Tali Lowenthal: ‘Can Sin Be Forgiven?’

Dr. Tali Loewenthal was born in Haifa and directs the Chabad Research Unit, lectures in the University College on Jewish Spirituality, and he has authored “Communicating the Infinite, the emergence of the Habad School” and many scholarly and popular articles. Here’s his reflection on Moses in the cleft of the rock, titled “At The Highest Level.” I found in it deep wisdom for Lent.

“Can sin be forgiven? Can it be erased? Can it even be transformed into good? In the book of Exodus we read about the events relating to the making of the Golden Calf. This was an unfortunate transgression in which large numbers of Jews took part, combining idolatry, immorality and murder. Wisely, the women in the community kept away and so did the Levites.

After this mass betrayal of G-d and His teachings, Moses had to plead with G-d in order to prevent the Jewish people from being destroyed. For forty days he pleaded, alone on Mount Sinai, and was finally successful. G-d would bring the Jewish people to the Promised Land, and the broken Tablets of the Law would be replaced.

The interesting thing about this revelation, is that it comes in the form of a prayer At this moment we are introduced to another aspect of Moses: the person who seeks the deepest level of contact with G-d. He asks: “Show me Your Glory.” Moses wanted to reach the closest intimation of G-dliness possible for a human being.

G-d answered that He will put Moses in the crevice of the rock and grant him a vision of something of the Divine Glory. However, not everything can be revealed, for “man cannot see Me and live.”

Then comes the promised revelation. This is one of the most remarkable moments in the life of Moses and in the entire Torah. The interesting thing about this revelation of G-d, is that it comes in the form of a prayer. G-d teaches a prayer to Moses, a prayer which we recite in the synagogue. It is called the “Thirteen Attributes of Mercy”:

G-d, O G-d, merciful, gracious, slow to anger, with great kindness and truth, guarding kindness for thousands of generations, forgiving sins and transgressions, cleansing.

On festivals this prayer is sung when the Ark is open. It is also repeated several times in the service on Yom Kippur. It is a prayer which has the power to arouse the Mercy of G-d. Of course, it must be said with sincerity, as an expression of our feelings of repentance. The effect of G-d’s Mercy is to forgive, or, greater still, to erase sins as if they had never happened. A theme often mentioned in the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, based on the Talmud, is that a further level of repentance is to transform the effect of transgressions into that of good deeds…

Here we encounter the paradox of repentance How can this be?

Here we encounter the paradox of repentance. Sin leaves a “stain” on the spiritual aspect of the person. The highest levels of repentance reach to the inwardness of G-d, eliciting a Divine radiance which cleanses the stain. The repentance may be so deep, so full of love for G-d, that now a new level of goodness and holiness is reached, which could only be attained by repentance. Hence the effect of what had begun as bad, now transformed by the power of repentance, is the attainment of a higher level of good. Thus the Sages tell us: “The place where the repentant stand, cannot be reached by those who have never sinned.”

This was the revelation of G-d’s Glory, expressed to Moses as he hid in the crevice of the rock, alone on Mount Sinai. The prayer which reveals the power of G-d’s infinite Mercy, the exalted power of repentance.”–Dr. Tali Loewenthal

Read more by Tali Loewenthal.

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