Rav Bar Oz* (From Strength to Strength)
The Season of Forgiveness
by Rabbi Jeremy Barras
Every year the end of summer hints to us that a new year is beginning. A new school year commences, summer break and vacations come to an end, and on the Jewish calendar we begin preparing for the High Holy Days. It is a momentous time in Florida because everyone is back in town and when Rosh HaShanah rolls around, the Jewish community gathers together in prayer.
While the calendar is similar each year, what happens over the course of the year is different. The relationships that we have evolve, sometimes disagreements manifest, feelings get hurt, enmity develops and relationships become strained. This happens to all of us once in a while. After all we are human and we all make mistakes. Sometimes our mistakes hurt others, and sometimes their mistakes hurt us. However it plays out, our tradition helps us to end the year by seeking to mend these relationships before the year ends.
There are a variety of ways to approach forgiving others and asking forgiveness for ourselves. The ultimate level of behavior is to make every effort to forgive anyone who has hurt or offended you. It is taught in the Talmud (Bavli Megillah 28a) that a rabbi once claimed that the reason he lived so long was that he never went to bed at night without first forgiving anyone who hurt him that day. The medieval kabbalist Rabbi Isaac Luria believed that we should forgive anyone who may have wronged us at night before retiring and he went so far as to add this declaration into his daily prayers.
Not every Jew is prepared to go beyond the letter of the law in such fashion. And Jewish law does not require it. What it does require is that we forgive anyone who makes before us a wholehearted plea for forgiveness. Leviticus 19:17 teaches that we are not permitted to hate each other in our hearts. Sometimes we dwell on the fact that someone has wronged us, and we develop enmity without informing the other person what is bothering us. In this case, we allow hatred to develop and thus violate this dictum from Leviticus. It seems that what is truly important between Jews is communication. When we are hurt by others, or when they hurt us, we need to be clear about what is bothering us. The worst thing that could happen is for one of the parties to keep the issue bottled up without informing the other person about what is bothering them. Once the matter is known, the next question is, "Is there true remorse?" If the apology is lackluster, forgiveness is not required. But when it does come from the heart, the offended party should do their absolute best to try and accept the apology.
The Torah knows that human nature dictates that relationships will go through rough patches. Yet, it set up a mechanism and a timeline to make sure that we begin each new year unburdened by the strife that builds up when mistakes are made. Jewish law does recognize that some people are unreasonable, and that sometimes even the most heartfelt apology will fall on deaf ears. In those instances we can turn to G-d for forgiveness. But no matter the other person’s response, we should be looking at this time of year to forgive anyone who has harmed us, seek out those we have harmed, and make sure the lines of communication are clear with family, friends and the community.
Wishing everyone a meaningful month of Elul.
* The Barras family name was created during the Ellis Island Experience. Originally it was Bar Oz, meaning strength in Hebrew.