Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim
Shawn Bose invited me to offer Orthodox Judaism’s response to Deily’s “Forgiveness” video, which presented the major religions’ views on forgiveness.
To open, it is vital that you know that the Bible — Judaism — is not a system of belief like all other religions, but a system of proof and reason. As it is true regarding science, all concepts we hold to be truths — including forgiveness — must be validated.
Now, as forgiveness falls into the category of morality (good and evil, i.e., what requires forgiveness) we must recognize that this is not determined by man. God alone defines all morality. Morality is of an “authoritative” nature, unlike the area of true and false, where man is equipped to independently determine what is a “truth:” for example, what is wet or dry, heavy or light, and tall or short. Man can determine truths, but man cannot determine morality, viz., whether one is morally correct to kill an embryo to save the mother, or spare the embryo, or which crimes deserve death or monetary penalty. Only God can determine these matters, as He determined when life begins, which life is of greater value, and which crime is capital or criminal. Man cannot determine if killing an animal is “as evil” as killing a man. There is no tool with which man can accurately evaluate either being. But as God created all life, He can permit man to kill beasts for his needs. But we require His word to know this. We also require God’s word to know how to evaluate who to forgive, when to forgive, and if we should forgive.
God’s Bible is God’s only revealed religion. God communicated no other religion. And this is sensible, as there is but one mankind. Yes, there are claims of God’s communications or prophets, but without mass witnesses as was so during Revelation at Sinai, one either believes in other religious claims or he does not…but he has no proof as we have regarding Sinai. Therefore, we can only rely on the Bible as God’s proven words, and from here alone we may study His view on forgiveness. We must then dismiss the various religious views of forgiveness presented in the video based on the following considerations.
The Islamic leader said the Koran believes a “devil” is the cause of man’s evil. However, that religious leader did not offer evidence that a devil exists. Nor does world history offer this evidence. And as God planted eyes in each of us, He desires we accept what we witness, and dismiss what has no evidence. Religion is not a free for all, but must be guided by God’s will, evidence and reason, and a large part of His will can be derived from His design of nature, human biology, human intellect, and our psyches. Let us not ignore this obvious lesson. The Islamic leader also suggested retaliation is permitted, but forgiveness is preferred. However, he did not qualify why this is morally correct. By what means was this conclusion made? This is a baseless opinion.
Christianity professes complete and unconditional forgiveness. Do Christians forgive their teenage children who constantly steal their hard-earned money for drugs and alcohol? Or should they teach them accountability by expressing clear disapproval, and suspend forgiveness until they end their self-destructive habits? Forgiveness sends the wrong message, making the teen feel his crime is not really “bad,” empowering them to continue their destructive behaviors. If a man was to murder another man’s wife, should the widower embrace the murderer and forgive him, endangering himself and others by not demanding death or incarceration to protect society? Is a man to deny his feelings of love for his lost bride in such a case? Does God ever ask this of us? No. God wishes man to live in reality and not deny his proper feelings. If a man repeatedly attacked a senior citizen, or repeatedly raped a child, is repeated forgiveness truly God’s desire, or does God demand that disgust with such morally-decayed animals is warranted? Should a Jew, whose 4 year old daughter was shot dead at by an Arab terrorist forgive that terrorist? Or should the terrorist be killed, as God says in His Bible? Should we forgive and embrace ISIS butchers who have beheaded countless Christians? Should we befriend Hitler? I believe this illustrates just how morally and intellectually distorted, and how damaging Christian forgiveness is.
What does God say about forgiveness?
Regarding the person who rejects God’s Biblical curses, feeling he will escape punishment, God says, “God will not forgive him for then God’s anger and jealousy will kindle against that man and he will meet with the all the curses written in this Book and God will erase his name from under the heavens (Deut. 29:19).” God does not forgive this man. This position to forgive anyone for anything is not God’s position. God teaches that a robber must repay, and that repentance is not repentance if we remain in our evil ways. If God does not forgive in many cases, He does not wish man to veer from His Biblical lessons. Man is then morally correct not to forgive another unless the sinner corrected matters, and himself. As God teaches in Leviticus 19:2, “You shall be holy for I am Holy…” The lesson is that we are to mimic God, since His ways are perfect. Moses clearly tells us to “walk in His ways” (Deut. 28:9).
