The Jewish Report Editorial

The real meaning of forgiveness

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This is the time of year when we spend a great deal of time thinking about forgiveness. Asking for or giving forgiveness is only as easy as the deed or misdeed involved. If the deed is small and easy to forget and forgive, then it’s not really a mission at all.
by PETA KROST MAUNDER | Sep 10, 2020

However, on Rosh Hashanah we generally contemplate bigger concerns that have had an impact on our year and possibly our lives.

This has been a year in which small matters have been overtaken by huge ones, not least the life-threatening COVID-19 virus that has had an impact on everyone in some way.

It has forced us into lockdown at home for many months. That, on its own, has taken its toll on us. Then, there are life-changing decisions that have had an effect on all of us, like company owners who have been forced to lay off staff after desperately doing what they could to keep them employed. There are so many tragic stories inside and outside our community.

In a story on apologies and forgiveness in this special Rosh Hashanah edition of the SA Jewish Report, Rabbi Levi Avtzon (page 42) made a point that really hit home to me.

Forgiveness for big and sometimes heartbreaking deeds isn’t about saying that what the person who wronged you did was acceptable. Not at all. In fact, forgiveness doesn’t have to have anything to do with that other person – it’s all about you, the person wronged.

When you forgive someone, according to this wise rabbi, you let them go. You stop their hold on your mind and thoughts. You release them from your anger, and make space for positive and potentially happy thoughts that have nothing to do with that person.

Holding grudges, hurt, and anger against someone who has harmed you in any way takes up a great deal of your time and energy. It can keep you from getting on with your life, and finding beautiful things to replace the hurt and pain.

It can make you bitter and twisted. It seems crazy to give someone or a group of people who have hurt you the opportunity to turn you into someone who is bitter and twisted. The truth is, nobody can do that to you, other than yourself.

You can stop this happening to you by offering forgiveness. Forgiveness is letting go of the harm, anguish, anger, and pain done to you.

If you think about it, your anger or unforgiving bitterness doesn’t hurt anyone but you. It may also harm those who love you and have done you no harm. They are affected by your bitterness and anger that sometimes spills over onto those who don’t deserve it.

The person or people who have wronged you may well be oblivious of your feelings and, even if they are aware of how you feel, may not care. Their lives may well have gone on regardless, in spite of what they have done.

You, on the other hand, are hanging on to them for dear life just because you aren’t able to forgive them. It doesn’t make any sense, does it?

For me, this gives a whole new meaning to forgiveness, and it makes it so much easier to want to forgive people.

Don’t get me wrong, if someone has done something really bad, it doesn’t mean that I suggest we forget what they have done and put ourselves in the line of fire again. It simply means letting go, and trusting that we will replace negative feelings with positive, forward-looking emotions.

Our page-one story on the East London community and its former rabbi shows how bitterness and anger has had a negative impact on the whole community – a small group in a coastal town, where there is only one Orthodox congregation.

The relationship between the rabbi and much of this small congregation has broken down to such a degree, there is nothing but animosity.

Now, far be it for me to even contemplate who is right or wrong. That isn’t our role. There are enough lawyers and judges involved to sort that out. But it’s an important story to tell because it relays the ugly situation that led to what has become a long-term rift within the community.

This is extremely sad, and I do hope that there is some clear resolution to the problem that has created this rift, even if it means moving the rabbi out so that they community can reclaim its shul and congregation.

I believe that the issue of forgiveness is particularly relevant to this community. No matter what has been done in the past, the community needs to be able to move on.

To do this, it has to find forgiveness, and not allow whatever animosity and bitterness has built up to destroy this small but apparently close-knit community.

Let’s all look towards Rosh Hashanah, and do our best to tell it like it is, but not hold grudges that are ultimately going to harm us and our loved ones.

There’s still one more edition that comes out on the day of Rosh Hashanah, and so I will wait until then to wish you shana tova next week. However, right now, I hope this has inspired you to let go of grudges and forgive those who have done you harm. I’m going to do my best to do just that.

Shabbat Shalom!


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