Ramban goes on to point out that Moshe did not launch straight in to a review of the Torah's laws. Rather, he opened with words of rebuke, recounting the various transgressions of the Jewish people in the Wilderness. (Rashi explains that the place names in the first verse are actually veiled references to these transgressions.) A good part of this week's parsha, in fact, is devoted to a lengthy account of the sin of the Spies, which was the direct cause of the decree to wander in the Midbar for 40 years.
Moshe's purpose in reviewing their recent past was not only to reprimand the Jewish people, Ramban explains, but also to encourage them. By showing them how Hashem had constantly dealt with them in a merciful way, Moshe hoped to strengthen them in their clinging unto Him. Hashem's forgiveness, we see, is meant to be more than just a happy reprieve from past wrongdoings; it is supposed to be a positive aid to His future service, a spur to greater heights of yiras Hashem (awe of G-d). Ramban quotes a well-known verse from Psalms 130 to support this idea: "Because with You is forgiveness, in order that You be feared." A fresh--and beautiful--way of understanding these words: the true purpose of G-d's forgiveness is to help us fear Him.
And just how does it do that? Although Ramban doesn't elaborate, the simple meaning, perhaps, is that Hashem's mercy will inspire us with gratitude, and lead us to want to increase our awe of Him. We will more graciously accept the yoke of Heaven (and more of that yoke!) on ourselves after we experience G-d's forgiveness.
Malbim explains somewhat differently in his commentary on Psalms: a human being who wants to be feared will not forgive transgression, since a person's ability to inspire fear depends solely on his actually carrying out punishment. The fear of Hashem, on the other hand, rests on a recognition of His inherent greatness, and this is actually revealed by His act of forgiveness, since He thereby shows that our sins do not cause the slightest blemish to His honor--so exalted is He above human actions and calculations. His forgiveness does not weaken His position; it proves and confirms His lofty status.
I'll make a confession (Tisha
b'Av is in a few days, so I might as well start early): I've probably said the verse
mentioned above a few hundred times, and yet, I never really understood it in this
way...or really stopped to think deeply about it at all. I'm grateful to the Ramban
for opening my eyes.
Edelstein is Director of the Savannah Kollel/ Savannah Torah Education Project. Phone:
Please be in touch
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