The PivotHow long does it take you to forgive? Small offenses are quickly forgiven, large offenses take more time to forgive, if at all, but one thing is certain, if someone betrayed you in the worst possible way you would hardly offer instant forgiveness the moment they displayed a desire to reconcile.
G-d did just that. Our ancestors committed the terrible sin of idolatry when they made and worshipped the Golden Calf. It was a capital crime, worthy of a capital punishment, but G-d forgave them and proclaimed, “They shall make for me a sanctuary and I shall dwell in them.” Astounding. Only days earlier, they had committed a betrayal of epic proportions by denying G-d’s very existence, yet the moment they turned back and indicated a willingness to reconcile, He immediately consented to dwell among them. Furthermore, before they even built a sanctuary or even indicated their willingness to build one G-d declared His willingness to dwell among them.
This is emphasized even further by the curious order in which the narrative is presented in the Torah. In the chronology of events the sin of the Golden Calf preceded G-d’s promise to dwell in the sanctuary, but in the Torah the story of the Golden Calf appears after said promise. The promise was made after the betrayal, yet it is portrayed in the Torah as if it were made before the betrayal.
This tells us that the good will G-d promised our ancestors was on par with the good will they had enjoyed before their epic betrayal. That is doubly astounding. Not only did G-d forgive them at their first indication of remorse, He was even willing to push the reset button on their relationship and restore it to its former unsullied state. He presented His promise to dwell among them as if there had been no sin and then recorded the sin later in the book almost as an afterthought; a postscript to history.
Gradual ForgivenessIf G-d always forgave instantly we might have said that G-d, unlike humans, always operates in the mode of instant forgiveness, but we know this to be untrue. The Midrash teaches that G-d originally dwelled on earth among humans. Then Adam and Eve ate from the forbidden fruit and G-d withdrew from earth. When Cain murdered Abel G-d withdrew again. When Enoch and his generation invented Idol Worship G-d withdrew even further. These withdrawals continued with the sins of successive generations until the birth of Abraham. By that time G-d had withdrawn seven times, ascending to a remote and exalted spiritual place.
Abraham’s piety and righteousness stimulated a reversal in direction. Seeing Abraham’s influence on society G-d agreed to return and descended one level. The Patriarch Isaac’s piety inspired G-d to take another step toward earth. During Jacob’s lifetime G-d took yet another step. This continued for seven successive generations until Moses, who was the seventh, ushered G-d back to earth. Hence G-d descended onto Mount Sinai.G-d took seven generations to fully reconcile with humanity and return to earth. This is the model of gradual reconciliation, which is our normal model. When we are hurt deeply and successively we withdraw into ourselves. When the offender displays genuine contrition we allow a gradual melting of the ice, but we don’t trust the offender enough to open up to them all the way. We allow the relationship to evolve gradually until we are fully convinced that we won’t be hurt again.
Yet imagine if the offender waited until we finally opened up then betrayed us again. We might be so taken aback and so deeply hurt by the diabolical abuse that we might never forgive them again. Yet G-d, who took seven generations to finally give humanity a second chance, was betrayed in the worst possibly way within days of His return and He forgave instantly. What caused the sea change in attitude that precipitated such instant forgiveness?
I believe the change occurred when G-d instructed Moses to tell Pharaoh to release Israel, G-d’s firstborn son. This is the first time that Jews are presented as G-d’s children. In a sense, it is the birth of the Jews as a people distinct from the nations; as G-d’s children. In this instant G-d went from being a creator to being a father with respect to the Jewish nation and this spells the entire difference.
When a friend, colleague, family member or sibling give offense, it takes time to heal, reconcile and forgive. Forgiveness, even when given, might be gradual and proportional. Children are in an entirely different category. When a child and parent have a falling out, forgiveness should be instant. The natural disposition of child and parent is one of love. When something happens to obscure the love and create distance both child and parent feel the strain of separation; it is a violation of nature.
At the first sign of remorse or willingness to reconcile parent and child come together. This is because a parent knows that children don’t choose freely to turn against their parents. If there is stress in the relationship it is caused by the intrusion of unhealthy emotional factors brought on by stresses of life or abuses suffered in childhood. Distance between parent and child is not the normal state of affairs and when a child indicates a desire to reconcile the parent recognizes it as a plea for help. Help me overcome the emotional strains that cloud my kinship and love.
A normal parent is moved to the core by this appeal and responds with instant forgiveness. Not only do they forgive, they beg the child for permission to help them recover from their unhealthy disposition. What can I do, the parent will ask, to help you recover your cheer and love? Just tell me and I will respond. In fact many a parent will recognize the cause of the strain and make overtures even before the child does just as G-d promised to dwell among us even before we built the tabernacle.
The story is told of a child who stood on shore jumping up and down hoping to attract the attention of a Ship’s captain anchored hundreds of yards off to sea. A man came along and said, stop jumping little boy the captain will never notice you. Yes he will, insisted the boy. At that moment the Ship’s horn sounded and the captain waved. At the man’s astonishment the kid said, you see, the captain is my father.
G-d is our father and He wants peace with us. All we need to do is turn toward Him and He will respond. In fact even before we turn, so long as we have him in our heart, He will respond. Let us make peace and return to our natural state of love. Just as it is with our natural parents so should it be with G-d.