Letter and Spirit

For the week ending 9 June 2018 / 26 Sivan 5778

Parshat Shlach

by Rabbi Yosef Hershman
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The Power of Patience

The nation finds itself in trouble yet again. This time, their provocation puts them at the verge of annihilation. G-d is prepared to begin the nation anew, from Moshe Rabbeinu. In response, Moshe says two things. First, he argues that after the miraculous deliverance drew the attention of the nations, its annihilation will create a great disgrace and misconception among the nations. They will declare that G-d has no power to overcome the prowess of the inhabitants of Cannaan. The Divine objective of enlightening the nations through the Jewish People will have been defeated.

Second, Moshe beseeches G-d, And now, let the power of my Lrd be great, as You did once say it: G-d, long-suffering and abundant in loving-kindness, lifting away crookedness and rebellion, yet He excuses nothing; He remembers the crookedness of parents for the children…. Please forgive the iniquity of this nation in accordance with your abounding kindness, as You have borne this people from Egypt until now." Now, says Moshe, is the time to demonstrate the greatness of Your power. It may be true that the people deserve to be destroyed, but there are countervailing concerns. This case, begs Moshe, calls for the exercise of G-d’s power in all its greatness. In this way, the power of G-d will be great. All of the miracles and power shown thus far in Egypt and the desert will pale in comparison to the power that will now be shown by forgiving the people. If, in the face of such defection, G-d will act with such patience and kindness, still not excusing wayward behavior, but meting out educational punishment over generations, to ensure the continued and progressive development of mankind, then this will be the greatest exercise of power.

Sudden annihilation would demonstrate might, but pardoning and continuing to educate this nation, and, through them, the rest of the world, will demonstrate power. Such power is manifest in His patience, giving man time to reconsider and mend his ways, to rise again after his fall; His abundant loving-kindness, which is not forfeited by wrongdoing; His lifting away the crookedness and rebellion, so they do not become entrenched as patterns. While in His great desire to save all from moral ruin, He excuses nothing, He will extend the opportunity for repentance over many generations.

The greatness of the power of G-d lies in His patience. At every level, He provides the opportunities and the tools to cure our waywardness. Without explicitly directing our choices, He gently guides and scaffolds our development, educates us, and enables us to freely choose life.

  • Source: Commentary, Bamidbar 14:17

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