Forgiveness is an important part of Judaism. All year round but especially during this High Holiday season we say that G-d is slow to anger and filled with compassion and loving-kindness. When we appear before Hakadosh Barachu, the holy One of blessing, on Yom Kippur, we do not simply hope for forgiveness but have a bold expectation that we will be forgiven. But the process of forgiveness doesn’t begin at nightfall of Yom Kippur. Instead we begin the journey of Tshuvah 40 days prior with the beginning of the month of Elul. During this time, we search our soul and seek out the people we might have wronged with the hopes that a contrite spirit and open heart will be enough for forgiveness to be found.
One of the reasons this process is so difficult is because it is totally countercultural. Our American society seems to find the request for forgiveness a sign of weakness. Unfortunately, this is compounded by the myth that there is something wrong, or even contagious about being weak and feeble. Therefore, it’s easy to see that a spiritual practice that requires a recognition of our mistakes and weaknesses is antithetical to our American self-image. How do we break past this? We can try to deny the inculcation of our western ego. Good luck! The other way is to find a deeper understanding of the Jewish perspective on forgiveness and see if it can pierce the hard armor in which we encircle our hearts.
For me, forgiveness is the ultimate power move. There is nothing more courageous or dignified than to search one’s soul and seek out reconciliation and clemency from somebody once wronged. Forgiveness is an incredible spiritual practice as it is modeled by G-d throughout our Bible and therefore, we are able to fulfill the commandment to walk in the ways of G-d. Forgiveness, whether received or granted, allows us to shift the course of history. We can plot a new trajectory and craft a future that has the potential of being different from our past. Forgiveness is a moment when we can see the soul and godliness of the other. The spiritual practice of forgiveness is hard work but it’s necessary for us to express our authentic Jewish souls. G-d’s strength and Godspeed to us all.