Why did the Jews wander in the desert for forty years? Because Moses refused to ask for directions! It’s an old joke.

The Jews “wandered” for so many years as a consequence of the sin of the spies. After the Israelites completed fashioning the Tabernacle, G-d was prepared to bring them straight into the Promised Land. But the people balked. Not trusting Moses’ promise that it was a land of milk and honey, they dispatched spies. Ten of the twelve spies reported that the inhabitants of the land were so awesome that it would surely be impossible for the Israelites to conquer them. The people wept bitterly all night, completely ignoring Joshua and Caleb who praised the land lavishly, urging the people to go forward.

G-d was ready to wipe his hands clean of these people who time and again refused to accept His kindness and who complained at every opportunity. Once again, the Israelites were spared because Moses beseeched G-d to forgive them.

G-d’s response (Numbers 14:20-23): “I have pardoned according to your word. But…all those who have seen My glory, and My signs, which I wrought in Egypt and in the wilderness…they shall not see the land that I promised to their forefathers.”

While G-d forgave the people, it did not mean that there were no consequences. The people who had been redeemed from Egyptian slavery were not ready, psychologically, to be given a land of their own – it would have to wait for their children. It was a bitter lesson for the Israelites.

This ancient lesson applies to us as well. We must all take responsibility for our actions. While those we wrong may forgive us, the consequence of what we have done may be irreversible!

Talking about forgiveness: Project Forgiveness