By Allan Myers
One of the things that we will be asking repentance for next Shabbat is chet, usually translated into English as “sin” but actually meaning “missing the mark” (see Judges 20:16:) “Of all these people there were seven hundred chosen men [with a] shrivelled right hand. All these could sling a stone at a hair-breadth and not miss” – v’lo yachati). This sometimes happens in a relationship when you want to please the other person but, no matter how hard you try, you never actually manage to get everything right.
It happened to Moses in his relationship with God. God chose Moses to be His mouthpiece – to explain His ways to the people. So it was only natural that Moses wanted to see God, to know His ways. God wouldn’t allow Moses to see the front of Him but placed Moses in a crevice in a rock and passed by him so that Moses could see His back. Some say that Moses saw the knot of God’s tefillin – this presupposes that God wears tefillin in order to bind Himself to His people, just as we wear tefillin in order to bind ourselves to God.
The truth is that Moses had always been stuck between a rock and a hard place – trying to do what God commanded but never quite coming up to the mark, as God sees it. The result was that Moses failed to obtain the reward promised to the people he was sent to lead.
How ironic, therefore, that in this week’s sedra, Moses describes God as “The Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are just”. How can Moses say this when God has prevented him from entering the Promised Land? Even more surprising is that Moses refers to God as “The Rock”, the very item that Moses employed in a way that led to his eventual exclusion from The Land.
Perhaps Moses foresaw Israel’s Declaration of Independence, which refers to God as Tsur Yisrael, the Rock of Israel – an anodyne term which Ben-Gurion chose to placate both religious and secular Jews.
Professor Dov Landau of Bar-Ilan University recognises a paradox in these two terms – a rock (in Hebrew, tsur) is something hard, whereas the word I translated as “perfect”, tamim, can also mean innocent or pristine.
Also, the word tsur (rock), used to describe God, is a word used for weapons of war, so how could God also be innocent or pristine? Professor Landau posits that it is just because He is so strong that His deeds can also be pristine, that is, uncorrupted by man. This concept is re-enforced by the notion that someone who is strong cannot be cruel because cruelty is a weakness, so cruelty cannot exist in God; therefore, all his ways must be just.
So, if we have a relationship with a strong person we must assume that that person cannot be cruel – because cruelty is a weakness, so we have to assume that the ways of that strong person are just.
If we have “missed the mark” in a relationship, it is a “chet bein adam lechavero”, a sin between two people. In such a case, we have to seek repentance from the one we have failed to please, and therefore our plea for forgiveness should always be accepted.
Allan Myers is a chartered Accountant. He began teaching at Edgware Masorti Synagogue and Gesher in 1988, and completed a degree at Leo Baeck College in Hebrew and Jewish Studies.