There is an interesting commentary on חֻקַּת עוֹלָם, “an everlasting law” in the last verse of the Torah reading for Yom Kippur morning (Leviticus 16:1-34).
Even when there is no Temple, if we repent on Yom Kippur, the day itself atones (Maimonides, Laws of Repentance 1:3). The word hok or hukka, often translated as “statute” and understood as a law that surpasses human understanding, is derived from a root meaning “indelibly inscribed,” and is to be understood as part of the created order of the universe. The implication is that forgiveness is written into the human situation under the sovereignty of God.[i]
While some may question the efficaciousness of Yom Kippur, the fact remains that the passage from Leviticus states, “This will be an everlasting statute (law) for you, to make atonement for Bnei-Yisrael once in the year because of all their sins,” (16:34).[ii] I bring this up because of a passage from the Torah reading for the Shabbat during Sukkot, Exodus 33:12 – 34:26 & Numbers 29:26-31.
Remember the setting, Moshe had gone up to meet with HaShem, while there the people required a god, and the molten calf was the result. HaShem sent Moshe back down to deal with the situation. He was less than pleased and, in the process, broke the tablets upon which HaShem had written. After handling the situation on the ground, Moshe returned to the mountain top and interceded with HaShem on behalf of the people, asking Him to continue with them.
If now I have found grace in Your eyes, my LORD, let my LORD please go within our midst, even though this is a stiff-necked people. Pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us for Your own inheritance. (Exodus 34:9)
This follows immediately upon the Almighty’s proclamation to Moshe of His defining characteristics are
Then ADONAI passed before him, and proclaimed, “ADONAI, ADONAI, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, and abundant in lovingkindness and truth, showing mercy to a thousand generations, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, yet by no means leaving the guilty unpunished, but bringing the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, to the third and fourth generation.” (34:6-7)
From both the Yom Kippur prayers as well as in this week’s Parasha, we understand that forgiveness is one of the cornerstones of HaShem’s character. It is not just what He does, but who He is. It is important, even paramount, to note that while He disciplines and judges sin, He is 300 to 330 percent more forgiving, gracious and merciful. Thus His forgiveness is far greater than His punishment. Remember the words of the prophet Zechariah as he declares HaShem’s admonition, and similarly the affirmation through the prophet Isaiah,
Therefore tell them, thus says ADONAI-Tzva’ot, ‘Return to Me’—it is a declaration of ADONAI-Tzva’ot—‘and I will return to you,’ says ADONAI-Tzva’ot. (Zechariah 1:3)
I, I am the One who blots out your transgressions for My own sake, and will not remember your sins. (Isaiah 43:25)
It is important to remember that forgiveness is not simply something we receive, reciprocally it is something we must also give. Yeshua’s seventy times seven teaching in Matthew 18:21-22 lends credence to this fact. Rav Shaul is equally clear as he wrote to the believers in Ephesus
Get rid of all bitterness and rage and anger and quarreling and slander, along with all malice. Instead, be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving each other just as God in Messiah also forgave you. (Ephesians 4:31-32)
And also to the believers in Colossae
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves in tender compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience—bearing with one another and forgiving each other, if anyone has a grievance against another. (Colossians 3:12-13)
Just as we were reminded during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, forgiveness is both horizontal and vertical. We are to emulate Rav Shaul’s position as he presented in Acts 24:16, “… I do my best always to have a clear conscience before both God and men.” One final word from Rav Shaul to provide a guide for our actions and interactions with one another, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live in shalom with all people,” (Romans 12:18) His qualifier “if possible” indicates that there may well be times when pursuing shalom will not be possible because others will not agree or allow this to happen. But we should live in the mindset that as our Father in heaven forgives us and restores us to Himself, we should make every effort to be restored to one another – not just during this time of the year when the need is ever before us, but each and every day of our lives.
[i]The Koren Yom Kippur Mahzor, Introduction, Translation and Commentary by Chief Rabbi, Lord Jonathan Sacks. Jerusalem, Koren Publishers Jerusalem, Ltd. 2014, p 735.
[ii]Unless otherwise noted, all Scriptures are from the Tree of Life(TLV) Translation of the Bible. Copyright © 2015 by The Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society.