D’var Tefilah: The Gift of Forgiveness

Forgive us, our Father, for we have sinned; pardon us, our King, for we have transgressed, for You forgive and pardon. Praised are You, gracious and forgiving Lord. (From the Amidah, Sim Shalom p. 111)

The idea of granting true forgiveness is a very difficult one. In the Amidah, we ask God to forgive us for our sins. Often, this prayer also makes me wonder about forgiving others and forgiving myself. There are many times that we are called upon to emulate God. I believe that being forgiving is one of the hardest things to do.

Asking God for forgiveness takes admitting to ourselves that we have done wrong. It takes introspection. It is the first step to asking others to forgive us. Before we can go to someone else to ask them to pardon us for what we have done to them, we need to be clear in our own hearts as to what we have done and how we are resolved to change.

Asking others to forgive us is hard, but truly forgiving someone else might be even harder.

The great Albus Dumbledore said, “People find it far easier to forgive others for being wrong than being right.” If someone says something hurtful about me that is not true, it hurts, but I know they are wrong and forgiving is all about them. If someone says something hurtful about me that is true, it hurts, and I know it is true and forgiving is about both them and me. That makes it even more complicated.

Why should we forgive? To be honest, I think that seventy five percent of it is for us and twenty five percent of it is for the person who is seeking forgiveness.

Martin Luther King Jr. said, “We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies.” People are going to hurt us in our lives. Our ability to bounce back and move on allows us to heal and continue to love others. Hate, as King knew, most often harms the hater. Forgiveness allows us to focus on the positive.

People sometimes feel that forgiving could be a sign of weakness. But Mahatma Gandhi said, “The weak never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.” Maya Angelou added, “It’s one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself, to forgive. Forgive everybody.” Forgiveness allows us to prove to ourselves that the wrong someone has done to us does not have power over us. It will not drive us to hate or consume us. We forgive and move on in control of our own lives.

But what if the person we need to forgive is ourselves? Sometimes we get so angry at ourselves for making mistakes or doing wrong. We have to trust the process. We have to search our souls and resolve to do better. We need to apologize to the person we have wronged. Then, if we have honestly done the work, we need to move on. Invariably, we will be faced with similar situations where we have the opportunity to do the right thing. Maimonides teaches that true teshuva is to be placed in the same or similar situation and to make the right choice.

In the forgiveness prayer of the Amidah, we have a daily reminder to think about what we have done, what others have done to us, how we can improve, how we can seek forgiveness and how we can forgive others. I think it is a tremendous gift. Please God, forgive us for our mistakes and help us to forgive others and ourselves. Shabbat Shalom.

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