Pinny Arnon

Are You A Sinner?

Photo by Nick on Unsplash

Are you a sinner? Sadly, the vast majority of those reading this will believe they are. But in this week’s Torah reading, the wicked prophet Balaam reveals something remarkable about God and His view of his children:

:לֹא־הִבִּיט אָוֶן בְּיַֽעֲקֹב וְלֹא־רָאָה עָמָל בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל
Lo hibit aven b’Yaacov v’lo ra’ah amal b’Yisrael.
(God) does not look at sin in Jacob, and He has not seen crookedness in Israel.
(Numbers 23:21)

Here, Balaam is forced to declare that not only does God not seek faults in His children, but furthermore He does not even see our shortcomings. It is not merely that He is not looking for opportunities to blame and shame us, but that even if He were, He would find none. This is because He does not view our acts as sin at all. This is reinforced by a verse from Psalms which states:

:אַֽשְֽׁרֵי אָדָם לֹא יַחְשֹׁב יְ-הֹוָה לוֹ עָוֹן
Ashrei adam lo yachshov A-donai lo avon.
Happy/fortunate is man, God does not consider His sin.
(Psalms 32:2)

This verse is commonly translated as “happy is the man whose sin is not considered by God.” However, the literal reading of the verse reveals a deeper and more internal truth. It does not say “ashrei ha’adam/happy is the man” but rather “ashrei adam/happy is man.” On the simple level, the verse seems to refer to a certain type of person who is deserving of God’s overlooking of His sins. But according to its literal and more profound meaning, it refers not to a particular person or people whose sins are not considered, but rather to mankind in general – all people – for God does not consider our sin. Why does He not do so? Because, at the level of His ultimate Oneness, our misdeeds do not, and cannot, affect Him. This truth is expressed in the book of Job:

:אִם־חטָאתָ מַה־תִּפְעָל־בּוֹ וְרַבּוּ פשָׁעֶיךָ מַה־תַּעֲשֶׂה־לּוֹ
Im chatasa mah tifal bo, v’rabu pishaecha mah taaseh lo?
If you sinned, what effect do you have on Him, and if your transgressions are many, what do you do to Him?
(Job 35:6)

In the grand scheme of God’s infinite unity, Job asks, can our trivial actions truly have any effect on Him? The Chasidic masters explain Job’s questions to mean that because God is infinite, sin therefore does not, and cannot, separate us from God from His vantage. What then is sin if not an affront to God, and what are its ramifications? The prophet Isaiah informs us that the negative impact of a sin rests not with God, but primarily on the one who sins her/himself:

:עֲו‍ֹנֹתֵיכֶם הָיוּ מַבְדִּלִים בֵּֽינֵכֶם לְבֵין אֱ-לֹהֵיכֶם
Avonoseichem hayu mavdilim beineichem l’vein E-lokeichem.
Your iniquities have separated between you and your God.
(Isaiah 59:2)

Sin is the layer of interference and concealment that we impose between ourselves and our Creator. It is a covering created by our negative actions that obscures our view of God and our recognition of His presence within our core.

It is no secret and no surprise that the vast majority of us dwell in a state of constant insecurity, self-consciousness, and self-critique. We are perpetually questioning our existence and calibrating our worth. This incessant self-evaluation and critique leaves us anxious and insecure. We feel judged and dissected, and the ‘self’ that we view in the mirror is flawed and blemished and unable to stand up to such persistent and excruciating scrutiny. The judgment comes from those around us, but even more frequently and damningly, it comes from ourselves. Most damagingly, we believe that the perpetual critique comes from God, the One who created us and who is ashamed of how far we are from what He had intended us to be. This assumption of God’s criticism and ire is the very root of so much unhappiness and heartache, and it is so heartbreakingly unnecessary, because it is simply untrue! As we learn in this week’s parsha, God does not seek or see our sins. He does not focus on our faults or look for opportunities to judge and condemn us. The conception of an angry God who is eager to punish is simply inaccurate!

This realization will not only correct our erroneous understanding of God, but it will also transform our misguided conception of ourselves. If we conceive of God as one who is constantly counting and accounting our sins and merits, and we want to emulate Him and be Godly, then we too will perpetually be judging everything around us and within us. But we must pause and ask ourselves if God is truly so, or if we are making Him in our image. Did He create us with this tendency and imperative to be constantly judgmental? Is this what He wants from us, to be always on guard, always tense, always afraid that we will fall or fail and then be punished? Torah tells us “ivdu es A-donai b’simcha/serve God with joy” (Psalms 100:2). How can we possibly serve with joy if we are always afraid? We can perhaps serve Him with fear, but is it truly possible to be joyous when we are incessantly critiquing our performance and dreading our inevitable failure?

God knows that we are fallible. He created us imperfect, and He situated us in the dark. He not only accepts our imperfection, but establishes it as a condition of our mortal existence. Therefore, we can accept our imperfection and strive for improvement without hating our deficiency. We can feel motivated to grow without feeling inadequate.

If we view God as a strict and exacting judge who sits above and eternally assesses His creation, then our lives will be obsessively focused on right and wrong, good and evil, reward and punishment. We will view ourselves and our surroundings through this lens, and we will feel guilt when we err, and pride when we comply. We will judge and critique and forever struggle to negotiate this duality that bifurcates our existence. (Sound like anyone you know?)

But if we recognize God as the sole existence and the very essence of our being and all being, then we will stop believing that we are deserving of consequence and rebuke. We will stop struggling with life, and we will learn to navigate the currents without being angry that they don’t always flow the way we wish. We will trust in God and know that He is here always; that everything is so because He makes it so; that I am so because He has made me so; that I can accomplish anything with His help when I stop limiting myself and delimiting His infinite presence and His immeasurable love.

— Excerpted from PNEI HASHEM, an introduction to the deepest depths of the human experience based on the esoteric teachings of Torah.

About the Author
Pinny Arnon is an award-winning writer in the secular world who was introduced to the wellsprings of Torah as a young adult. After decades of study and frequent interaction with some of the most renowned Rabbis of the generation, Arnon has been encouraged to focus his clear and incisive writing style on the explication of the inner depths of Torah.
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