Shabbat Shalom: Forgiveness and Consequences

Jun 27, 2024 | Article

By: Julie Lieber
Chief Jewish Life & Engagement Officer

Forgiveness is easier said than done. This week’s Torah portion, Shelach, contains the one instance in the Bible where God actually grants forgiveness to the people of Israel. Following a dramatic sequence of events, including a spying mission to check out the Land of Israel, an underwhelming report on the conditions of said land, and the resulting stated refusal of the majority of the nation to enter this land, God has had enough. God threatens to destroy the People of Israel and Moses pleads with God on their behalf. Moses reminds God of the divine attributes of mercy, kindness, and forgiveness and God responds dramatically:

“I forgive, as you have asked.”

This phrase becomes the refrain of our high holiday services, the climax of the selichot (forgiveness) portion of the liturgy repeated throughout these days, in which we once again ask God to forgive our humanly missteps and exhibit the 13 divine attributes recorded in this week’s Torah portion that so famously characterize the divine. In this sense, this phrase – I forgive, as you have asked – becomes the hallmark biblical example of forgiveness and mercy.

Yet, this is only part of the story. If we continue reading the story, God qualifies this forgiveness, with a rather a harsh consequence. Those who have sinned will not be permitted to enter the land of Israel. This climactic moment of divine forgiveness coupled with this firm punishment is both challenging and inspiring. Finding space for forgiveness in our hearts remains a virtue in Judaism. And, that does not mean there are no repercussions for actions. Walking the difficult line between forgiveness and consequences, allowing both to live in the world together, is being modeled here by God. It may be a difficult balance, but perhaps one lesson of this biblical juxtaposition is that finding this balance is something we can all aspire to – in our interpersonal relationships, communal roles and even on the world stage.

Shabbat Shalom.

Please email Julie Lieber at with questions or comments.