What is forgiveness? For much of my life, I've understood forgiveness to be something that happens in relationship with another. A person does wrong and approaches the person who has been hurt to ask forgiveness. Then the injured party forgives. Forgiveness comes at the end of the process, and in Judaism our emphasis tends to be more on the person who has caused hurt rather than the one who has been hurt.
I have begun reading the book The Art of Forgiving: the Fourfold Path for Healing Ourselves and the World. The book is by Desmond Tutu and his daughter Mpho Tutu. Their approach to forgiveness draws on a more Christian understanding in which forgiveness is an internal act. It does not depend on someone asking to be forgiven but can take place at any time, with or without an expression of contrition. Forgiveness is portrayed as the antidote to resentment, which can weigh us down and greatly interfere in our lives. Father and daughter Tutu suggest that each of us pick up a stone that will fit in the palm of our hand and try passing an entire day without once putting the stone down. Resentment blocks us in our lives in much the same way as that stone keeps us from being able to function fully.
Ideally, I believe that forgiveness should be offered when it is asked for. I long for a world where those who have done wrong appreciate how they have broken the lives of others in ways that are small or very large. But increasingly I appreciate how naive that dream is. So as we enter into these final days, perhaps we can reflect not only on what we need to repent for, but also what we need to forgive. Then we might enter this new year completely free of all that weighs us down.
--Rabbi Shoshana Kaminsky