(This post continues and supports the previous posts on “forgiving.” The topic is always relevant, but particularly so in the upcoming month of Elul and the High Holiday period. Strangely, although we’re often told to “forgive,” we’re not often told “why” or, even more importantly, “how.” It’s a crucial part of spiritual education. In the following article, [1] Rabbi Abraham Twerski, who is also a psychiatrist specializing in treating chemical dependency, alcoholism in particular, gives us further insight and guidelines into “forgiving.”)

• Forgiving is not condoning.
A wrongful act is a wrongful act, and your forgiveness does not change the nature of the act. When the Divine forgives, then depending on the quality of teshuvah (repentance), He may totally erase the act as though it never occurred. “And all the sins of Your nation, cast away to a place where they will neither be remembered, considered, nor brought to mind — ever” (from the Tashlich prayer).
In human forgiveness, it is not essential that the person forget the offense. There can be forgiveness even if one remembers it.
Forgiving is not justifying. The Talmud states that one should always judge another person favorably (Ethics of the Fathers 1:6), and “Do not judge your fellow until you have reached his place” (ibid. 2:5). But even when one cannot justify another person’s behavior, one can still forgive.

• Forgiveness is not reconciliation.
Reconciliation is when two parties (individuals or groups) have been separated and decide to rejoin.
One cannot have a true reconciliation without forgiveness, because that would simply be a peaceful coexistence rather than a sincere relationship.
But one can have forgiveness without reconciliation.

• It is not necessary that the offender ask for forgiveness.
The people who exploited my patient could not care less or even know whether or not he forgives them.
He knows he must forgive them, i.e., divest himself of his resentment in order to avoid a relapse into drinking.
As stated above, the common understanding of forgiveness is that it is an act of kindness toward an offender. Indeed, this may be one aspect, but acting with kindness to the offender does not necessarily have to be included.
If we focus on this new understanding of forgiveness — ridding oneself of resentment for one’s own sake — we are more likely to look for ways to forgive.
When you are offended, you are hurt. You might bite your lip and put on a stoic front, saying (to yourself), “That didn’t bother me. I let it roll off me like water off a duck’s back.” You are deceiving yourself. Whether it is a physical or an emotional injury, you feel the pain. Every injury is a wound. Time is indeed a great healer, but this healing is incomplete. Complete healing occurs when you forgive. By the same token, forgiveness cannot be effective until one has accepted and adjusted to the pain of the offense.
How can you know when you are ready to forgive? When you no longer harbor fantasies of revenge and when you no longer expect the offender to make amends.
My father used to cite the verses in the Torah in which Rebecca told Jacob that his brother Esau had designs to kill him, and instructed Jacob to flee to her brother Laban in Haran. “Remain with him a short while until your brother’s wrath subsides. Until your brother’s anger at you subsides” (Genesis 27:43-45). My father pointed out that the second verse is redundant, and suggested that it lends itself to another translation, i.e., “Until your anger at your brother subsides.”
Rebecca was saying that feelings are reciprocal, as Solomon says, “As water reflects face to face, so the heart of man to man” (Proverbs 27:19). She was telling Jacob, “How will you know when Esau’s wrath has subsided? When you no longer feel anger toward your brother, you will know that he does not feel anger toward you.”
When your anger at the person who offended you has mellowed, you can know that his hostility toward you has subsided, and you can then forgive wholeheartedly.
There are resistances to forgiving. One of them is a kind of satisfaction at feeling that one is a victim and feeling sorry for oneself. Feelings of low self-esteem are implicated in most psychological problems, and this is no exception. People with low self-esteem may feel that being a victim or martyr is uplifting. This satisfaction is offset by the pain that one experiences by remaining a victim. Building up self-esteem allows one to relinquish the state of victimhood, which then allows him to lead a much happier life.

Do you have a story to share about forgiving someone?

See also:

A selection of quotations from Jewish sources on forgiving:

Some quidelines about forgiving from the Mayo Clinic

A personal post of mine about forgiving:


[1] http://www.jewishworldreview.com/twerski/twerski_forgiveness.php3 (also in Jewish World Review of 7/9);
excerpted from: Twerski, Rabbi Abraham; Forgiveness; Don’t Let Resentment Keep You Captive; Art Scroll Publishers