These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

Can I forgive?

Posted on October 1, 2014 by Sarah Pollack

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From my blog:

Sarah  Pollack

“To not forgive would be an unbearable breach of the unity of creation.” – Jay Litvin

It seems as though this is the time to talk about doing teshuva, returning, asking for forgiveness. I feel as though since I arrived in Israel, a day has not passed by without talking about forgiveness. As Daniel Roth put it, these are the days of furious flossing, utilizing the previously unopened bottle of mouth wash, and avoiding coffee right before the check up at the dentist. The last-minute scurried attempts at apologizing for every little possible sin that we could have committed until, finally, standing before Hashem on the Day of Judgement.

We have discussed the ways to ask for forgiveness – should I remind the person of the sin that has been committed in detail before apologizing? Is it enough to just give out a blanket statement asking to be forgiven of all sins I’ve committed this year? How many times can I ask for forgiveness?

We have discussed the different ways in which asking for forgiveness isn’t enough – are there some sins that also need Yom Kippur to pass in order for them to be atoned? Are there certain sins that have negative ramifications? Are there certain sins that we will take to the grave?

We discussed the ways in which a sin committed against a person is different than a sin committed against Hashem – who is more willing to forgive, Hashem or man? Who longs for our relationship to be repaired more? Who is it easier to apologize to?

I felt as though we had exhausted all of the possible manners, causes, and intricacies of forgiveness, but I was left with a big question – when I am on the other side of the equation, when I am the one who has been hurt, and not the one who did the hurting, how am I supposed to let go? How am I supposed to forgive?

There’s almost a hierarchy going on here. The Gemara in Tractate Yoma 86b tells of Hashem’s longing for our closeness and desires for a relationship with us. So much so that He is willing to accept any amount of teshuva that we will give Him. “In the case of man, of flesh and blood, you are always uncertain whether your fellow will be pacified. And even if you would say that he could be pacified, you are never sure if this will be achieved with mere words. But, with the Holy One Blessed Be He, He is pacified by mere words.” It’s evident that asking for forgiveness from Hashem is easier than asking for forgiveness from man. However, where does giving forgiveness fall in the hierarchy? The Torah says that you should never hate a man in your heart. How do I just let it go?

I took a step back and examined my life – I had been immersed in this investigative process, analyzing my life, seeing where I had fallen short, seeing where I needed to repent, return, ask for forgiveness. I had approached others and Hashem in the hopes that they would head my requests and that I would be granted forgiveness. But what kind of precedent was I setting? Why should my appeal be heeded when I wasn’t as forthcoming with my forgiveness?

With this question looming in my mind, I came across an article by Jay Litvin. Ailed with a debilitating illness, Litvin was left feeling furious and unable to forgive Hashem for the curveballs that He had thrown his way. Pain, suffering, worry and anxiety left Litvin wondering what he had possibly done in his life to deserve the punishment that he was living – no matter how long the list of sins was…ashamnu, bagadnu, gazalnu, Litvin just couldn’t find the answer and he grew angrier and angrier. Yet, he continued to pray for forgiveness.

At this point in the article, it hit me. That Yom Kippur, Litvin was in the same place as me. He was looking for a mechanism to forgive Hashem while I was looking for a mechanism to forgive others. Tangled in the words of confession and anguish, Litvin found the words that promised forgiveness would be granted. He knew that Hashem would forgive him because that is His nature, He is a forgiver, He wants to be close to us. He forgives not because of a certain reason, not because we deserve it, but because that is who He is.

Hashem longingly waits for me to take one step closer to Him and then He does the rest of the work, but He won’t be willing to do so, unless I’m willing to do the same for those in my life who are taking the first step. The more willing I will be to forgive others, the more willing Hashem will be to forgive me.

As the prayer service went on and more pages of the machzor were turned, Litvin realized that the pleas for forgiveness were actually an instruction manual for forgiveness – lessons on forgiveness from the Master of Forgiveness. It all became clear: Forgive for the sake of forgiveness, not for a reason, not because the other person always deserves it. Forgive out of love, so we can be close again. Forgive because you, created in My image, are also a forgiver.

It may be easiest to ask for forgiveness from Hashem, harder to ask for forgiveness from people and harder still to give forgiveness when we have truly been hurt. We need a reminder each year of the fact that we don’t need to carry our pain with us – that detachment, barriers and distance have to be let go. Despite what transpires between us, as individuals, and Hashem, He will always be willing to accept our pleas, willing to reunite, to kindle an tired flame – may we be blessed with the ability to open ourselves up to this possibility as well.

Gmar chatima tovah – May you be inscribed in the Book of Life for Good.

Edit on October 3: I just received a Dvar Torah from Rabbi Sacks and couldn’t help but share it. Just another layer.