This week we read that sometimes even G-d begs forgiveness. The story of Genesis tells us that when G-d first created the luminaries, He made the sun and the moon equal in stature—two equal rulers. How did the moon become so small and dependent on the sun for light?
The Talmud fills in the details. The moon complained that two kings should not be made to share a single crown. G-d replied, you are right. Go diminish yourself. The moon objected, should I be humbled just because I made a valid point? To which G-d replied, bring an atonement for me for I diminished the moon. Indeed, every Rosh Chodesh, on the first of the Hebrew month, an offering was brought in the temple in honor of the new moon. This, says the Talmud, was to atone for G-d diminishing the moon.
It is a strange story. If G-d agreed with the moon, why didn’t He restore it? Instead, He kept it small and cries every month for atonement. G-d begs forgiveness. Why? He is G-d. Let Him go and fix it!
The answer my dear friend is that some tragedies can’t be undone. They must happen as they do but that doesn’t ease the pain and trauma that they unleash. The moon had to be diminished, so G-d didn’t change it. But the pain and loss could not be overlooked. It is so visceral, so deep, that G-d begs forgiveness.
Surely, you have picked up by now that I am using the moon as a metaphor for a much broader discussion. There are many tragedies that occur in the world. Each one can be prevented by G-d. Those that He does not prevent need to occur precisely as they do. But they are oh so painful.
The Horror in Israel
I write this article five days after the Hamas massacre of Jews in Israel. It is one of the most difficult articles I have ever written. We cry bitter tears over the more than twelve hundred beautiful precious souls that were cruelly and inhumanely snuffed out. We are paralyzed by the sheer magnitude of the horror that our brethren experienced. We imagine their terror, the agony of knowing they are about to die, the unbearable trauma of watching their loved ones tortured to death, and the sheer pain of their own death.
We imagine and we cringe. We wring our hands. We close our eyes, but the images remain.
We are in grief. We are in mourning. We are numb. And we are enraged. We want to rise up like lions and reverse this tragedy. We want to turn back the clock and erase it from the history books. But we can’t. G-d can. But He won’t. He alone knows why this had to happen, so He begs forgiveness. G-d cries with us, clutches our hands and clings to us. Please, please, forgive me; atone for what I had to do. I diminished the moon. I diminished the nation. I allowed exquisite, magnificent souls to be heinously cut down.
We live in dread of tomorrow’s news. What is the fate of those taken hostage? We hope, we pray, because that is the Jewish way. What of G-d? What is He doing? He is crying bitter tears as His loved ones suffer. For reasons known only to Him, it had to happen this way. No one can explain it. No one can know why. But He does and He doesn’t like it. Bring an offering for me and atone for me. G-d begs forgiveness.
Born In the Concave
The Zohar tells us that when the moon was diminished and began to wane, many souls were born within its concave— its dark side. These souls are fated to encounter darkness in life in the form of suffering and cruelty. These are the victims of human cruelty, illness, tragedy, etc.
However, the Zohar tells us that these challenges touch only the external surface of these people. Not their souls. Not their internal selves. Those remain unmarred. Undiminished. Untouched. On the contrary, when the body suffers, the internal dimension, the inner core, shines powerfully.
You see, the moon is full when earth is between the moon and the sun. This way, the side of the moon that faces the sun is visible to us. The moon disappears when it is between the sun and the earth. At this time, the side of the moon that faces the sun faces away from us, which makes it appear dark to us. This is why the Talmud declares that the sun never saw the concave of the moon. To the sun, the moon is always full.
Now let us pause and consider. When the moon is full, it is furthest from the sun. When it disappears, it is closest to the sun. What does this mean for us?
The souls that experience trauma, abuse, rape, addiction, bullying, illness, disease, cruelty, torture, and even death emerged from G-d when the moon had waned. They were selected by G-d for these terrible fates even before they were born. Each of these terrible experiences serve a powerful purpose that somehow elevates them and the world around them. As the moon is closest to the sun when it wanes and disappears, so are the heroes who suffer closest to G-d at the time of their suffering. Their soul is whole.
At that moment, when our brethren in Israel were murdered simply for being Jewish, they reached the highest spiritual state. When the enemy reached the height of his cruelty, our loved ones were closest to G-d. In that moment, they were face to face with G-d. Not just in that moment but for the rest of eternity for that moment is timeless. It stands still for each of us, indelibly etched upon our psyches forever.
We don’t know why these precious souls were chosen for this gruesome yet holy fate—to give their life for G-d. We hope to see the outcome of their sacrifice soon. We hope to see the downfall of the entire terror infrastructure. We hope it ushers in a prolonged period of calm, peace, stability, and unity for the entire region. Most importantly, we hope that this immense suffering, this stranglehold on life, will bring about the end-goal of all history—the coming of Mashiach.
You see, the Jewish prophets taught us that history is not circular. It doesn’t take us in tragic circles repeating the horrors and tragedies of yesteryear. History is linear. It is always marching toward a single goal. Sometimes it feels like we are sliding backward, but like the waning moon, those are the times that bring us closest.
Our sages taught that when Jews are desperate for refuge, when they wring their hands and ask, where is my refuge, where shall I go? G-d replies, “Fear not, all that I have done, I have done for you—the time for your redemption has arrived.” May this finally be that time. Our people have not experienced such horrors since the Holocaust. If ever there was a sacrifice worthy of Mashiach, this one is it. May it be so.
Yet, G-d cries for every tortured soul, for every lost life, for every hostage, for every injury, and for every person that barely escaped with their lives. These are terrible sufferings, and no one should have to bear them. G-d, who loves us, can’t stand to see His children suffer, so G-d begs forgiveness. Bring an offering for me to atone for what I did to your loved ones. To My loved ones.
Will we find the strength to forgive G-d? I wager that with time we will. Right now, it is too much to ask. Right now, we grieve. Right now, we reach as deep as we can and muster our inner reserves. Right now, we march forward and snatch victory from the jaws of this heinous, inhumane, monstrous, evil.
But soon, we hope, very soon, G-d will bring the Mashiach. At that time, if not earlier, I feel certain that we will forgive G-d. For He will finally atone for the unimaginable cruelty our brethren have suffered.
Rabbi Eliezer (Lazer) Gurkow, currently serving as rabbi of congregation Beth Tefilah in London, Ontario, is a well-known speaker and writer on Torah issues and current affairs.