What Right do we have to ask for Forgiveness?
Taste of a Mashal
“The One who answered our father Abraham on mountMoriahshould answer us” (Selichot prayers) / “An Ammonite or a Moavite may not enter into the nation of G-d because they did not give you bread and water and because they hired Bilam to curse you” (Deut. 23:4). What do these two quotes have to do with each other? The Dubno Maggid (Rabbi Yaakov Kranz 1741-1804) who was famous for his enlightening parables was once challenged to connect these two quotes with one mashal (parable) which he did as follows. A wealthy merchant sent his servant to the textile store to buy a few pieces of lace for his daughter’s wedding gown. After the merchant wrapped up the lace for the bride he took out a pouch of gold coins and gave them to the servant to take to his master as a wedding gift for the new bride. Another customer who had watched the transaction unfold also went over to pay for some lace and waited expectantly to receive a pouch of gold coins. The store keeper laughed, “Fool, do you think I give out presents to every one who buys lace! The last customer was a servant of a long time friend of mine and the present was for his daughter who is a bride.” This explains the question which needs to be asked on the first quote: How could we expect G-d to answer our prayer ‘just like he answered the prayer of Abraham.’ Do we have the kind of relationship with G-d that Abraham had? To explain the difficulty in the second quote, let’s continue with the story. On the way to the wedding the wagon carrying the bride, her mother, and all of the wedding gifts was riding over a frozen river when, all of a sudden, the ice cracked and the entire wagon plunged into the icy river. The people on board managed to swim to safety, but all of the valuables were lost. The wagon driver quickly ran to tell the father of the bride what had transpired. He told about how the wagon fell into the frozen river and how all was lost: the clothing, the dishes, the silverware, the linens, the food, and the books. At this point, the father interjected, “What about my wife and my daughter! What happened to them?” “Oh, them? They survived,” replied the driver. The driver exhibited more concern about the objects than the people. This was inappropriate, yet it seems that the verse in this week’s Parasha seems to be doing the same. It would seem to have been more appropriate for the verse to relate the fact that these nations attempted to have us killed before stating the fact that they did not do the kindness of giving us bread and water. These questions will be answered by continuing our saga. After the wedding, the young couple was supported by the wealthy merchant. To the great surprise of the young bride, her husband was too engrossed in his studies to come home for dinner. She tried talking to him but it was to no avail. So, she stopped providing food for him. This did not deter the young man at all and he kept on studying. The merchant decided to take matters into his own hands. He hired a hit-man to liquidate the young scholar. Before the hit man could do his job, the fellow escaped back to his hometown. The head of his school called in the merchant to ask him why he was not providing for the needs of his son-in-law. The merchant responded that he had fallen on hard times and was not able to provide for him anymore. The dean pointed out that this was a lame excuse, for if he had enough money to hire a hit-man then he certainly had the ability to pay for the scholar’s needs. This is what our verse is saying as well. The Ammonites and Moabites excuse that they did not have the means to provide the Jews provisions was lame, as seen from the fact that they were able to afford to hire Bilam to curse the Jewish Nation. The end of this story provides the explanation to the question as to how we could have the audacity to ask G-d to save us as he had saved our forefather Abraham. After divorcing his former wife the man remarried. Due to his great dedication to his studies, the young scholar became a highly respected leader and upon the birth of his first-born son there was great celebration. His adherents wanted to show their leader honor so they wrote up a document stating that when this boy would grow up and follow in his father’s footsteps they guaranteed him a position in their town. The scholar, however, was not impressed. “If you really honored me and wanted to express your devotion to me, you would guarantee my son your beneficence unconditionally” he said. So too, we ask G-d to show his unconditional love to Abraham by granting us favor and forgiveness even though we may not have that kind of relationship with Him. By coming humbly before G-d during these days of repentance we will merit a happy, healthy new year for us and the entire Jewish Nation.