Author’s Note: Article inspired by Rabbi Rothwacs’ 5779 Shabbat Shuvah Derashah
Imagine that you are a baseball player about to take another turn at bat. This time, however, is different than usual; your team is down to their last out in a World Series game, and asides from the fans in the stand, there are millions more people watching you on TV. The pitcher throws the first pitch for strike one. You swing and miss on the second pitch for strike two. When pitch number three arrives, you take a big swing, and strike out to end the game. But, suddenly, you are given another chance.
Throughout the Torah, Hashem demonstrates his incredible Middah of Rachamim. In Parashat BeReishit, for instance, Adam and Chavah carelessly eat from the Eitz HaDa’at. Despite this mistake, Hashem refrains from killing Adam and Chavah, and grants them a second chance.
Hashem again displays His Middah of Rachamim in Parashat Noach. The Parashah initially describes Noach as an “Ish Tzaddik” (Bereishit 6:9). Noach was the only man in his generation who remained loyal to Hashem. Everyone else were considered Resha’im in the eyes of Hashem, and did not deserve to live. Therefore, Hashem told Noach that He is going to destroy the world with a flood, but Noach will be saved. In order to survive, Hashem instructed him “Aseih Lecha Teivah,” “Make for yourself an ark” (Bereishit 6:14).
Why did Hashem require Noach to build a Teivah, where there were so many other ways that Hashem could have saved him? Why did Hashem burden Noach with constructing an enormous ark that would take him 120 years to complete? Rashi answers that Hashem wanted people to become intrigued when they notice Noach building the ark, and ask him what he was constructing. Noach would then be able to notify people of Hashem’s plan to destroy the Earth with the flood, unless they do Teshuvah. Chizkuni disagrees with Rashi and argues that Hashem knew that nobody would do Teshuvah, so the construction of the Teivah was merely to establish his Middat HaRachamim. Hashem already told Noach to provide his generation with initial warning, and as a final resort, He even caused some rain to fall before the Mabul itself. Hashem offering the most wicked of people several opportunities to repent truly established him as a merciful God.
Chizkuni’s point is not restricted to the story of Noach, but it is applicable throughout the remainder of the Torah, and in our lives. People make mistakes, and Hashem is teaching us that we must be able to forgive them. From Adam HaRishon to Moshe Rabbeinu, some of the greatest historical figures have sinned. Yet, every time, Hashem was able to forgive them. This is an important message of Rachamim that we should apply to our lives.