On the Power of Forgiveness

Relying On Trust

When our enemies threaten us with war, we can defend ourselves with our army. When they threaten us with abuse, we can counter with justice. When they threaten us with arguments, we can counter with arguments. But when they threaten us with spiritual curses and spells, all we can counter with is trust. Trust in Divine protection.

Of course we need to rely on G-d in each of the above scenarios. But it is most pronounced, when trust in G-d is our only recourse. When our ancestors in the desert were threatened with war, they responded with might, but when they were threatened by Balaam, a spiritual soothsayer, they had little in their arsenal with which to respond. All they had was trust. And G-d came through with flying colors. Each time Balaam opened his mouth to curse, beautiful blessings poured forth.

This raises a question: On what basis do we trust G-d to come to our aid? Is it on the basis of merit that we deserve G-d’s aid? What of those occasions when we don’t deserve His aid, should we abandon trust under those conditions?

Three Trusts

The first reason to trust in G-d even when we don’t deserve, is love. We know He loves us, we know He is kind and generous, and we throw ourselves on His mercy.

The problem with relying on Divine love is that love is countered by wrath, and kindness is countered by judgement. We know that when we sin, G-d can arise from His seat of love and settle into His seat of judgement. In The Torah we also encounter Divine wrath occasioned by sin. We cannot rely on love alone because G-d might respond with severity and then we lose all reason to trust.

This is why it is better to rely on G-d’s objective logic. Even when we deserve to be punished, we trust in G-d to come to our aid, because logic dictates not to judge others until we are in their shoes.

Emotions are reactive, logic is proactive. We trust G-d to take the context of our sins into account. He placed us in earthly bodies and surrounded us with temptations. If we sinned, it is not entirely our fault and we surely don’t deserve to be judged in heaven where such temptations are unknown.

However, even such trust is risky because every argument has a counter argument. If we rely on logic, we risk a perfectly rational counter argument that militates against us. G-d might counter with the argument that He gave us a soul and a Torah and that despite all the temptations we should have known better.

This is why the safest reason to trust in G-d is to invoke our intrinsic bond with G-d. Our souls are veritably parts of G-d; we are hewn from His rock. Turning on us, is the equivalent of turning against Himself. This argument has no counter. This is a factual truth that cannot be denied. The only question is, why should G-d choose to consider our inherent bond?

The answer is that when we become mindful of our intrinsic bond and allow it to permeate our every thought, G-d responds in kind. It is a matter of cause and effect. When we choose to dwell on our bond, it arises similarly before G-d.

Three Bonds of Identity

Just as there are three frameworks for bonding with G-d despite our shortcomings, so are there three ways to bond with a fellow Jew despite their shortcomings.

When a Jew commits an offense against us, our instinct is to take offense. Yet, when we contemplate that this is a fellow Jew, a member of the tribe with whom we share a deep kinship, we respond with forgiveness rooted in kindness and love.

But this is only possible when the Jew in question is lovable and shares some level of common identity with us. What if the offending Jew is contemptible and offensive in the extreme? Worse, what if this Jew refuses to identify as a Jew or bond with fellow Jews? On what basis can we embrace this Jew despite their offensive behavior in general and their offensive behavior toward us?

We can transcend our feelings and approach this person cerebrally. We recall that we cannot judge our fellow Jew’s behavior and feelings toward Judaism until we are in their shoes. We don’t know their background; the betrayals, pain and disappointments they might have suffered. Even if we suffered our own share, everyone’s capacity is different and we cannot judge another’s idiosyncrasies.

But what happens if despite our best arguments for tolerance, the case appears to be open and shut with no excuses whatsoever? What if this Jew was raised in a warm and radiant Jewish home, surrounded by love, devotion and comfort? What is this Jew had the best Jewish education and the nicest teachers, the best friends and the highest grades and then simply rebelled against Judaism and behaved offensively toward us? How do we forgive under such circumstances?

The only solution is to remember that our fellow Jew and we are one. As we wouldn’t bear a grudge against ourselves, so should we be unable to bear one against another. And if we do feel able to bear a grudge, the fault is in us. We have yet to internalize the oneness of our people. Sometimes our feet slip and our arm gets hurt, yet we never take offense at our feet because our feet are part of us. The same is true of ourselves and our fellow Jew only we have yet to internalize that awareness.

Works Both Ways

If we want G-d to focus on our inherent oneness with Him, it behooves us to focus on our inherent oneness with His children because it works both ways. If we are one with G-d on account of our G-dly soul, we are one with His children because they each have a G-dly soul.

I am not saying that without that sense of unity we have no right to trust in G-d. I am merely saying that if we expect G-d to come through for us despite our shortcomings, the least we can do, is accept His children despite theirs.