Learn from Congregation B’nai Chaim: God forgives mistakes, but can we?

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Roger Cohen
Roger Cohen

In the weekly Jewish Torah portion Masei, Numbers 33:1-36:13 has a discussion that shows God’s benevolence and forgiveness.

I have often asked myself if I would have the moral courage to forgive someone who has hurt a child of mine. I hear stories of parents who forgive people who kill, rape and murder their children, and they offer forgiveness as a step in the grief processing.

In one of the classes I teach at a local university, I ask these moral and ethical questions to the classes I lecture. Do you have a moral obligation to forgive someone who has done violence, or can you seek justice against people who wrong you? This concept is historically known as “lex talionis” or “eye for an eye.”

In Number 35:11, God said, “You shall provide yourselves with places to serve you as cities of refuge to which a manslayer who has killed a person unintentionally may flee.”

This chapter in the Torah gives a person who has wronged another person unintentionally a physical place to be exempt from the wrath of the person seeking justice. In verse 16 and in other places, there are exclusions from this amnesty for when a person kills another person with intent.

The God of all creation instructed the Israelites to have six physical places where a person who commits an unintentional crime could go and not have retribution from the family of the victim. These are known as “cities of refuge.” A person who committed an unintentional wrong could flee to these cities and not be held liable. This level of compassion and grace should be modeled in all our actions each and every day.

It takes me back to my original fear: if someone had injured my child, could I forgive them?

If the God of heaven and earth thought that mercy and grace are sufficient for people who commit unintentional crimes, we all should feel the same way.

Roger Cohen is a military veteran and a university lecturer in Southern California, specializing in ethics, religious studies and political science. Follow him at http://www.facebook.com/ProfessorRoger.

Congregation B’nai Chaim offers services to Jewish and interfaith families and is located at 29500 Via Princesa in Murrieta. For more information, visit http://www.bnaichaim.com.