Perspectives on Forgiveness
December 17, 2000
The following two articles were sent as one of three pre-conference readings to all subscribers of Yehudah’s Nuggets Newsletter. The conference was held online on AOL’s Addiction & Recovery Forum in December 20, 2000.
Excerpted from an upcoming book by Yehudah Fine…
Issues of forgiveness continuously echo in the background of nearly everyone's lives. No one prefers feelings of resentment over feelings of peace. Unresolved, we turn these struggles inward where they angrily grind at our hearts.
Our compelling need for reconciliation and renewed inner harmony invariably leads to the doorstep of forgiveness. Finding that forgiveness, not only for others, but also for ourselves, requires a straightforward approach. It also requires much of the human heart.
Changing Our Lives
No matter how confused we might become, we have the ability to turn our lives around through finding forgiveness in our hearts. Our job is to try. Reb Simcha Bunim, the great Chasidic master once said to his students: “The transgressions which an individual commits are not the greatest crimes. After all, temptation is a powerful force. The greatest crime is that you can turn at every moment and don’t do so.”
We must develop an attitude of compassion. In Hebrew, the word for compassion is “rachamin.” It comes from the root word “rechem” or “womb.” The implication is quite clear. Forgiveness brings us to the womb, to the place of new beginnings. But, how do we find this compassion and forgiveness for ourselves?
Forgiving Ourselves, For-GIVING Others
“How you forgive yourself is as individual as you are. But knowing you deserve to be loved and respected and empowering yourself with a commitment to try is more than half the battle. Much more. And it is never too soon — or too late — to start.” (Andrew Vachss, “You Carry the Cure in Your Own Heart,” Parade Magazine, Aug 28, 1994)
The true gift of forgiveness requires us to accept our imperfections. The path of forgiveness is also the path of giving. Forgiving is, by its very nature, about For-GIVING. And giving leads directly to the path of love and concern for others. Letting go of pain unabashedly opens us to love, not fear. It encourages us to give to others and to actively pursue goodness and healing in our lives.
the hub where we embrace our imperfections and seek to make ourselves whole. the catalyst that allows us to engage the deepest questions of life. the key that unlocks love and intimacy with ourselves and others. the vehicle which brings transcendent meaning to our everyday lives. In the quest for forgiveness, we uncover a core reality that is fundamental to our very existence. Sages have taught that forgiveness has flowed down to us through the ages and that “Forgiveness preceded creation.” (Pesachin 54A) This means that the possibility for changing the direction of our lives through forgiveness was built into the structure of creation and is therefore interwoven into the fabric of our hearts.
Repairing Our Lives
A Kabbalistic teaching describes this world as “The World of Repair.” Repairing our lives through forgiveness is a sacred task. It is a medicine that heals our inner wounds. Untying the knots of shame and blame frees us to live fully in the present. It is a wonderful irony that the more we stumble, the more we yearn to fix our souls. Central to this process is forgiveness.
In Kabbalah, each person is considered a small world. Every improvement to that world then has cosmic significance. Taken to its natural extension, forgiveness helps to bring about what is called in Hebrew, “Tikkun Olam” — the fixing of the world.
“Every human being possesses the spark of giving. It is essential that this should be so, for the world depends on it for its very existence. By giving of yourself to another, you will find in your soul that you and your friend are indeed one.”(Michtav MiEliahu, p.130)
The necessity for each of us to extend ourselves to fix our lives brings us necessarily into profound relationship with others. Our uniqueness is precious. The sages in the Talmud profoundly understood the importance of each of our lives. Therefore they taught, “One who saves a single life is counted as if they saved the entire world.” (Sanhedren 37a)