Yom Kippur Kol Nidre 5766: Rabbi Moshe Pinchas Weisblum
Welcome. Good to see you all. Tonight’s discussion focuses on forgiveness, one of the components of our tradition, along with prayer and charity to avert the evil decree.
In his book, Dare to Forgive, noted psychiatrist Dr. Edward Hallowell, a graduate and professor of the Harvard Medical School addresses the emotional issue of facing your fears and making peace with your past. Forgiveness, he says is the perfect antidote.
Seems like an easy answer, but is it? How does the Jewish tradition view the subject of forgiveness? We are commanded to make amends and reconcile with those we have hurt or who have hurt us. How can we reconcile while demanding retribution? Are these two conflicting ideas? Yom Kippur, Kol Nidrei and Yizkor are very intense for many of us. Let’s take a careful look at what forgiveness really means.
Certainly, there are different levels of wrong doing. Thus, it would seem logical that there are different categories of forgiveness. For example, someone makes hurtful remark about you. Maybe it was just bad judgment, maybe it was on purpose or simply an innocent slip of the tongue. Everyone is guilty of doing this to some degree. What if we hurt someone’s feelings, made a comment that struck a chord or touched a sensitive nerve? A genuine apology like "I’m sorry, or I didn’t realize how what I said would affect you" is amenshlechkiyt, humane response which usually resolves the issue. No real harm done. That one is pretty easy to fix.
Then there’s a greater level of hurt. Someone purposely does something to injure you, maybe emotionally or financially. Forgiveness, a complete absolving of the act may be harder, especially when it’s a family member or co-worker. We have to ask ourselves how will forgiving or maybe, not forgiving, effect me and my mental state? Is maintaining a relationship with this person important? Who else does this relationship affect? Can I just swallow some pride and move on? Is this embarrassment or anger? What damage will I endure if I let this one go? The answer will determine to what degree forgiveness is attainable.
Moreover, noted author Rabbi Harold Kushner writes that forgiveness is not about excusing what someone else has done. As told to a patient in crisis, "I'm asking you to forgive because he doesn't deserve the power to live in your head and turn you bitter and angry… You're not hurting him by holding on to that resentment, but you're hurting yourself." Rabbi Kushner says that holding onto the anger keeps you the victim.
What about the terrorized, the abused or the victimized? A situation where we have been pushed too far. We feel anger, even hatred and we seek retribution. This is the worst. It brings out a side of us that we never knew could exist within. Even the righteous and humane King David, in Psalm 109 is so consumed with hatred for his tormentors that he feels bitterness in his heart and prays for his enemies’ downfall. How does an individual come to terms with the one responsible for harming their lives? For some, forgiveness, in the traditional sense, is just too painful to think about. At this level there is a lot of injustice and evil. How do you free yourself from this rage? Should you? What does G-d expect? Does the Almighty want you to continue to be victimized? How realistic is it to expect that on the High holidays, we can just wave the magic wand and make it all disappear? The late President John F. Kennedy said, "Forgive your enemies, but never forget their names." He conveyed, don’t be naïve or continue to make yourself a target.
For some of us, getting through these ten days may be as easy as giving Tzedakah or reconciling with a distant cousin. But for many, it becomes a real struggle between opening ourselves up to additional hurt and abuse or being truly forgiving. Are we just supposed to forget what we suffered, leave our self so vulnerable in order to be inscribed and sealed in the Book of Life? Is that what G-d really intends for us?
If we look at what real forgiveness means, we may find a surprising answer.
Many people hold grudges and continue to feel victimized by their past experiences. This festering leads to stress, depression, anxiety and a quality of life that is far worse than anything they deserve. How can the victims find solace? How can they unburden themselves and begin to enjoy life again? How does someone get passed the destruction and move forward?
Did you ever here anyone say, "It’s eating at my Kischka." or "That person is such a thorn in my side."
In his book, Dr. Hallowell says that forgiveness is not a sign of weakness. Rather, it shows great strength and maturity. Forgiveness, true forgiveness, is not about telling someone that the act they imparted on you is forgotten. It is making the conscious decision to free yourself of the destructive forces required to keep the anger alive. This feeling prevents you from living a full and joyous life. Saying "NO! I no longer give you the right to take anything more away from my life " takes power away from those that once made you power-less. Sometimes, my dear friends, we need the help of a spiritual guide, a Rabbi or other professionals to get us to this point. But freedom, not anger is very empowering.
We know stress causes illnesses. Furthermore, simplifying our complicated lives with less Tsuris increases our productive years. Even the great physician, Maimonides, the Rambam of the twelfth century prescribed a life filled with balance for good health.
And therein lies the basis of a happy and healthy life. The very thing we all ask G-d for each morning, each day and each night.
We should realize that not every situation has a remedy or maybe only a portion of a former relationship can be resolved or cured. Humans are complex and so are their problems. And after all, we are only human.
For the New Year it is a time for us to be kind to ourselves. We speak all year round about doing acts of kindness -Chesed - for others. Now, it is time to also do acts of Chesed for yourself. It is time to save a life - pikuaf nefesh – for our soul. Isn’t this what G-d intends for us? Our G-d of mercy does not want us to be in pain or to suffer. We believe that the Almighty loves us. No parent wants to see their child harmed, nor does our Heavenly father.
Let’s take a good look at the whole forgiveness equation. Are we going to call, write a letter or meet for lunch? What’s the approach we are going to use? Think it through. How will this benefit you? That is the essential question.
We can "opt out" if the answer is that confronting the person is too painful or too harmful. We are commanded to love ourselves and not bring harm to ourselves.
Jewish law instructed us that if facing the person would inflict further damage or suffering, then we are required to not put ourselves deliberately in harms way. The wording in our prayer book asks G-d to keep us far from evil.
Do you remember in Fiddler on the Roof when the townspeople ask their leader, "Rabbi, is there a special prayer for the Czar?" The Rabbi replies, "May the Good L-d bless and keep the Czar…far, far away from us."
On Yom Kippur, it is fitting to plead to G-d that we are deserving of blessings and goodness. We beg forgiveness from the Almighty – the King of the universe and ask to be inscribed for another year in the Book of Life. Gmar Chatimah Tova. May we be inscribed and sealed in the book of life for a happy, healthy future, with peace in our heart, peace in our home and peace in the world. Let us say: Amen.