God plagued Egypt ten times and did not forgive them. God did not forgive Pharaoh but drowned him and his army in the Reed Sea. God killed many others like Korach, Amalek and other wicked people and nations. God Flooded the Earth, killing all but Noah and his family. But God did not kill the generation of the Tower of Bable; He dispersed them instead. Thus, God has parameters when forgiveness is correct, and incorrect. We learn that unconditional forgiveness clearly violates God’s Bible. It is then incomprehensible how Bible readers violate God’s words.
These Biblical cases are not written to record history, but rather, are God’s education of what is evil, and His systems of morality and reward and punishment. They Bible must be studied for years, as God’s wisdom is of immeasurable depth. But He embedded clues in the verses, making the Bible a unique book, and offering us the means through which we can determine His morality system. Simplistic formulations of morality and forgiveness as I saw on the video, block our understanding of God’s lessons. Such Biblical violations riddle God’s reputation and morality with corruptions. Just as a scientist and a doctor require decades of study to understand God’s natural laws, the Bible student too must study under the original recipients of the Bible — the Talmudic scholars and Rabbis — to learn God’s morality. I have personally studied the Bible and Talmud for about 40 years, and I am still awed by the brilliance I see each day. No other book compares, as no other book was authored by God.
Christianity also suggests Jesus died for mankind’s sins. Yet, this too violates God’s Bible. God says, “a father is not killed for his son’s sins, and a son is not killed for a father’s sins; each man in his own sin is killed (Deut. 24:16).” Thus, the opinion that “Jesus died for mankind” blatantly rejects God’s words. And since God also said to never alter His Bible (Deut. 13:1), this principle will never change. Additionally, God’s principle makes sense to our minds.
Would you deem it wrong to assist your enemy? Is it wrong to keep unjust weights in your home, as long as you don’t use them? If a man owed you money and his collateral is his only jacket, do you need to return it to him at night? If a cow gores another person, after how many gores is the owner liable? If your father and teacher are drowning, who must you save first? Is homosexuality forbidden? What sexual partner is permitted, and when? Exodus 21-23 includes dozens of laws that we cannot conclude without God’s authoritative, moral and just instruction. King Saul spared the Amalek king Agag and was removed from his position due to relying on his own sense of morality. How much less are we qualified to posit morality, certainly when God says otherwise?
Humans err. But God allowed repentance to erase our stains of sin, if we are genuine. Ezekiel 18 teaches that God is so kind and merciful, that the truly penitent man is viewed as never having sinned. But he must first repent, admitting his error, regret it, and resign to never repeat his evil. Self-correction renders him a new man, one who no longer requires God’s punishments (corrective measures). Thus, forgiveness depends on man initiating his own correction. God does not forgive unconditionally.
Conditional forgiveness is expressed in God’s commandment that each year we fast and pray on Yom Kippur for 24 hours. For without correcting our flaws, we are not forgiven. This is in the Bible, and again, the Christian view of unconditional forgiveness disregards the message of this holiday.
To understand the objective standards that demand forgiveness, we must study God’s words alone. All religious views conflict and therefore they all cannot be correct. God’s only communication to man was Revelation at Sinai when He gave mankind his Bible. This is the sole source of instruction of religion and morality, and when forgiveness is a valid and warranted. All of God’s systems — natural or religious — have a design and guidelines. Gravity functions within certain frameworks, plant life grows only with certain conditions, and forgiveness is a just, moral and obligatory response, but only when specific parameters are met. God alone determines these parameters, and His Bible is the sole guide.
It behooves us all to spend the necessary time studying the many Biblical lessons — not only of forgiveness — but of all of God’s ways and laws. In this manner, we can attain the goal God has mapped out for us all, to live morally correct, helping others, accepting truths and rejecting fallacy. And along this amazing journey of Bible study, we will be awed by the brilliance of our Creator, realizing this book is unique.