The LORD said to Moses, “Take vengeance on the Midianites for the Israelites. After that, you will be gathered to your people.” —Numbers 31:1-2
Each week in synagogue, Jews read through the Torah from Genesis to Deuteronomy. The Torah portion for this week is a double reading, Matot-Massei, from Numbers 30:2–36:13. Matot means branches, and Massei means journey.
Every year before Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) arrives, we begin seeking forgiveness from one another. Husbands and wives seek forgiveness from each other. Teachers ask forgiveness from their students. Bosses, friends, neighbors — even our children are involved seeking forgiveness! Why? Because on Yom Kippur, God can forgive us for everything except one thing — what we have done wrong to another person. Only the individual who we have harmed can grant us that.
In last week’s Torah reading, we learned how the Midianites had harmed Israel. They sent their women to seduce the men of Israel and to trick them into idolatry. The end result was the death of 24,000 Israelites and a hurting nation.
The truth is that when the Midianites attacked the children of Israel, it was both an affront to God and to His people. It was an attack on God because any attack on His children is tantamount to an attack on Him. For His grievance, God could forgive the Midianites. However, they had also inflicted pain upon the Israelites. For that God cannot forgive them, because according to Jewish tradition, it is only the one who was hurt who can forgive.
In this week’s Torah portion, we learn that God commanded Moses to lead a battle against the Midianites. They had not asked forgiveness, they would not ask forgiveness, and their punishment needed to be meted out.
While it’s often easy to move on after hurting another person, the truth is that we leave a blemish on our own soul. God can cleanse us and forgive our sins, but He cannot whiten the stains on our soul that come from wronging another person. It takes humility and courage to apologize for our mistakes. Yet, the alternative is bearing a sin that God cannot erase.
I want to encourage us all to ask forgiveness from those we may have hurt. And don’t worry so much about the other person’s response. Judaism maintains that a person needs to sincerely ask for forgiveness no more than three times. After that, God can forgive them even if the other person won’t. The other party takes the burden on their own soul. So be humble and courageous. Fix it, then forget it.
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