Do we really know how to forgive?

Friday, 20 September, 2019 - 7:32 am

 Do we really know how to forgive?

Are we really capable of forgiving, of mechilah (absolution) and selichah (forgiveness)?

I am asking in all seriousness – for sometimes I am not sure.

Eighteen years ago I participated in a Shalom Bayit evening for young couples. The main speaker was Rabbi Mendel Gluchovsky shlit”a, the rabbi of the Chabad community in Rechovot, Israel. The speakers, Rabbi Gluchovsky included, spoke at length. But I remember only one thing that I have been thinking about since that evening. The Rabbi spoke about giving in. In marriage one must give in, and forgive. Without that, it won’t work. And what that means is to really give in and forgive.

Someone asked that evening: “What does ‘really’ mean?”

The Rabbi waited a moment, and then answered in his American accent: “There is a way to measure it. If in the next fight or argument that you two have you remind him of how you yielded in the previous fight and say, ‘And then too I gave in’ and the like, that is a sign that you never really yielded – you just repressed and hid your feelings. See – the fact is that in a moment of pain and tension that “giving in” came out of hiding, alive and well.”

Forgiving is something that we ask for and also grant others. I ask for forgiveness from a friend whom I might have hurt and I also forgive a friend who asks me to do so because perhaps he caused me pain.

The month of Elul is called “the month of rachamim (mercy) and forgiveness.” This coming Shabbat is called the “Selichot Shabbat”, because on motzai Shabbat the Ashkenazim start saying Selichot. We turn to Hashem and ask that He grant us forgiveness. This is the time in which we are busy with thoughts of selichah and mechilah. Hashem is omnipotent and I have no questions about him; I am sure that he can forgive. It is not for nothing that as part of the Selichot we quote the verse from Yeshayahu: “If your sins are like scarlet they will become white as snow; if they have become red as crimson, they will become white as wool.”

But ordinary people – are we really capable of forgiving and forgetting or will there always remain something of it inside us, which will awaken every time the subject will come up? And if so, how does one achieve true selichah? Maybe there is even a shortcut…


Shabbat Shalom, Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

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