To Forgive and Be Forgiven

Rabbi David Stav

Yom Kippur is upon us, and anyone who has ever been hurt by a friend, or just some other individual (haven’t we all?) knows exactly how hard it is to forgive. Those on the receiving end have nothing but their anger to use as a defense. With what else are they left? Their dignity has been crushed by having been publicly insulted. Their bodies are still battered after being hit or run over.

After all of that, how can we now ask them to set aside those feelings and forgive those who wronged them? So that the perpetrators can walk gleefully to synagogue, with a broad smile on their faces, while their victims, who are compelled to forgive their attackers, continue to carry the incident with a heavy heart all their lives?

Those asking for forgiveness don’t have it any easier. What they did may been completely inadvertent, but now, they need to peel away the respectable status they had been enjoying, approach someone claiming to have been wronged by them and ask for forgiveness for what may have happened to that other individual. At it might not end there; that individual might make things difficult for the one trying to ask for forgiveness.

Why must we go through this complicated process that may be demeaning or frustrating for one of the sides involved? Our Sages tell us that “Whoever lets things ‘slide’ a bit, God will also let his sins ‘slide’” (Tractate Rosh Hashanah 17a). In other words, no one could claim to have a spotless record when under close scrutiny. If someone was wronged by someone else, the one who was wronged had obviously wronged another person, and vice versa.

Therefore, the only way we could face our Creator in judgment with some degree of confidence is if we say to our Creator: “I’ve been able to be forgiving in my scrutiny, I’ve repressed my anger and frustration against someone who has wronged me, so now, you could do the same for me. If I was able to humble my heart and ask for forgiveness from someone I’ve wronged, perhaps You, too, can “humble” Yourself and judge me with mercy.”

There are those who said that on Yom Kippur, anyone who has not reconciled with others will not be granted forgiveness for the sins he committed against God. This idea seems somewhat puzzling. What does a person’s unwillingness to excuse someone for having wronged him have to do with how he had sinned against God?

The answer to this question relates back to what we’ve just discussed. Those who cannot make an effort to approach those they have wronged and set aside their (or the other person’s) frustration and ego will probably not take the matter seriously when they appear before their Creator.

Once a year, as we approach Yom Kippur, it seems as though we all desire a moment of grace – this is the time when we all know that regardless of how much we have endured, we can still be different. We can be reconciled with ourselves and with those around us, for this is a time of forgiveness.

Shabbat Shalom 


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