How to Forgive Others

Posted on September 12, 2019

By Rabbi Michael Schwab

We are currently in the midst of the Hebrew month of Elul – the month before the High Holidays.  Spurred by the blowing of the shofar each morning, our tradition reminds us to engage in the process of teshuvah, of repentance, now – not to wait until the Day of Judgment itself to take up this sacred task.  For most of us this means embarking on a journey of self-reflection, identifying wrongs we have committed and doing our best to right these wrongs, which usually minimally includes saying we are sorry and asking for forgiveness.  

Yet, there is another side to the process of teshuvah – preparing ourselves to forgive others.  While there may be exceptions (which we will talk about in my post-Kiddush discussion this Shabbat), Jewish Law requires us to forgive someone who sincerely apologizes and wants to right a wrong they committed.  In fact, in some books of Jewish Law the language is indeed very strong, claiming that not forgiving a sincere penitent is a sin in and of itself.  

Forgiving someone who has wronged you is not a simple thing to do.  That is why we must also use our time in Ellul to prepare ourselves to forgive so that when we are asked to do so, we are ready.  Strategies to aid us include: 

1) Placing ourselves in the other’s shoes and imagining how much we would want to be forgiven if we had made a mistake and harmed someone. 

2)  Reflecting on the toll the psychological and emotional pain has taken on us when we hold onto anger and grudges.  

3) Imagining the feelings we have about the strength of character we show when we are able to be in a position to offer forgiveness.  

4) Bearing in mind that the ability to forgive helps the larger community and society. 

5) Knowing that the wisdom of our tradition requests we do so.  And I know there are many more.

My prayer for all of us in the season of repentance is that we both have the strength and wisdom to seek forgiveness, as well as to forgive those who seek forgiveness from us.