Q: When someone asks us to forgive them, why is it often so hard to do it?
I’m not talking about the small ‘nothings’ that most of us find it all too easy to apologise for, like ‘only’ putting out three salads for Shabbat lunch instead of the usual 6, because we’ve had a tough week. Or apologising because it took us a few hours longer to return the other person’s phone call.
I’m talking about the big stuff here.
The horrible comment someone made that devastated us. The completely thoughtless behaviour that ruined our wedding / bris / bar mitzvah. The decision or action that changed the whole course of our life, and caused us a lot of suffering and heartache.
So now, that person finds out it’s Elul, and that they need to make amends to the people they’ve hurt, and they phone you up to apologise. If you’re like most people, you’re not going to immediately drop your guard and gushingly accept. Sincerely accepting apologies from people who have really hurt us is actually really hard!
Why is this?
Again, each of us will have our own particular reasons, but when I was musing about why it can be so hard to accept apologies, the following things came up:
· We don’t trust it’s a sincere apology
· We’re scared if we let our guard down, they might hurt us again
· We want them to suffer EVEN MORE!! (ie, vengeance)
· We still have a lot of feelings of hatred against them (not politically correct to say, I know, but true nevertheless)
· If they person who’s doing the apologising has caused us a huge loss or damage, we can’t forgive them because we’re still blaming them for the horrible situation we still find ourselves in
· It’s not fair!! Just saying sorry after the terrible thing they did to us is NEVER going to be enough…
Anything else you want to add to this list?
Genuine forgiveness is actually pretty hard
As you’re hopefully starting to see for yourself, sincerely asking for forgiveness when you know you’ve done something bad, and sincerely forgiving someone else who really hurt you in some way, is actually really, really difficult to do in practise.
(SO STOP BEATING YOURSELF UP IF ALL THE FORGIVENESS STUFF IS NOT COMING EASY! IT TAKES 120 YEARS TO PERFECT ALL THESE NEGATIVE MIDDOT!!!)
But Hashem still wants us to do all the ‘forgiveness stuff', and He’s particularly keen that we do it in Elul, so that we go into Rosh Hashana, the yom haDin, with as clean a slate as possible.
God relates to us midda kneged midda¸ which means ‘a measure for measure.’
If we forgive others, He’ll forgive us. If we ask forgiveness for others, He’ll forgive us. And this is a deal that has some eternal ramifications for us, because Gehinnom doesn’t atone for sins between man and man; it only takes care of the sins we did – and didn’t make teshuva for – between man and God.
- If we stole something and didn’t give it back and ask for forgiveness – we’ll have to come back again to fix it.
- If we hurt someone with harsh words and we didn’t sincerely make amends – we’ll get sent back here, and this time it could well be that WE’LL be the ones getting the verbal abuse, as spiritual payback.
- If we didn’t somehow fix the fallout from that juicy piece of gossip we shared with 50 of our closest friends on Facebook, then guess what? God is going to send us back to rectify the blemish we caused to our soul.
So forgiveness, as well as being really, really hard, is also really, really crucial for our spiritual rectification process. So how exactly are we meant to do it (especially when the person who’s hurt us the most is still trying to pretend they’re perfect, and didn’t do anything wrong?)