Forgiving Ourselves: Shelakh Lekha 2018

by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Pre-Game Chatter: Why are we often our own worst critics? How does a healthy desire to improve ourselves sometimes turn into a tendency to think the worst of ourselves?

The incident of the untruthful spies, which we read about in our Torah portion, bring out the worst of the Israelites — but, to his credit, Moses offers a path for God to show mercy:

The Pitch: “‘The LORD! slow to anger and abounding in kindness; forgiving iniquity and transgression; yet not remitting all punishment, but visiting the iniquity of fathers upon children, upon the third and fourth generations.’ Pardon, I pray, the iniquity of this people according to Your great kindness, as You have forgiven this people ever since Egypt. And the LORD said, ‘I pardon, as you have asked.’” – Numbers 14:18-20

Swing #1: “This may extend until the fourth generation, i.e. if the fourth generation of the original sinner will still continue in the wicked ways of their forbears that will make the measure of sin of those families in the third generation so full that it has become irreversible and God will take the appropriate action. If the sons and grandsons continued in the evil ways of their forbears but not until the fourth generation, God will suspend retribution to see how the fourth generation would conduct themselves before exacting retribution.” – Sforno

Swing #2: “‘Visiting the sins of the fathers on the children;’ this is another aspect of God’s attribute of Mercy, that He delays punishing the fathers, waiting if the children or grandchildren will return to Him before carrying out the punishment that had been deserved by them. In Exodus 34:7 where the list of God’s attributes first appears, the wording is, ‘grandchildren,’ not ‘children,’ as here. In both instances, the point God makes is that while He may delay exacting punishment, depending on the severity of the sin in question, He will not allow sins that are not repented to go totally unpunished.” – Daat Zkenim

Swing #3: “The Lord is long­ suffering, and nigh in mercy, forgiving sins and covering transgressions, justifying such as return to His law through them who turn not He will not absolve, but will visit the sins of wicked fathers upon rebellious children unto the third and fourth generation.” – Targum Jonathan

Late-Inning Questions: Our commentators return to a common theme: God is willing to hold off on punishing us for our missteps if we encourage subsequent generations to improve themselves. If God is willing to forgive us, can we find ways to show ourselves similar compassion? In light of news about Anthony Bourdain’s suicide, as well as other recent deaths, how can we best show compassion to those who have similar difficulty forgiving themselves? How can we ensure that depression and anxiety are not labels of shame?

Summer Training: I began my summer health initiative this week, in an effort to drink at least eight glasses of water per day, to walk at least 10,000 steps five days per week, and to eat at least four fruits/vegetables per day. It’s a big commitment for me, and I invite you to join me in these resolutions, or to make healthful resolutions of your own. Since I only have results from three days so far (the first two days went well; the third day, not so much), it’s too early to draw any conclusions yet, but I’m encouraged by many congregants’ supportive words. More next week.

The Big Inning at the End: Recognizing depression also is a challenge in the athletic world, especially given how athletes are expected to be tough at all times. The efforts of ball players like pitcher Pete Harnisch, who at one point paused his Major League career to pursue counseling for his mental issues, to bring these challenges to light are shining examples of how to deal with these issues sensitively and honestly.

Shabbat Shalom!