman, or some clan or tribe, whose heart is even now turning away from the Lord our God to go and worship the gods of those nations—perhaps there is among you one who increases wickedness in your midst. When such a person hears the words of these curses, he may fancy himself immune, thinking, “I shall be safe, since I follow my heart’s counsel”—but he will be punished now even for previously accidental sins. The Lord will never forgive him; rather will the Lord’s anger and passion rage against that man, until every curse recorded in this book comes down upon him, and the Lord blots out his name from under heaven” (Deut. 29-17-19).
One who follows idolatry, does not repent, and feels safe with himself, will suffer by not attaining God’s forgiveness and by receiving Torah’s curses. If God does not forgive such a person, it is a lesson for us. What of non-idolatrous sins? Dasan and Aviram joined in Korach’s revolt. Moses summoned them in order to conciliate them by peaceful words (Rashi), but they refused, saying:
“Even if you had brought us to a land flowing with milk and honey, and given us possession of fields and vineyards, should you gouge out our eyes, we will not come!” Moses was much aggrieved and he said to the Lord, “Pay no regard to their offering. I have not taken the ass of any one of them, nor have I wronged any one of them” (Num. 16:14,15).
Rashi says Moses asked God not to accept them. From here, if one remains in his sins with no desire to correct his wrong, Moses did not forgive them. As forgiveness means we accept the person has sincerely corrected their wrong. Thereby, we can forgo their prior acts. As they no longer value their wrongdoings, they are no longer that person who did wrong. There is nothing for which to hold a grudge.
Maimonides defines repentance as such:
What is repentance? The sinner shall cease sinning, and remove sin from his thoughts, and wholeheartedly conclude not to revert back to it, even as it is said, “Let the wicked forsake his way” (Isaiah 55.7); so too, shall he be remorseful on what was past, even as it is said, “Surely after that I was turned, I repented” (Jer. 31. 19). (Laws of Repentance 2:2)
God forgives such a person and so shall we. Ezekiel discusses how God views the penitent person as never having sinned:
Moreover, if the wicked one repents of all the sins that he committed and keeps all My laws and does what is just and right, he shall live; he shall not die. None of the transgressions he committed shall be remembered against him; because of the righteousness he has practiced, he shall live (Ezek. 18:21,22).
When must we forgive interpersonal sins? Maimonides teaches that if one seeks your forgiveness, and you do not forgive, then you are the wicked person:
But sins between man and man, for instance, one injures his neighbor, or curses his neighbor or plunders him, or offends him in like matters, is ever not absolved unless he makes restitution of what he owes and begs the forgiveness of his neighbor. And, although he make restitution of the monetary debt, he is obliged to pacify him and to beg his forgiveness. Even he offended his neighbor only in words, he is obliged to appease him and implore him until he be forgiven by him. If his neighbor refuses, he must bring a committee of three friends to forgive him, if he still refuses he should bring a second, even a third committee, and if he remains obstinate, he may leave him to himself and pass on, for the sin then rests upon him who refuses forgiveness. But if it happened to be his master, he should go and come to him for forgiveness even a thousand times till he does forgive him. (Ibid 2:9)
Some evils are perpetrated against us, and they seem unforgivable. But what evil could be worse than Joseph’s brothers selling him, resulting in his imprisonment for 11 years? Yet, Joseph rose above petty emotions and valued only the good that resulted, as he was able to sustain many people during a great famine. He did not retaliate against his brothers, for in Joseph’s mind, revenge has no place in one’s attachment to God and a life of Torah.
But Joseph said to them, “Have no fear! Am I in God’s place? And although you intended me harm, God intended it for good, so as to bring about the present result—the survival of many people. And so, fear not. I will sustain you and your children” (Gen. 50:19-21).
Remembering evil perpetrated against us means we value what people did, and not our relationship with God. To Joseph, the past was immaterial. What matters is what helps him and others relate to God.
In the end, there are those whom God and Moses did not forgive; we too must not forgive them, as they are committed to evil, and we are commanded to hate those whom God hates. We must detest one who wishes to destroy God’s reputation, His Torah or his prophets and rabbis. As such people cause others to be dissuaded from a good life. But those sinners who repent, God forgives as if they never sinned, so we too must forgive them. Then there are those who perpetrate crimes that are not against God or truths, but are against us. If they repent and seek our forgiveness, we must forgive them, or else we become the sinner. And even if they don’t repent, we must not retaliate by valuing social matters over our relationship with God, as Joseph expressed. And if they are approachable, we must properly rebuke their wrong so as not to harbor hatred in our hearts.