Saturday, September 04, 2010


It’s open season for asking for and granting forgiveness if you are Jewish.  That’s a big part of the upcoming High Holy Days, where we are told to make amends with our fellow man before coming before God.
As part of our Selichot (penitential poems and prayers) celebration today, we had ongoing discussions with our rabbis about forgiveness and what it means.
Here are a few random thoughts that emerged:
The Jewish tradition treats gossip like murder in turns of its severity because of its potential to destroy another person’s character.
Forgiving does not mean forgetting.  Touching the scar tissue from a grievous injury, hurt, or betrayal will always cause us to remember.
Forgiveness is usually a slow process of gradually releasing your hatred and bitterness toward someone who has injured or wronged you and again beginning to wish that person well.
Reconciliation, if it occurs after forgiveness, requires the rebuilding of trust.
The Jewish word for sin is “chet”, which means “to miss the mark.”
Sins between one person and another require not only forgiveness, but also appeasement.  If a person is sincerely asked three times for forgiveness and refuses to grant it, Rambam says he is to be then considered the sinner.
This led to the question of whether there were sins that were too grievous for forgiveness.  Would we be obliged to forgive a penitent Adolf Hitler?  The answer was no.
We talked about whether it is more difficult to ask for forgiveness or to grant it.  In my own case, asking is by far the harder of the two.  I’ve had a lot of experience this year with someone I know know quite well but continue to anger.
We talked about the cathartic effect of forgiving people even after they are dead and gone.  Holding onto anger is never a good thing.
We looked at why we might be reluctant to ask for forgiveness:  Perhaps our asking might be rejected.  We might lose something that powers our ego in making amends.  It might seem like a sign of weakness.  
I’ll be thinking back over the past year to see whom I may have wronged in preparation for this time of asking for forgiveness.


Blogger karen said...

Thanks for these thought provoking words... Interesting thoughts about gossip...

7:23 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great post, Barbara. And well-timed for me, personally, as I explore my inner capacity for private acceptance and forgiveness of someone who has not come forward to ask for it or acknowledge that there's something to be forgiven. For me this can be the hardest of all.

Much love to you during your reflective holiday time.


12:01 PM  
Blogger Pauline said...

Can you enlarge on the Hitler thing? Are there sins too grievous to forgive? How does lack of forgiveness (not forgetting, mind you) serve you even in this case?

7:57 AM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Pauline -- Our rabbi Esther didn't further characterize those sins that were too big to forgive. In the case of Hitler, I can imagine that forgiveness would be more up to individuals, not to an entire society or world. Even today people being tried for war crimes don't get a "get out of jail free" card with the promise they will never do it again.

9:11 AM  
Blogger GEWELS said...

Happy New Year Babs!

7:09 PM  

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