Forgiveness and its impact

Forking forest path

On the cusp of the Jewish New Year of 5782 is Elul, a month devoted to reckoning with the past year, we are supposed to address whom we have harmed in the past year, make amends, and ask for their forgiveness.

Amnon and Tamar, painted by Jan Steen              Amnon and Tamar, painted by Jan Steen

When one person wrongs another, the latter should not remain silent and despise him as it states in Samuel 2: 13:22 .

“And Absalom never said a word to Amnon, either good or bad; he hated Amnon because he had disgraced his sister Tamar.” Rather he is commanded to make the matter known and ask him “Why did you do this to me?”, “Why did you wrong me regarding that matter?”.

 

Even if you feel that you are the one who has been offended, you are instructed to reach out to those who may have hurt you, to allow them to redress their behaviour. For example, perhaps the other person is unaware of his error, or you have misjudged something he may have said. Thus It is incumbent upon you to open the pathway to reconciliation.

Moreover, you are obligated to reach out for reconciliation three times. This applies to family as well, since often, those closest to us may have the most significant possibility to offend and withdraw in hurt and silence and anger as in the above reference of Absalom and Amnon. *1

Rabbi Avraham Danzig *2 claimed that if ever you hurt another person, that is a violation of G-d’s law, and none of it is forgiven unless forgiveness is sought from the person first. Thus, one is not forgiven in the heavenly court until he has done the work on earth.

Rabbi Yehezkel Levenshtein *3 goes one step further, and remarks, “the only reason that G-d ever moves from the Throne of Judgement to the Throne of Mercy is if he sees us doing the same, seeking reconciliation and forgiving each other.”

The Synagogue Service of Rosh Hashanah:
The Jakab and Komor Square Synagogue in Subotica

The synagogue service of Rosh Hashana is designated as a person’s opportunity to ask for forgiveness from G-d, so that he may be blessed with life, health and prosperity in the coming year. We are aware that life and death, blessing and punishment are in Heaven’s hands, not ours. However, G-d does not consider forgiving us unless we have done the work of Elul – the work of forgiving each other first.

Paris

The structure of our holiday prayer service on Rosh Hashanah is divided into three sections, Malchuyot, Zichronot and Shofarot.

Malchuyot (Sovereignty) – Rather than entreating multiple deities to provide for all of our needs — food, weather, fertility — Jews enthrone and crown The One and Only Heavenly Deity who reigns over all aspects of life.  Malchuyot refers to the Heavenly Reign, the Coronation of the “Sovereign Over All” as expressed via the words of our prayers  The notion that all of life’s blessings and curses come not from a capricious G-d who has to be appeased but from a loving God who cares and wants us to behave lovingly with each other, this was Judaism’s radical idea, then and now.

Zichronot (Remembrances) – we acknowledge God’s role in our lives. Although we no longer experience direct divine prophecy as we did in ancient times, nevertheless, we trust that God remembers us today, as he did then and that we remember God and all he has done for us in bringing us to this very day. While God may be literally out of sight, God should never be out of mind.

Shofarot (Revelation) looks to our future as a people. In Judaism, we recognize that while God was revealed to Moses on Mount Sinai, that event did not represent the end of our relationship. God’s revelation continues each day. It attests to the brilliance and durability of our tradition that each successive generation has the ability and the current responsibility to reinterpret and internalize it. The Torah famously tells us in Deuteronomy 30:12, “lo bashamayim hee” – “It is not in heaven” but here on earth, where the sacred words of our ancient texts are to be continually interpreted and understood. *4

And here is Rabbi Yair Silverman, of Moed in Zichron Yaakov, Israel, giving us a reading re malchuyot, zichronot, and shofarot that speaks to our present moment.

 

Our prayers beseech God to move from the seat of Strict Judgement – Din – to the Seat of Rachamim – mercy.
Please God, grant us life, health and prosperity.
Teshuva, Tefila, Tzedaka, maavirin et roah hagzera”
Teshuva, returning to our core self and God
Tefila, through words of prayer and
Tzedaka, giving and sharing freely with our fellow man

maavirin et roah hagzera  have the power to sweeten the harshness of G-d’s decree. *5

Chazzan

 

Shana tova ve metuka, Hebrew, for wishing you a sweet year to come.

 

Footnotes:

  1. Maimonidies, Mishne Torah, Hilchot De’ot
  2. Rabbi Avraham Danzig, Wikipedia
  3. Rabbi Yehezkel Levenshtein, Wikipedia
  4. Structure of our prayer service on Rosh Hashanah, Malchuyot, Zichronot and Shofrot, My Jewish learning www.myjewishlearning.com
  5. Teshuva, Tefila and Tzedaka, Ten Days of Teshuvah, quoted in Torah Studies: a Parsha anthology by Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson adapted by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Kehot Publication Society, Brooklyn, New York, pp.334-337.

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