Jewish World Review

What the Torah Says About Forgiveness, Part II

By Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski, M.D.

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Rising to the level where one does not retain hatred in his heart may seem insurmountable. Indeed, this is most difficult to achieve, unless you realize what we have just stated: harboring resentment is self-destructive. Remember what the wise King Solomon said, "Anger rests in the bosom of a fool" (Ecclesiastes 7:9). If you retain your anger, you are being foolish.

Harboring resentment is a violation of the Torah prohibition, "You shall not hate your brother in your heart." This prohibition is in the same Torah that forbids eating non-kosher food; there is no reason to consider a violation of the commandment against harboring resentment as less serious than violation of the kashrus laws.

Indeed, the Chofetz Chaim (d. 1933) said that the former may be far more grave. As egregious a sin as eating non-kosher is, it is of rather brief duration. Harboring resentment, on the other hand, is a constant and ongoing violation that one may be transgressing every moment, for months and years!

The Talmud is very critical of someone who goes into a rage. If a person loses his temper, the Talmud tells us, "If he is a wise person, he loses his wisdom, and if he is a prophet, he loses his prophecy" (Pesachim 66b). "If a person goes into rage, it is as if he worshiped idols" (Maimonides Dei'os 2). The Sefer HaChinuch states that harboring resentment in one's heart is even worse than manifest anger (Mitzvah 238). In the famous letter to his son, Ramban begins by citing the verse "Eliminate anger from your heart" (Ecclesiastes 11:10), stating that doing so will lead a person to developing many fine character traits.

King Solomon's statement is a lesson in psychosomatic medicine. "Eliminate anger from your heart, and remove harm from your Flesh." This is a clear statement that harboring resentments is injurious to the body, a fact that has been confirmed by a number of studies. Ramban elaborates on this, stating that eliminating resentments can have a beneficial effect on one's personality and may lead to many laudable character traits.

This underscores the importance of forgiveness, and should help overcome the resistance to forgiving.

The observance of all the mitzvos is, of course, essential to Judaism, but there is more to Judaism than observance of the mitzvos (religious duties).

Ramban makes the famous statement that a person can be a naval birshus HaTorah, a despicable individual who nevertheless technically observes all the mitzvos (Leviticus 19:2). He may strictly obey the letter of the law, but falls far short in adhering to the spirit of the law.

The Torah requires that we emulate the Divine's ways. Rabbi Chaim Vital (d. 1620), the leading disciple of the Arizal, says that one must exert greater caution in exercising proper traits than in observance of the mitzvos (Shaar HaKedushah 2).

The Divine not only forgives, but loves the one He forgave. When we forgive someone, we should try to develop positive feelings toward him. This is a tall order and may seem impossible, but with time, if we succeed in eliminating our anger, it is possible to develop positive feelings.



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Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski, M.D. is a psychiatrist and ordained rabbi. He is the founder of the Gateway Rehabilitation Center in Pittsburgh, a leading center for addiction treatment. An Associate Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, he is a prolific author, with some 62 books to his credit.