Although we are always supposed to be trembling before The Almighty, the shaking really starts picking up in intensity during the month of Elul, reaches new peaks during the Yomim Noraim and bursts through sensibility on Yom Kippur. All of this time, we are trying to repent and are focused on asking HaKodesh Baruchu for forgiveness.
Nonetheless, most amazingly, one of the tasks that is central to our prayers and that is integral to our transformations and to our good futures, is often overlooked, or, if included, is incorporated at some disproportionate level. In particular, we often neglect to work on being able to forgive other people.
As the song, the lament, and the emancipating realization all declare, “forgiving is not forgetting.” To free ourselves of the crud of resentment, to liberate ourselves of the acerbic quality of anger, to make enough room in our souls to actually move forward, we do not have to put prior events our of our minds or make an intrapersonal pact to fail to remember, ever, gongs on that were and likely still continue to be significant to us; we have merely to absolve them.
Consider that trying to void past occurrences is akin to trying to void parts of ourselves. Negating our experiences of reality is inadvisable. Likewise, some behaviors can not be forgiven until their perpetrators make teshuva. On the other hand, trying to pardon other folk for the hurts they put upon us is frees our core energies. In fact, exonerating someone else adds to our available personal vigor.
For instance, suppose that a friend spread loshen hora about us. In turn, we lost a job or failed to see a shidduch to completion, or some other horrible eventuality occurred. On the one hand, we would be “justified” in being extremely indignant over that episode and in resolving only to think badly of that person. On the other hand, and profoundly, the way the cosmos works, our umbrage would do nothing to rectify the situation (as only the wrongdoer can be the one to make right) and would, eventually, cause us much physical and psychological toxicity.
Our bitterness would not change the past nor cause our victimizer to repent since teshuva has to come from the actor’s own volition. Thus, we would find ourselves not only with loss but also with illness. Any imperfection in our well being, ultimately, has roots in soul sickness. Somaticized unbalance, that is, uneasiness that begins and that continues from within, continues unabated until the arrival of intervention. We can be our own intercession.
Although the offender might, in due course, alter his or her behavior because of incidents triggered by The Boss, that resolution is not our business or, actually, our problem. If we are meant to suffer livelihood or romance problems, Hashem will created conduits for those outcomes, whether our exact malefactor is or was employed for those ends or not. Consequently, hating the troublemaker does not fix the results of his or her actions, does not change him or her, but does negatively impacts on our welfare. In some ways, forgiveness is very self serving.
In many ways, forgiveness is very difficult. We tend to forget Who is running the universe and insist, in our puny minds, that if only we or if only others had acted in ways contrary to verity than our simpleton plans for running our own lives would have been fulfilled. We see our limits when we pause to recall that Hashem is our master. Not only are we reduced, we are humbled. Not only can’t we cause many changes, but we never were and never will be able to do so. Like dust, we are relatively miniscule and unimportant.
Interestingly, we pray, in Shemonah Esrei, to be like dust, to ignore the hurt laid upon us by others in order to have room in our souls to serve Hashem, That is, we ask for The Boss’ help in shrinking our sense of ourselves and in ridding ourselves of our delusion beliefs about the operation of the universe, in general, and about the operation of our personal spheres, more specifically.
Fortunately, the moment when we embrace the reality of our limits is the moment that we grow. Similarly, the moment we say “that hurt, but I’m going to release it,” is also a moment in which we deeply change ourselves. As to how to arrive at that time and space, I can not tell you any more than I can tell you how to psyche yourself up for the final push that results in a birthed baby, how to dig into apparently nonexistent resources to get away from a bombing when already injured, or how to complete some other feat that ought not to be possible.
With complete forgiveness, we gain a sense of new opening and a sense of sloughing off of old detritus. Once separated from our accumulated, emotional waste, at least temporarily, we are more available to receive and to absorb the goodness that is always available to us. Although such a process sounds like the makings of a speculative fiction story or of a psychedelic trip, it is actually a fairly mundane, albeit extremely powerful practice.
Such a procedure is very scary, too, even after it is completed. Personally, I have forgiven, in the sense described above, various people for five minutes, for five days and for five years, depending. Occasionally I have been able to walk away from my hatred and vitriol seemingly completely. I wish I could tell you that I have forgiven everyone who has wronged me instantly and permanently. I can not, yet, say as much. Forgiveness is easier said than done.
In this season of elevation, though, please keep in mind that forgiveness is possible and that forgiveness is essential. We can heal ourselves, we can fill our days “with words that live and give life.” We can begin anew this year.