Shanah Tovah – Happy New Year!
This week’s parasha is Vayelech, in which we learn about some of the things that happen on the last day of Moses’ life. On that day, Moses installs Joshua as his successor. Because Yom Kippur is next Tuesday night and Wednesday, instead of studying Vayelech, we prepare for Yom Kippur with one of my favorite divrei Torah, by Eagle Scout Jordan Block, rabbinical student at Yeshiva Ohr Somayach, Jerusalem.
Yom Kippur is coming. We’re currently in the special time between Rosh Hashonah and Yom Kippur called the Ten Days of “Repentance” – this is an approximation of the Hebrew word t’shuvah. These days are designated to get forgiveness from other people and to forgive them as part of the process of getting forgiveness from God. Someone once asked me a fascinating question: “What responsibility do I have to forgive someone who asks for forgiveness? What if their request isn’t satisfying or if my forgiveness isn’t genuine?”
Maimonides says that if one person wrongs another, the wrongdoer has to compensate and appease the wronged person. If the wronged person refuses to be appeased and doesn’t forgive, the wrongdoer has to come back and ask again with friends of the wronged person, even a second and third time. If the wronged person refuses to be appeased entirely and will not forgive, she becomes the sinner, and the wrongdoer has no more sin. Maimonides goes on to say it is forbidden to be obdurate (hardhearted) and not allow yourself to be appeased. You should forgive sincerely and willingly even if you were greatly troubled and hurt.
You should expect a sincere apology. Forgiveness is difficult in many situations and sometimes even impossible. However, it is greatly to your benefit and to his benefit to forgive someone. Therefore, it makes sense to do whatever you can to forgive someone. When she asks insincerely, you might say, “I want to forgive you, but it’s hard because …” and hopefully you can help her understand how you feel. That way, she can sympathize or empathize and come to ask sincerely.
It’s very important to forgive sincerely, because if one doesn’t it leaves a tear in the fabric of reality called an averah. Basically, a piece of the world was destroyed, and the two parties have a chance to repair it together. If they don’t, God will want an answer as to why they didn’t repair the world. If the wrongdoer didn’t ask sincerely, it’s her responsibility, and if the wronged didn’t forgive, it’s her responsibility. Furthermore, it seems bigger for the wronged person. If she forgives, she can fix something she didn’t even break and get credit for that, but if she doesn’t forgive, she not only misses that opportunity, but she breaks something else, and she’ll have to answer for both of those.
Finally, what can such a person do on Yom Kippur? God treats us with midah k’neged midah, measure for measure. If the wronged person who has not forgiven later asks God for forgiveness, why should she deserve it? God may say, “Forgiveness? What does forgiveness have to do with you? You don’t forgive. I should forgive you?”
So, too, with someone who forgives even without a good reason, God can forgive with no good reason. In fact, God taught us a formula to ask for Divine forgiveness, with the beautiful prayer we chant when we take out the Torah on the Festivals, called the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy: “Hashem, Hashem, El Rachum V’chanun … ” – “Hashem, Hashem, God, Compassionate and Gracious, Slow to anger, and Abundant in Kindness and Truth, Preserver of kindness for thousands of generations. Forgiver of iniquity, willful sin, and error, and Who cleanses.” (Exodus 24:6-7). God taught Moses this prayer after the Children of Israel worshipped the Golden Calf, only six weeks after God gave the Ten Commandments.
Even if it’s hard, you should try to do as God does for humankind, and forgive.