JWR Outlook

Jewish World Review Sept. 28, 2001 / 9 Tishrei, 5762

On forgiveness

By Rabbi Berel Wein

http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- THE theme of Yom Kippur is forgiveness. Since human beings are prone to error, foolishness and selfishness, the necessity for a mechanism of forgiveness is obvious. Our entire relationship with our Creator is based on His ability and willingness to forgive.

And in a deeper sense, our relationship with our very self is based on forgiveness. For if we could not sublimate our past errors and failures and forgive ourselves for them, we would not be able to continue living, improving and maturing. Every successful marriage and strong family is built on the foundation of mutual understanding, respect and forgiveness.

But forgiveness, though a divine trait, so to speak, is not a luxury --- it is a human necessity. In any society, compromise and forgiveness are the necessary ingredients for positive and peaceful existence. There is a great difference between forgetting and forgiving. Forgiving presupposes memory and caution. It is built on the realization that a wrong has been committed. It is the recognition of that wrong that challenges us to be able to forgive. As in our relationship with G-d, there may be wrongs that occur between humans that are unforgivable. Cain himself admitted that "my sin is too great to bear." But most wrongs in human relationships are not quite of that nature. They are forgivable and therefore should be forgiven.

One of the tough things about our contemporary lives, society and media, is its unforgiving nature. There is almost a vindictive spirit in the land that dredges up past hurts and mistakes and does not allow them to rest and be forgiven. There is a sense of glee present when one segment of our society points out the weaknesses and foibles, the errors and corruption that exist in another.

There is no sense of sadness, of regret that others have fallen, that a piece of our nation is troubled. There is only the ugly face of triumphalism.

This is unfortunately true, even though in almost all these instances it is the case of the pot calling the kettle black. By not being able to forgive others, eventually we become cruel, malicious and negative people. I am unable to understand why political, social, religious and cultural disputes which are now already generations, if not centuries old, must yet be pursued with such focused venom. Is there no positive platform that our political parties can present to the public without demonizing, insulting and attacking large segments of our society? Are we really that desperate for scapegoats? Do we not realize that these tactics ultimately destroy the attacker as much as the victim?

And are we really that powerless to be sensitive to the beliefs and lifestyles of those who are different than us?

That great woman Bruria, the wife of the sage Rabbi Meir, said it clearly centuries ago: "The Psalms tells us that sins -- not sinners -- should disappear from this world."

Sinners should be forgiven. Sins should be remembered, corrected and made to disappear. The unique quality of Yom Kippur should be allowed to transform our attitudes and behavior toward others. We can keep some of the holiness and serenity of this miraculous day with us all year long. Fewer personal attacks, less self-righteousness and more compassion should be the norm of our personal and national life and debate.

Yom Kippur is a day of forgiveness and introspection, of peace and harmony, of yearning and strength. It need not be the only such day in our year. If we can make the spirit of Yom Kippur last for the whole year, then it will truly be a blessed new year for all mankind.

JWR contributor Rabbi Berel Wein is one of Jewry's foremost historians and founder of the Destiny Foundation. He has authored over 650 tapes, books and videos which you can purchase at RabbiWein.com. Comment by clicking here or calling 1-800-499-WEIN (9346).


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© 2000, Rabbi Berel Wein