Every time I would hear the concept of forgiving another, not for the other’s sake but for one’s own . . . I would cringe. I know, not very mature, but it has always deeply bothered me. Why should I forgive someone who may not deserve to be forgiven? All the more so if the person can’t even be bothered to ask for forgiveness!
I’ve thought about this a lot. Can I forgive someone in my head and heart when I have been wronged and I never even received an apology? And why would forgiving that person make me feel better, when I am perfectly happy with my anger and resentment that I feel rightfully belongs?
Then I saw the quote. You know, the one that always appears on the news feed of your Facebook page? The one that clearly was intended for you to read, as much as you try to deny it? Yeah, that one. So mine reads the following: “Holding a grudge is letting someone live rent-free in your head.”
Hmmm. Now the only thing worse than feeling weak for forgiving someone I don’t feel deserves it is feeling that I am actually doing someone a favor (letting them live rent-free in my head) who has hurt me! Put in that way, and there is nothing I want to do more than forgive that person!
This week we will be celebrating Yom Kippur, which is all about forgiveness. This is the time we ask our Creator to forgive us for what we have done, while committing to not repeat our mistakes in the future. Every time we read the various wrongdoings in the Yom Kippur prayers, I always look through the list and recognize what I am guilty of, and breathe a sigh of relief for what I haven’t done. But we don’t say these prayers in the singular, but rather as a community, as a whole.
“We have sinned . . . Forgive us.”
The prayers we recite on Yom Kippur are not a multiple-choice checkoff. We do not go through and apologize for the things we have done while skipping over those we haven’t. I am as responsible for what you have done as you are for what I have done. The fact that we apologize as a whole, ask to be forgiven as a whole and resolve to be better as a whole makes the process more bearable and doable. If we are working together, we can accomplish so much more than what we could ever do alone.
And this is a lesson about forgiveness in general. If I can’t learn to forgive you, then how could I possibly ask another for forgiveness? It is not just as a whole that we have to ask our Creator to forgive us, but we need to recognize that as a whole we must ask each other for forgiveness and grant forgiveness to others as well . . . those who have asked, and those who have not asked.
Humbling ourselves in this way, being open and real and honest in this way, takes a lot of work. But the reward is tremendous. Growing up, I always thought Yom Kippur was a day of punishment. That we fasted to suffer. But when I learned that we fast because on Yom Kippur we are likened to angels who have no need for food, it changed my whole perspective. Here we are, recounting our sins, begging for forgiveness, yet in no need of food, for we reach the level of angels. Angels don’t make mistakes; they don’t sin. Seems strange.
But I think that is the real beauty. When we join together, apologize together, ask for forgiveness together, we rise together. We are elevated, as a whole, like the angels. At the very same time we acknowledge what we have done wrong, we are gifted with a level of holiness reserved only for this very day. And when we forgive ourselves, forgive others and are blessed with being forgiven, we begin our new year with an openness and awareness that we never could have had, had we not made those mistakes in the first place.
Sara Esther Crispe, a writer, inspirational speaker and mother of four, is the editor of TheJewishWoman.org and writes the popular weekly blog, Musing for Meaning. To book Sara Esther for a speaking engagement, please clickhere.