Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Erev Yom Kippur - Forgiveness

"I forgive you, as you have asked," (Numbers 14:20).
Forgiveness, according to Rabbi Ellen Lewis, changes our past. This season of teshuvah is not just about our own repentance, but also about forgiving others who've wrong us, whether or not they atone for that. The sages of the Mishnah said, "For sins against God or self, the acts of repentance on Yom Kippur atones. But for sins between people, Yom Kippur does not atone until those people reconcile with each other." While that must be the case for proper teshuvah and any hope for reparations in the relationship, sometimes people will wrong us and they won't apologize. Sometimes they don't know and sometimes they don't care. 
In the case that they don't know, we can risk expressing our feelings to them, and depending on the offense and the relationship, I would argue this is generally the best option. However, there are cases where this confrontation will cause more dissension and is simply not worth the hassle. In the case that they simply don't care, there is literally nothing you can do. If they know they've hurt you and they refuse to understand why or how to reform, if they really don't feel sorry that they've hurt you, there's no sense in pushing the issue and beating a dead horse. In any case, the best thing you can do is let go. 
Our great sage Maimonides told us in his codified Jewish law on teshuvah, "When the person who wronged you asks for forgiveness, you should forgive him with a complete heart and a willing spirit. Even if he aggravated and wronged you severely, you should not seek revenge or bear a grudge." Modern day psychologists agree: forgiveness is good for your soul. There's a story from one of the books I read for my pastoral counseling coursework in rabbinical school, the details of which are now fuzzy for me. There was a parent, let's say a mother, though I don't remember exactly. Her young adult child was killed, by a drunk driver if my memory serves, but I’ve already told you, it doesn't. For a long time there was no justice on the case. The mother fought tirelessly to ensure that her child's killer was put behind bars, and when that person was, the parent was shocked to discover that justice did not appease her as she thought it would. It did not bring her child back and it did not bring her peace. She came to realize that her passion for imprisoning the manslaughterer was not really one for justice but for revenge, and obtaining it did not kill her grudge. She developed some kind of relationship with the killer, not close or friendly, but she gave the person a chance to apologize for their mistakes and she forgave them. Only then was she able to let go of her grudge and grieve properly for her child, and move on with her own life. 
I cannot imagine the strength of character that must have taken. I know that there have been times in my life where I resolved to forgive someone, knowing it was the best course of action and that would be good for me, as well as for the other person and our relationship, but found that I had to keep forgiving them several times before I could actually let go of my resentment toward them. To look into the eyes of the person who took a loved one from you and forgive them is beyond my experience and empathy. As good as it may be for us and as much as it is rooted in our tradition, true forgiveness is hard work. It taps so deeply into our psyches, into the parts of ourselves that are the hardest to control or change. That is precisely why it is such an intrinsic part of our teshuvah. As I said on Rosh HaShanah, true teshuvah is transformation. It's making a lasting change in yourself and your behavior. In order to do that, we have to do the hard work of forgiveness. Of accepting the fact that others miss the mark, just as we do, and this whole repentance thing is a give and take. 
May this Yom Kippur be one of true teshuvah, of repentance, atonement, and forgiveness. May we learn from our mistakes, let go of others', and truly transform into the people we want to be. Amen and g'mar chatimah tovah, may you be inscribed in the Book of Life.

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