You’re forgiven, maybe
Last week we looked at the importance of asking forgiveness on the eve of the High Holy Days. Today: must we forgive?
British Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks points to the Torah for a famous example of an individual who was wronged, received an apology and was then faced with a choice. When Joseph reveals himself to his brothers, he tells them, “Do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you.” That calms them, but they still worry that after their father, Jacob, dies, Joseph will finally let them have it. He doesn’t. Joseph’s forgiveness is genuine. http://bit.ly/sorry21
If you’ve been wronged and have received an apology, do you have to accept it? Rabbi Joseph Telushkin says there are three scenarios according to Jewish tradition.
• When forgiveness is obligatory: the hurt inflicted is not irrevocable and you’ve been asked for forgiveness. This represents the overwhelming number of cases.
• When forgiveness is forbidden. If the hurt has been inflicted on someone else, you don’t have the power to forgive the transgressor.
• When forgiveness is optional: if the individual does not ask for forgiveness, you may decide to forgive nonetheless. Or if someone has slandered you and apologizes, you can choose not to forgive because the damage from the slander continues despite the apology. http://bit.ly/sorry17
Here are two examples that test the capacity to forgive. Alison Golub writes about listening to the writer and activist Elie Wiesel at Boston University several years ago. “When a student asked him about forgiveness, he replied, ‘I cannot and I don’t want to forgive the killers of children. I ask God not to forgive.’ When another student asked him how he was able to live so fully while still harbouring such resentment, he said simply, ‘I want to keep that pain. That zone of pain must stay inside me.’” http://bit.ly/sorry18
At the age of 10, Eva Mozes and her twin sister were taken to Aushwitz for medical experimentation. Eva never spoke of those horrors until the 1980s, when she began to contact other twins who had undergone similar experiences. She then received what she calls “a mad request” – to lecture to doctors in Boston along with a former Nazi doctor. That invitation eventually led to her meeting and forgiving one of those doctors. It also led to her establishing the Indiana-based CANDLES Holocaust Museum where she documents those deadly Auschwitz lab experiments and explains why forgiveness is so important to her. http://bit.ly/sorry19
“I believe with every fibre of my being that every human being has the right to live without the pain of the past. For most people, there is a big obstacle to forgiveness because society expects revenge. It seems we need to honour our victims but I always wonder if my dead loved ones would want me to live with pain and anger until the end of my life,” she wrote. “Some survivors do not want to let go of the pain. They call me a traitor and accuse me of talking in their name. I have never done this. Forgiveness is as personal as chemotherapy – I do it for myself.” http://bit.ly/sorry20