Rabbis Without Borders
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You have shared some of your intimate emotional struggles with a colleague and close friend. Very soon afterward you lose your job. Later you discover that your friend had betrayed your confidence by informing your boss that you are under the care of a psychiatrist.
What do you do with the anger, the resentment, the sense of violation?
In so many cases of deep hurt like this, we find it difficulty to go on with our lives and to break free from the burden of the seething emotions that are eating us up alive. The feeling of injustice and the conviction that the other was so wrong and bears so much responsibility, prevent us from letting go. We just cannot forgive.
So don’t! Our tradition has a breathtaking insight that can release us from our emotional hell. Don’t forgive, don’t focus on the issue of forgiveness! Forgiveness is completely irrelevant to what you have to do at this point.
This week’s Torah portion, Acharei Mot – Kedoshim, instructs us not to bear a grudge. Maimonides, based on Talmudic sources, explicates this injunction as completely separate it from the matter of forgiveness.
Not bearing a grudge is about you. It is not primarily about the other person. It is about your responsibility to your own spiritual health.
You must be master of your spirit. You must now allow someone else to take over your soul, distract your emotions, and dictate how you feel and function. You cannot let someone else’s mistake or sin determine how you feel and how you function. Your friend made you to lose your job. But she did not make you lose your mind – that will happen only if you permit it to happen!
You have a choice. To be depressed, to be consumed by anger or hurt or bitterness or a grudge, to think constantly about what was done to you. It can destroy you and ruin your life, for a day or a week or a month. Some people take it all the way to the grave.
But no, God wants you to get over it, to go beyond it. God gave you a life and a soul and potential for happiness and for making a positive contribution to this world. Don’t waste that opportunity.
And it is infinitely easier to get over the pain when you realize that doing so has nothing to do with forgiving the guilty party!
Forgiveness, explains Maimonides, has to do primarily with the other person. Not with you.
When wrong is done, a burden of culpability is created. The perpetrator stands before God in need of release from his guilt. We call this atonement. In some cases atonement requires paying a fine or damages. It requires contrition, repentance. And it also requires being forgiven by the injured party.
To forgive means to certify that the other has undergone a satisfactory process of repentance, has made amends, and that he is deserving of atonement. You are to forgive you only when he comes and asks for forgiveness, and only when you are convinced that he merits forgiveness. You then release him from his guilt through the granting of forgiveness.
Forgiveness has nothing to do with your feelings towards him! When you forgive, it is because of what he is feeling and not because of what you are feeling!
Forgiveness is for him and not for you.
So don’t agonize over forgiveness. Let the one who hurt you worry about that! Don’t be held back by your lack of ability to forgive. What you have to worry about is yourself. Begin to put the grudge aside – go beyond the hurt, take charge of your emotional life and get on with the true business of living.
And after you have managed to right your ship, remember not to make the same mistake twice. There are some secrets that might be better kept to yourself.
Pronunced: TORE-uh, Origin: Hebrew, the Five Books of Moses.