June 12, 2014
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.’ “
Rashi comments on the phrase “As YOU said” -: Because of what you (Moses) said ‘lest they say: Hashem lacked the ability’ ( to bring the Israelites into Israel see 14:16).
Hashem said that He will forgive, as Moses had requested. Why the need to comment here?
Also, Moses said several things in his plea for forgiveness, (verses 13-19); why does Rashi quote just this one phrase from Moses’ plea?
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.
Rashi’s comment deals with this problem. Rashi has chosen these particular words in Moses’ plea precisely to answer this question. Moses made two main points in his plea to God:
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.
Moses also 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 partial 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.
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?
We have seen that Moses’ plea had two parts to it. But 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.
Rabbi Meir Wise