Wednesday, September 15, 2010

What does it mean to forgive?

I guess the topic of forgiveness is on everyone's minds as Yom Kippur approaches. I was in the middle of this post when I saw Bored Jewish Guy's post about forgiveness and dating.

What does it mean to forgive someone? This is a question I’ve tried to figure out the answer to for a while. I know what it means when Hashem forgives- it means that he wipes away our sins as though they never happened, or if we don’t deserve that, the lower level is that he doesn’t punish us. But what does it mean for us, human beings, to forgive one another? Does it mean we forget the past and pretend like it never happened? Every year before Yom Kippur we go through the typical route of asking everyone we’re close with, “Are you mochel me?” or “Do you forgive me if I did anything wrong to you this past year?” And people ask us this question. We each respond with a hearty, “Of course!” and exclaim that we can’t think of anything anyway that the person did wrong. Has anyone ever asked you for forgiveness for a specific incident? No one has ever approached me right before Yom Kippur. Right after a particular situation they have, but right before Yom Kippur not really. Let me explain why I have been thinking so much about this question.

A number of years ago, a friend of mine did something that I found to be very hurtful. The problem is that she actually thought she was doing something that was really nice. So I couldn’t tell her that it upset me, because it would have made her very upset to hear that what they thought was a nice deed was not only not appreciated, but in fact caused me to be sad. Yet, to this day, when I think about that event, I am hurt by it. This person has no clue that she did something wrong, so she cannot ask for forgiveness. I would never tell her that she did something wrong, since that would cause her much anguish, and that would be an aveira on my part. I know I need to forgive her. But what does forgiveness mean?

To this day, I am still very good friends with this girl. My behavior towards her is as friendly as always, the same way I relate to all my friends. Aside from this small incident, I hold no negative feelings towards her, and immediately after the incident I was never even cold to her, as I wanted to mask how I was feeling. My question is: Does that mean I have forgiven her? I held on to my negative feelings for a while after the event, but after a while I let them go. But I still feel hurt when thinking about what happened. She also never expressed remorse over the incident, because she never knew that she did anything wrong.

It's been a number of years since then, and I think at this point I can truly say I have forgiven her. But let's go back to a few months after the occurrence. I was still mad at her about it, yet I was also still friends with her and was doing my best to put it behind me and move on. At that moment in time, would you say that I have forgiven her?

Food for thought: Does forgiving mean forgetting? Can you hold on to negative feelings while simultaneously having a positive relationship with that person? Does forgiveness mean letting go completely or is it OK as long as your actions and behavior does not show your true feelings?

I wish you all a Gmar Chatima Tova, may we all be inscribed in the book of life. May we be zoche to be forgiven by Hashem and the people who we have sinned against, and may we have the inner strength to forgive all of those who wronged us.


  1. I think the ability to forget is an extremely high level - who forgets at will? But I think how you have behaved is a close second. For all intents and purposes, your actions show that you do not hold anything against this girl. She cannot even tell that you were once angry with her.

    And what would be gained by telling her? She hasn't hurt you since then, so it can be assumed it was a once time thing. Telling her that you were very hurt would make her feel terrible, and you would feel no better.

    In my view, forgiveness is letting go. You don't lay at night staring at the ceiling, seething over the wrong. You don't let it color your demeanor towards another. It shouldn't fester, and then surface years later passive-aggressively.

  2. its funny, cuz i was just talking about this with my friend over shabbat.

    fear does not mean forgetting in my opinion. U agree with Bookworm that it means that you have moved past it. it does not bother you anymore and this takes work.

    we learned that you cannot lie to someone and tell them that you forgive them when you blatantly don't, cuz then you are simply putting a stumbling block before the blind bcz they think they are cleared when they are not. you have to be honest and tell them that it may take a while and that you are working on it (assuming you are..)

    it is possible to be friends with someone with "positive' actions towards them but then it seems to me that you are lying to yourself and the other person when you do that. if it someone who you care about and a relationship that is important to you then you owe it to yourself and the relationship the time and talking it needs to heal.
    the other person wont know that they have hurt you and will not make any motion to make amends until they know that they have done something wrong.

  3. Bookworm- you're right. we can't always choose to forget, but we can choose to stop focusing on it so that it's not on our mind anymore.

    Aminspiration- In terms of lying to yourself by feeling one way and acting another- it's a thin line, people are very complex. If you feel very very strong negative feelings of anger or hatred towards someone but treat them kindly, I think that is too big of a discrepancy. But if in general you like someone a lot and get along well with them, but there is a small point of annoyance, then it is a different situation. In my case, I suppose if I hadn't been able to get over it on my own, I would have needed to talk to her to continue our friendship, but my first approach is sometimes is to try to get over it myself without starting up a conversation that could lead into an argument.

  4. You mentioned that ever though she hurt you, you continue to be good friends. Why couldn't you still be good friends even if you discussed the hurtful incedent with her? You sound kind of have forgiven her but it have no negative feelings toward her ASIDE from this incedent... to me it sounds like you still haven't forgiven her. I am in no place to say whether it should be easy to forgive her or not b/c I do not know what she did to you. But I would consider saying something to her, even though it happened years ago. Maybe she has done the same thing to other people without realizing, and how do you know she won't do it to you again? She doesn't know she hurt you. She hasn;t had an oppotunity to do teshuva for this because she doesn't know. Therefore you could be taking on the responsibility for her misdeed. Again, I don't know what she did, so it's hard to say whether you should talk it out with ehr or not, but I wouldn't suggest being the matyr for her actions. Having open communication could strengthen a friendship. It's definitely needed for a healthy marriage, so this could just be a good practice for that.

  5. Coral- at this point it's been so long that it doesn't really bother me anymore- I've moved on. But you're right about communication-I think if I could go back I would have talked to her about it closer to the incident, so that I could have move past it faster than I did.

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