In this week's Torah reading, once again the Jews rebel against G‑d and Moses. As a consequence, G‑d sent poisonous snakes to bite the people as a punishment. The people begged Moses to pray on their behalf, saying, "We sinned...pray to G‑d that He remove the snake from us", (Num. 21:7) which Moses promptly did. Rashi explains from this that when someone is asked to forgive, he or she should not be cruel, and should forgive.

How can we apply this to our own lives? The Lubavitcher Rebbe explains that there are three levels of forgiveness:

1) Forgiveness that protects the offender from punishment: a person may pray for the person who harmed him or her, but only in order to prevent any punishment being meted out.
2) Forgiveness not only for the offending act, but for the person who caused the harm. In other words, no grudge is held.
3) The forgiveness is so heartfelt that the sin is totally uprooted leaving no taint, as if it never happened; in this case, the relationship is totally restored to its former positive state.

Moses…achieved the third and highest level of forgiveness….

In the matter of the snakes, Moses prayed: "for the sake of the people". Not only did Moses pray for their lives (that the punishment of the snakes cease), he prayed for their sake, for the people. This is a demonstration of Moses' complete love of the Jewish people. Their malevolence had no effect on Moses. He continued to love his people in the same measure as before. He achieved the third and highest level of forgiveness. Even more, Moses' manner of forgiving was not "cruel", as Rashi writes, "don't be cruel, and forgive" - don't forgive in a cruel way. He was not satisfied with just preventing fatalities, he also completely loved and wished well for those same people who rose up against him.

The Midrash says that G‑d, in His own way, performs all the deeds He commands of us. Just as we see every day that G‑d forgives us with His unbounded mercy, He also expects us to completely forgive one another. Additionally, when we consider how great and kind G‑d is in constantly restoring our relationship with Him - no matter how insensitively we act - we are inspired to reciprocate with a feeling of wanting to improve our relationship with Him, to return to G‑d. This tremendously powerful return to G‑d goes against the natural trend of life, bend the limits of Creation. This in turn will be an impetus for G‑d to also defy the world's trend and bring Mashiach - may it be NOW!

Shabbat Shalom, Shaul

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