Jewish thought incorporates forgiveness in prayer and practise. Numerous individual prayers for forgiveness, recited collectively in various synagogue services call for WE instead of I:
We have sinned. We have lied. We have stolen. We have committed adultery are a few examples taken from the praying on Yom Kippur ( Grote Verzoendag). The collective calling of the WE is implemented to avoid embarrassing and isolating the so called sinner. On a deeper level the We is used in order to promote the development of increased self awareness and self reflection of all. Indeed we have all lied at times, stolen or committed adultery, if only in fleeting moments or thoughts.
When preparing for this month’s HARTGESCHREVEN I made a list of all that I need to forgive and be forgiven for.
1- I lent money to a friend in need. I did not hesitate to transfer the money to his account. I respected his request and thanked him for thinking to ask me for help. He promised to pay the moneys owed the next month. Now almost one year later, he has not returned the moneys owed and has almost disappeared from my friendship radar. I myself am uncomfortable with my desire to ask for the moneys owed.
Jewish law provides guidelines for this: Only lend money if you are not dependant upon receiving it back. So in fact lending money becomes a gift. If and when it is ever returned, then a miracle.
2- I used the wrong utensil when cooking last week. This means that I used a meat ladle instead of a milk ladle. I became aware of this mistake too late and made the decision to eat the soup anyway. Afterwards I made the pan, spoons, ladles and plates kosher again. There are specific laws to allow for this common human error which I implemented. I felt stupid for the mix up and for days following have not forgiven myself.
3- I have reached the golden years when calling a friend includes listening to the aches and pains they may be suffering. At times I am too caught up in my daily survival challenges and procrastinate calling, sending a card or an email. I feel guilty if I miss the signals being given off. I try to forgive myself for my procrastination in deed or thought. I try not to get into this Karma Comes Around thinking.
Jewish thinking is clear about this: We must take good care of ourselves in order to be in the position to help and be present in the lives of those close to us. The balancing act is not to get caught up in one’s own bubble and therefore lose sight of the needs and spoken and unspoken desires of the other.
4- I try to forgive myself for eating cakes or cookies during the week. I usually enjoy these sweets on Shabbat. Sometimes I am still hooked in that sweet urge on a Monday and eat three pieces of cake ( which I did at my writing class this past Monday).I usually feel the need to punish myself the days afterwards by not eating any carbs until dinner. But this has nothing to do with the forgiveness theme folks!!!!!
Forgiveness is an interesting theme. Perhaps acknowledging guilt, surpassing the shame and entering into a true dialogue with the other is the real key to forgiveness.
I still feel shame at avoiding my grandmother when I was eight years old. I had broken a glass apple form which she treasured. I did not do this purpose, but I was still too embarrassed to pick up the pieces and bring them to show her. I hid them behind her books on the living room shelf. I did not say one word to her as I slipped out of the room and made my way down the stairway. Two days later my grandmother came to me and asked me if I had broken the apple. Realising that I was caught, I admitted it and swore never to lie to her again. My grandmother told me she was very disappointed in me which was the biggest punishment I have ever felt in my life. To this day I remember clearly the shame and the guilt I felt as a child. How extraordinary is the memory! I have not thought of this incident for more than fifty years. When preparing for this piece, this memory surfaced.
Which brings me to another thought. Forgiving is not the same as forgetting. I may forget that I lent the money. I need to forgive myself for desiring the repayment. I must learn to forgive the one who trusted me enough to ask for help. I must continue to develop my empathy skills, for others and for myself. I must remember that to whom much is asked much is given. I may come to understand that the ability to forgive, entering into dialogue with myself and the other offers me the opportunity to grow on a deeply spiritual level.
Rebbe Nachmon of Breslov wrote: If you are not a better person tomorrow than you are today, what need have you for tomorrow?
I wish each and every one of us, more compassion, empathy and the process of forgiveness of the other and ourselves.