U’me’ka’la’lai naf’she te’dom
Let my soul be silent to those who curse me.
(Mar ben Ravina; Berakhot 17a)
Torah teaches that if we forgive, our own sins will be forgiven, too.
That’s a substantial built-in reward. Why, then, do we struggle with forgiving?
We try to forgive but find the resentful feelings and thoughts persisting.
They might persist overtly, as clearly stated ideas of hurt and revenge, or they might persist covertly, expressed only as tension, sadness, etc.
A preliminary step in psychotherapy can be to clearly state the resentful, angry feelings themselves. Even this can take work over extended time for a person who has hidden those feelings and is left experiencing only their covert expressions. Once clearly stated, there’s some relief from the pressure of those feelings (which otherwise boil in us like steam in a tea pot).
Relief, but not resolution.
What does “soul” mean here? It means our thoughts and feelings. Later generations, especially Kabbalists, have more complicated meanings for “soul.” But we can take Mar b. Ravina more or less literally: If I have been hurt — “cursed” as it were — by someone, then “Let my mind not be filled with uncontrolled thoughts of anger and hurt; may my heart not be filled with angry or sad feelings.”
In relief, our soul, if quieter, is still not “silent.”
Real resolution requires a change in our thinking.
The ultimate struggle, then, is not merely to “relax” or “calm down.” It’s to change our thinking in such a way that the insult no longer registers on us as such at all.
Mar b. Ravina was therefore asking God’s help in achieving this resolution; this peace of mind.
He didn’t mean that he wasn’t putting in his own efforts. Rather, he knew that his own efforts were limited or useless unless aided by God.
He might have meant this, too:
Mar b. Ravina, as a rabbi, would have believed that everything that happens, even the “undesirable stuff,” is God’s Will. Isn’t that what we affirm when saying the blessing “Dayan Emet?”
Why, then, should he (Mar) or we be filled with angry or resentful thoughts, if the negative event is God’s Will?
The heart, being what it is — the thoughts persist.
We might think that we’re accepting God’s Will, but we’re not giving up our own will. What is our will? Our preferences. What’s happening is not what we want.
It was the first experience that Adam and Havah had after eating fruit from the prohibited tree. What tree was it? The tree of “the knowledge of good and bad” — a fruit that gave them intensified “preferences” for what they’d like or not like.
We’d “prefer” that the insult be something else. Our peace is based largely on whether we can accept it as it is.
Even the greatest rabbi will struggle with accepting God’s Will until he/she comes to see that it means giving up our own preferences.
Accepting an insult as God’s Will can bring some peace of mind. But when we’re insulted, we can also tend to question our own worth, the value of the person who insulted us, etc.
We might have thoughts of fear or worry, too.
So for our “soul” to be silent, we must at least accept the event as God’s Will for an ultimate Good, without having a different preference, without questioning our own worth or the worth of the person/people who insulted us, and without fear or worry.