In this week's parsha, Shlach, we see in Bamidbar (Num.) 14:20, God says, "I have forgiven ..." Yet, beginning in the next verse and continuing until verse 35, God mentions punishing the people. Is this a contradiction? If not, what is meant when God says, "I have forgiven"? What, specifically, did God forgive?


R. Shlomo Kluger in his sefer Imrei Shefer explains that Moshe was intending to ask for Hashem’s forgiveness in stages until he attained complete forgiveness for Yisrael, like he did with sin of the golden calf. But Hashem did not want to forgive Yisrael completely, so He stopped him after the first entreaty, and said “I forgive according to your word” - according to what you have asked for until now, but no more.


God had told Moses he would wipe out the nation of Israel. Moses entreated. God relented. But still they will not enter Israel in this lifetime.

  • Interesting. Do you have a source or evidence for saying that that's the explanation of these verses? – msh210 Jun 10 '14 at 22:32
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    Not especially. I relied on the fact that it is exceedingly clear to me that this was the proceedings of the chapter, to the point that I'm surprised it was even a question in the first place. – gaagu Jun 10 '14 at 23:52

Rashi says that God listened to Moses in that He wouldn't wipe out the nation immediately, so the nations wouldn't be able to say that God was unable to take Israel into the Land. However, God would kill them over a period of forty years.

That's why God says "I have forgiven according to your word" - God listened to Moses' argument, but wouldn't completely forgive the sin.

  • So, according to both answers, the key word here, which I forgot to include, is "kid'varecha" - according to what you (Moses) have said? I.e. - God forgave only what Moses specifically requested and nothing more. Is that correct? – DanF Jun 10 '14 at 18:27
  • @DanF Yes. It seems that "kid'varecha" is limiting the extent of the forgiveness. – Ypnypn Jun 10 '14 at 18:37
  • This looks like pretty much a duplicate of gaagu's preexisting answer. – msh210 Jun 10 '14 at 22:32
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    @msh210 The essence is similar, but I added a source, and an explanation of how this fits into the wording. – Ypnypn Jun 21 '15 at 19:06

The underlying assumption here is that forgiveness is the same as avoiding consequences for sin. True, the two ideas often go together, and forgiveness can include waiving punishment connected with a sin. However, it is often the case that a sinner must demonstrate remorse and bear some consequences of the sin as part of the repentance process. Often, the Lord is appeased by remorse demonstrated through sackcloth and ashes. The more egregious the trespass against the Lord's law, the more the Lord requires for repentance to be complete. To attain forgiveness for great sins, a person must be willing to confess the sin and embrace the punishments required by mortal justice. In this case, though the children of Israel are forgiven and will be spiritually redeemed, they must also suffer the consequences of their rebellion and suffer the mortal punishment which prohibits them from inheriting the land of promise in their lifetime. In our day, we must also recognize that though we can be forgiven for our evil deeds, this does not necessarily mean that we will avoid all associated punishments.


God did not kill them! They stayed in the wildnerness until they died, and not being able to go into the promised land in their lifetimes was a punishment for doing something wrong. It was not "partial" forgiveness. Just as parents, we punish our children when they have done something wrong, but we forgive them. "time out" can seem like an eternity to a child! There are consequences to actions, however, even if you are forgiven. They will, one day, get to go to the promised land!

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    I like how you differentiate between punishment and consequence. God removed the punishment, that he would actively kill them, but nonetheless their "lack of faith" rendered them (or revealed them to be) unsuitable for entry into Israel. – Clint Eastwood Jun 10 '14 at 20:50
  • Not everyone agrees that they will get to go into Israel – Shmuel Jun 10 '14 at 22:32

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