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The unforgiven
Shabbat Shuva, Haazinu, Deuteronomy, 32:1-52
by Rabbi Alex Greenbaum
Beth El Congregation of the South Hills
Oct 06, 2011 | 1561 views | 0 0 comments | 21 21 recommendations | email to a friend | print
<i>Rabbi Alex Greenbaum</i>
Rabbi Alex Greenbaum
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We must blindly forgive others, because God is forgiving, right?

Wrong.

Where in our Torah is God so forgiving? Whenever we did something wrong, God immediately punished us. I cannot recall one time where we did something wrong and God blindly forgave us. In Judaism, justice comes before forgiveness.

Blind forgiveness may be less beautiful and more betrayal. As Louis Jacobs put it, “Compassion is evil, when it is shown to people who are cruel and utterly lacking in compassion.” There is no blind forgiveness and there is no third-party forgiveness either. The perpetrator needs to repent and ask forgiveness from his/her victim, before he/she can be considered for, or be entitled to, forgiveness.

Some crimes are unforgivable. Simon Wiesenthal, in his book entitled “The Sunflower,” taught us that a dying member of the S.S. would never be able to ask his victims for forgiveness; therefore Wiesenthal could not grant the Nazi forgiveness. Wiesenthal did not have the moral or Jewish right to do so.

If we cannot forgive the unforgivable, then what can we do with our unresolved anger? Many of us have been wronged in the past and we no longer need to be just talking about Nazis. Friends, family, coworkers, people we trusted, people we loved — all may have wronged us. And now we won’t, or we can’t, forgive them.

What do we do with these unforgiven?

They may or may not have asked us for forgiveness, so how can we forgive them for such betrayal? Perhaps forgiveness is not for them, but for us. Rabbi Harold S. Kushner, author of “When Bad Things Happen To Good People,” writes, “Forgiving is not something we do for another person; forgiving happens inside us. It represents a letting go of the sense of grievance, and perhaps most importantly a letting go of the role of victim.”

Yom Kippur and the High Holy Days are all about starting our year with a clean slate, not fixing the past, but fixing the future. We need to find a way to let go of our unresolved anger, not for them, but for us.

Gamar Chatima Tova. May you be sealed for a good year in the Book of Life.

(This column is a service of the Greater Pittsburgh Rabbinic Association.)

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