Wednesday, August 21, 2013

HILKHOT TESHUBA 2:1: Forgiveness and quality of life

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. And by taking the fist step forgiving others, we certainly become more deserving of God's forgiveness .  

Question: Can we forgive others on our own, or should we wait for their request for forgiveness?

There is a fundamental difference between asking forgiveness and granting forgiveness. Granting forgiveness can be done unilaterally. Obviously, it is nicer and more appropriate when the offender comes and apologizes. But sometimes people are too shy or have too many psychological barriers or pride (=low self esteem) which impairs them from the possibility of taking charge of their wrongdoings and apologize. 

And still, we can forgive. 

In the Talmud, Megila 28a, we read that the elder R. Nehunya ben haQane was asked by his disciples: "In virtue of what have you reached such a good old age? He quoted the verse. 'Never thecurse of my fellow man came up to my bed with me'. This was explained [=exemplified] by Mor Zutra who every night when going to bed would say: 'I forgive all those who have offended me'".  

In other words: Every night before going to sleep Rabbi Nehunya practiced forgiveness of his own initiative. This unilateral exoneration freed Rabbi Nehunya from the curse of hatred and resentment, and impacted positively in the length (and probably also on the quality) of his life.    

There is a beautiful prayer, inspired by the example of Rabbi Nehunya found in every prayer book in the section of Qeriyat Shema' 'al haMitaThe following is an excerpt of that prayer "RIBBONO SHE OLAM, HARENI MOHEL VESOLEAH..." to be said before we go to sleep. 

"Master of the Universe! Behold, I forgive anyone who has 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 his or her actions were performed by total accident or willingly; through negligence or premeditation; whether it was done through speech or physical action. [I forgive them and I request from You]: may no person be punished because of me..."
I must clarify once again that in this Halakha I'm referring particularly to forgiveness in the context of social and personal minor offenses, when a friend, a family member, a colleague, a neighbor, etc. did or said something wrong to us. Forgiveness for criminal or major offenses belong to a different category and can not be addressed in these brief lines.