The Third Level: Take Care of it Personally
“Part of the Process (Take Care of it Personally),” illustration of Level 3 by Rebecca Odessa, Courtesy The Wisdom Daily
The Third Level: Take Care of It Personally
The Third Level of Mercy addresses the personal role that God plays in the process of forgiveness. Rather than relying on an angel or some other intermediary to dispense clemency, God personally provides the cleansing pardon.
The commentators on Date Palm of Devorah expand the Kabbalistic context of this level, answering the obvious question: why does God personally provide forgiveness, when in virtually all other aspects of the functioning of the Universe, God assigns myriads upon myriads of angels to carry out their delegated tasks? What is special about forgiveness, that it requires the personal intervention of the Master of the Universe?
The answer lies in very structure of the cosmos, and the nature of human power. According to the Kabbalah, the Universe is actually four distinct worlds, in descending order: Atsilut, Beriyah, Yetsirah, and Asiyah. Human beings, made in the image of God, have the power to create entities, for good or evil, as discussed above in the Second Level. These entities may be rooted in the three lower worlds, but they cannot penetrate the highest world of Atsilut. God’s angels do not have the power to destroy the negative energy beings created through human sin. Only God, who controls all the worlds, can remove these negative beings (or in some cases, even transform them into positive beings), and thus the task of forgiveness is undertaken by God alone.
Rabbi Cordovero briefly alludes to a powerful metaphor to illustrate the human application of the Second Level of forgiveness: a mother who washes a child that has soiled himself.
הַשלישית – וְעוֹבֵר עַל פֶּשַׁע
זוֹ מִדָּה גְּדוֹלָה שֶׁהֲרֵי אֵין הַמְּחִילָה עַל יְדֵי שָׁלִיחַ אֶלָּא עַל יָדוֹ מַמָּשׁ שֶׁל הב”ה כְּדִכְתִיב כִּי עִמְּךָ הַסְּלִיחָה וְגוֹ’ וּמַה הִיא הַסְּלִיחָה שֶׁהוּא רוֹחֵץ הֶעָוֹן כְּדִכְתִיב אִם רָחַץ ה’ אֵת צֹאַת בְּנוֹת צִיּוֹן וְגוֹ׳ וְכֵן כְּתִיב וְזָרַקְתִּי עֲלֵיכֶם מַיִם טְהוֹרִים וְגוֹ’ וְהָיִינוּ וְעוֹבֵר עַל פֶּשַׁע שׁוֹלֵחַ מֵימֵי רְחִיצָה וְעוֹבֵד וְרוֹחֵץ הַפֶּשַׁע.
וְהִנֵּה מַמָּשׁ כִּדְמוּת זֶה צָרִיךְ לִהְיוֹת הָאָדָם שֶׁלֹּא יֹאמַר וְכִי אֲנִי מְתַקֵּן מַה שֶׁפְּלוֹנִי חָטָא אוֹ הִשְׁחִית, לֹא יֹאמַר כָּךְ שֶׁהֲרֵי הָאָדָם חֹטֵא וְהב”ה בְּעַצְמוֹ שֶׁלֹּא עַל יְדֵי שָׁלִיחַ מְתַקֵּן אֶת מְעֻוָּתו וְרוֹחֵץ צֹאַת עֲוֹנוֹ.
וּמִכָּאן יִתְבַּיֵּשׁ הָאָדָם לָשׁוּב לַחֲטֹא שֶׁהֲרֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ בְּעַצְמוֹ רוֹחֵץ לִכְלוּךְ בְּגָדָיו:
The Third Level
And Passes Over Transgression
This is a great Level, for behold, forgiveness is not granted through a messenger, rather directly by God, as it is written: “for with You is forgiveness”. What is this forgiveness? God washes away the transgression, as it is written: “God washes away the filth of the children of Zion,” and it is written: “I will sprinkle upon you pure waters.” “Passing over transgression” indicates that God sends the cleansing water, and personally washes away sin.
A person must act in precisely this way. One should not say, “Should I be the one to fix whatever wrong this other person caused, or address whatever damage he incurred?” One should not speak in this manner! Behold, when a human being sins, God personally straightens what is bent and washes away the filth of the transgression.
From this we learn that one should be ashamed to return to his sin, for behold, the King personally washes the dirt off his clothing.
The image of a parent washing away the filth of a child is an interesting one. We think of a child as dependent on the parent to clean up because they are unable to do it themselves. However, shouldn’t we be able to clean up our own sins? Of course we need Hashem to wash away the real filth we have incurred, but don’t we have the ability to remove ourselves from the sins we are involved in? We need to stand up, brush ourselves off and do teshuva for the sins we have done. It must be that it is the real, deep residue left on our neshama even after we have done a personal teshuva. Because if not, it is hard to think we are incapable of cleaning ourselves up.
I like the idea of us all helping each other “clean up” the messes we have created. But of course we must all own up to our own personal slip-ups and fix the ways we have erred. Then, Hashem could step in and “reset” us, to start over once more.