Chapter Two: The Cow (Al Baqara)
Verses 52 & 53
Chapter 2, verses 52 & 53
Then We pardoned you after that so that perhaps you would be grateful (Chapter 2: Verse 52)
God showers the Children of Israel with mercy even after they committed the gravest of sins. He forgave them so all of us may know that our Lord is all-Merciful. He opens the doors of repentance one after the other to wash away the evil deeds of humanity.
When you sin, you temporarily depart the domain of faith. If repentance and pardoning were not legislated, then people would have despaired and continually sinned thinking that after their first sin, they were destined to hellfire. Allah wants good for all His creation, and wants to bring everyone back into the fold of faith. He says:
Say, ‘My servants who have harmed yourselves by your own excess, do not despair of God’s mercy. God forgives all sins: He is truly the Most Forgiving, the Most Merciful. (39:53)
Our beloved Prophet Muhammad said: "God is happier with the repentance of His servant than one of you finding your horse after it had strayed away in the middle of the desert."
This narration illustrates a traveling man with all his possessions, be it wealth, food and water, packed on the back of his animal. In the midst of a barren desert, the horse gets away from him. He looks for it for days to no avail. Not only he has lost the horse, but he lost all the necessities for survival. Suddenly, he turns around and finds it standing before him. Imagine the amount of happiness, joy and relief this man feels. This pales when compared with God's happiness when you repent to him and seek forgiveness for your sins.
Allah opens the doors of repentance because He wants life in this world to move on. In fact, quite often the best of deeds and charities come from those who have sinned and transgressed. God says:
Establish prayer at each end of the day and in the first part of the night. Good actions eradicate bad actions. This is a reminder for people who pay heed. (11:114)
and in another verse:
Take alms out of their wealth so that you may thereby cleanse them and cause them to grow in purity and sincerity, and pray for them. Indeed your prayer is a source of comfort for them. God is All-Hearing, All-Knowing. (9:103)
God forgave the Israelites after their blatant sin because He wants to allow good to prevail in the universe. Moreover, Allah gave them a great chance to reform all aspects of life by revealing the Torah; which brings us to the next verse of the Cow. God says:
Remember when We gave Moses the Scripture, and the means to distinguish right and wrong, so that you might be guided. (Chapter 2: Verse 53)
After witnessing one of the greatest miracles in parting the sea and the drowning of Pharaoh and his army, the Israelites should have had unshakable faith free of any doubt. Did witnessing these great events remove the disbelief and hypocrisy from their hearts? Sadly, the answer is no, they remained stubborn throughout.
The Prophet (peace be upon him) cautioned all of us from becoming hardened like the children of Israel. When you make things difficult for yourself, God in return makes things difficult for you. Take the example of the incident of the cow, which the current chapter is named after. A murder had occurred, and it almost stirred up war between two tribes of the Israelites. God ordered the sacrifice of a cow in order to solve this murder case. Rather than simply carrying out God's command, the villagers kept delaying, and asking unnecessary questions such the type of the cow, its color and so on. If they would have sacrificed any random cow, it would have been sufficient. They made it difficult for Prophet Moses, so in return, God made things difficult for them.
Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said to his companions: "Leave me as long as I let you be, for the people who were before you were ruined because of their questions and quarrels with their Prophets. So, if I order you to do something, then do it as much as you can, and if I forbid you from something then just leave it."
The scripture and the means to distinguish right from wrong were great blessings for the children of Israel to cherish and remember. You should always welcome divine obligation and commandments with an open heart. Do not consider faith and obligation as restrictions on your freedom. Quite the contrary: divine law and order is the ultimate freedom. Take the example of theft. When Allah made theft unlawful for you, He did not restrict your freedom, rather he protected you. Because He commanded everyone else not to steal from you. Similarly, when He commanded you against committing adultery, He also commanded everyone else to keep away from your family. This is a great protection for the entire humanity. Thus, the Torah was a great gift for the Children of Israel to free them from all society's ills. It detailed the heavenly law and doctrine. God also gave them guidance to distinguish truth from falsehood.