Vayelech – Earning Your Innocence

This Shabbos is called Shabbos Shuva, based on the opening line of the Haftorah: “Shuva Yisrael od Hashem Elokecha” (Hoshea 14:2). It deals with the topic of teshuva, repentance, which is why it was chosen to be read between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. What is unique about this Haftorah is that it spans three of the Minor Prophets, Hoshea, Yoel and Micha. The first pasuk read from Micha states: “Who is a G-d like You, Who forgives iniquity and passes over the transgression of the remnant of His heritage? He does not maintain His anger forever, for He desires loving-kindness” (Micha 7:18).
One of the 13 attributes of Divine Mercy is “Forgiver of Iniquity,” which is mentioned in this pasuk. This attribute refers to Hashem forgiving an intentional sinner. The Yalkut Shimone on this pasuk refers to a gemara in Rosh Hashana 17a: “Raba said: He who forgoes his right [to exact punishment] is forgiven of all his iniquities, as it says, ‘Forgiving iniquity and passing by transgression.’ Who is forgiven iniquity? One who passes by transgression [against himself]. R. Huna the son of R. Joshua was once ill. R. Papa went to inquire about him. He saw that he was very ill (on his deathbed) and said to those present, make ready provisions for his [everlasting] journey (i.e. his burial shrouds). Eventually, however, he [R. Huna] recovered, and R. Papa felt ashamed to see him. He said to him, ‘What did you see [in your illness]?’ He replied, ‘It was indeed as you thought, but the Holy One, blessed be He, said to them [the angels]: Because he does not insist upon his rights, do not be particular with him,’ as it says, ‘Forgiving iniquity and passing by transgression.’ Who is forgiven iniquity? He who passes by transgression.” Rashi explains that since he relinquished his right to exact retribution for the wrongs done to him, Hashem’s Attribute of Justice relinquishes its rights to exact punishment on him for his sins. (Click here for Hebrew text.)
The conundrum this evokes is that how could Hashem, whose total essence is truth, simply ignore a blatant sin deserving of punishment? Isn’t that an injustice, a lack of honesty right there? It would seem that Hashem even acts in this fashion towards someone who has not fully repented and erased his sin, but simply overlooks the wrongs done to him by anyone else. Where is the justice and honesty here?

We know that Hashem must be acting with proper justice, and that He is also not simply ignoring a rebellion which should be taken care of. The logic must therefore be that Hashem, when exacting reward and punishment, always acts measure for measure. Therefore, in this case, acting measure for measure dictates that if this person overlooks wrongdoings done to him by other people then Hashem rightfully overlooks the wrongdoings committed by individual towards Him! This goes as far as to say that someone who deserves to die from a deadly illness might be given an extension of life, as the gemara above shared.

At this time between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur it is worthwhile to focus on this concept in the 13 attributes of Mercy which we proclaim in our slichos and Yom Kippur davening. We should apply it to ourselves so that just as we overlook others’ iniquities against us, Hashem will overlook our iniquities against Him, even if, for some reason, we don’t achieve the required level of complete repentance.