What do the following sins have in common?
– Intercourse during menstruation cycle
– Cursing God
– Idol Worship
– Desecrating the Sabbath
– Eating forbidden fat
– Eating leavened food on Passover
– Eating or working on Yom Kippur
According to the Mishna (Tractate Kritut 1:1) a person who willingly commits any of the above is liable to “Karet”. “Karet” has a number of translations and interpretations. The most colorful is perhaps: “Your soul will be cut off for eternity”.
Maimonides however, in the Laws of Repentance 1:4 states that all of these sinners can reach complete forgiveness by having full contrition, repenting on Yom Kippur, and reception of tribulations.
Maimonides though adds one caveat: this is all true, unless in the process of sinning one ‘desecrated’ God’s name.
For those sinners who have also desecrated God’s name by their actions, they need contrition, Yom Kippur and tribulations, but also require Death to finally be forgiven of those sins.
Rabbi Ovadia Sforno comes to a similar lesson from this week’s reading.
The notorious spies return from scouting the Land of Canaan (Numbers Chapters 13-14). They give a negative report about the land, inciting the people of Israel to despair. God, fed up with the complaining, unappreciative and faithless children of Israel, issues the famous punishment of wandering 40 years in the desert, slowly killing off that generation of sinners and never allowing them to enter the Promised Land.
The next day, a group of firebrands suddenly found faith in God and decided that they really could vanquish the resident Canaanites. Against Moses’ direct orders they go to battle and are duly routed.
Sforno explains that those firebrands were completely penitent.
God however did not forgive them.
Even though from an internal perspective these individuals had fully repented for their sin, the dimension of having desecrated God’s name in the process made their sin unforgivable until obviated by their death. Therefore, according to Sforno, even though these individuals had the best of intentions, God was no longer with them and they had little chance of success as their desecration of His name now colored their lives and actions.
It is said that every act of supporting Israel, loving it, and those that have the merit to ascend to the land are corrections for the enormous sin of the spies. It demonstrates the opposite of the desecration of God’s name – it is a consecration of His name.
May we always have the opportunity to consecrate God’s name each in our own way – and may we take advantage of those opportunities.
To Rabbi Ori and Toby Einhorn, who are going on Shlichut to Kfar Shmaryahu. Their lives are a consecration of God’s name. We wish them tremendous success in their efforts. I’m still holding out for a better deal than 40(!) camels for the shidduch of your daughter and my son.