Thursday, August 30, 2012

HILKHOT TESHUBA 2:10: Unilateral forgiveness

Yesterday we explained that when somebody apologizes for an offense or for a wrong thing he or she did to us, we should be willing to forgive and also forget. After all, we are asking from God to forgive us: taking the fist step will be the best way to demonstrate that we deserve to be forgiven (see here).  

I was asked by a reader of HOTD yesterday: Can we unilaterally forgive or should we wait for a request for forgiveness?

There is a fundamental difference between asking forgiveness and granting forgiveness. As the reader (D.A.) hinted, granting forgiveness can be done unilaterally. It is nice if the offender comes and apologizes. But sometimes people have too much psychological barriers or pride (i.e., low self esteem) or shyness, which impairs them from the possibility of taking charge and ask forgiveness. 

And then, we still can forgive. 

How and why? 

In the Talmud, Megila 28a, we read that R. Nechunya ben haQana, who was very old, was asked by his disciples: "In virtue of what have you reached such a good old age? He quoted the verse. 'Nor did the curse of my fellow go up on my bed with me'. This is illustrated by Mor Zutra, who, [every night] when going to bed would say: I forgive all those who have offended me".  

This unilateral and unrequested forgiveness released Rabbi Nechunya from hatred and resentment and it impacted positively the length (and I would guess also the quality) of his life.  I'm sure it might work for us as well!  

There is a beautiful prayer, inspired by the example of Mor Zutra, found in any prayer book which is recited as part of the reading of the Shema Israel before going to sleep. When said with the proper understanding it helps us to cultivate the habit of forgiveness and prepares us emotionally for such a difficult task. (See below).   

I must clarify once again that I'm referring particularly to social and personal offenses, i.e.,  when a friend, a family member, a colleague, a neighbor, etc. did or say something wrong. Political forgiveness or criminal cases are a more complicated matter which can not be addressed in these brief lines. 

The  prayer RIBBONO SHE OLAM HARENi MOCHEL VESOLEACH to say before we go to sleep. 

"Master of the Universe; Behold, I forgive anyone who angered or offended me, whether it was directed toward my person or my money or my honor or anything which pertains to me. [I forgive them] whether the action was performed by total accident or willingly, through neglect or premeditation, whether it was done through speech or physical action. [I forgive them and I request You]: may no person be punished because of me..."

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

HILKHOT TESHUBA 2:10. Forgive for your own sake

The days of Elul are days of Teshuba. We ask forgiveness from God, for any ritual transgressions we might have done. And we should seek our peer's forgiveness for any offenses or damage we might have caused them. 

We also need to be willing to forgive. 

In Chapter 2, Halakha 10, Maimonides discusses forgiveness. He says: "It is forbidden for a person to be insensitive (akhzari) and refuse to be appeased... rather, when someone approaches him seeking his forgiveness, he should forgive him wholeheartedly and with a positive spirit".

Forgiving is a very complex and difficult emotional task. But in the days when we prepare ourselves to ask forgiveness from God, we should be willing to forgive others as well.

Forgiving also implies the capacity of forgetting. I don't mean forgetting the bad experience and the lessons we have learned from it, but letting go the anger, the anguish and the personal feelings of revenge that an offense might have caused to us.   

Emotional forgetfulness is the ultimate state of forgiveness. If we have decided to forgive an offense with our head but somehow emotionally we are still caught by hatred and resentment, then wholehearted forgiveness has not been achieved.  When we don't get those negative feelings out of our system, we damage our entire emotional system and to make things worse, we give the perpetrator a free ride to take control of our minds. 

I must clarify that I'm are referring particularly to social and personal offenses, i.e., when my friend, a family member, a colleague, a neighbor, etc. did something bad or said something wrong to me or about me. Political forgiveness or criminal cases are a more complicated matter which can not be addressed in these brief lines. 

A person starts to live when he can live outside himself 

                                             Albert Einstein

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

HILKHOT TESHUBA 2:1. Credibility and repentance

What is considered a perfect repentance? When one is faced with the same opportunity to repeat the original transgression, but now he does not do it because he has repented... however, when one does not repeat the original transgression, [and refrains from sinning] because now he fears people will find out... his repentance is still accepted, but it is not considered a perfect repentance  

Maimonides gives the example of a man who was involved in an illicit relationship and later on repents. The ultimate test of his repentance would take place if that man is eventually faced with a similar opportunity but now he refrains from repeating the transgression because of his new understanding and remorse. 

However, if that man is not faced again with similar circumstances as those leading to his earlier sin (he definitely should not seek them!) or if he faces a similar scenario but now he refrains from sinning because he suspects somebody will find out about his affair, his Teshuba is still accepted. But it is not a perfectTeshuba. Why? because this man might now have changed not because of his conscience, but because of the new circumstances.

A modern example: Sometimes we read in the news about famous people caught doing immoral things. Almost invariably, they would come in front of the cameras and publicly repent and apologize for what they have done. That act is definitely an act of repentance. However, it is at least questionable in terms of its credibility and genuineness, since the whole process of repentance happened as a consequence of having been caught. It cannot be known if they would have really repented from their wrongdoing had they not been caught...  
Following Maimonides, the perfect repentance in this case would take place when, while still involved in an illicit relationship or other immoral act, and with no external impediment to continue with it, one decides out of his own conscience (not because of the media!), to stop, repent and change. 

That is a perfect and credible Teshuba.