As a rabbi, over these many years, I have seen how so many people really do not understand what forgiveness entails. With that said, I would like to bring out some important points. First forgiveness involves responsibility and in that responsibility humility and honesty have to be the major ingredients. Also if you offend G-d appointed and anointed leadership, if you are not willing to do what the rabbis request, it usually involves arrogance and rebellion to some degree, lack of commitment, not being a person of your word or perhaps perceive sin in that person’s life. Here are some ingredients in the responsibility of forgiveness:
Confession – this involves humility and a willingness to follow scripture in going before the person you have offended, whether it be a family member or friend or G-d appointed and anointed leadership, namely the rabbis. Confession should not be tainted by arrogance, the “you said – I said”, tit-for-tat-type attitude. Confession does not mean that if you confess your sins that you expect the offended party to act the way you want. Confession means that that person is willing to follow the biblical mandate in the hopes of procuring forgiveness. Nothing more.
In regards to forgiveness there should always be a willingness in both parties to forgive whatever the offence is. Again, it is biblically mandated that if G-d has forgiven us then we must be willing to forgive one another. We should not be willing to wait for Rosh Hashanah-Yom Kippur and the ten days of awe and hold a grudge for the rest of the year. There should always be a willingness with the strongest efforts to forgive the offence from the offended party.
Another ingredient of forgiveness is reconciliation. This word is greatly misunderstood and most individuals just simply do not want to go there. Why? Because reconciliation literally means you must reconcile and show sufficient enough effort to see the situation resolved. On the day of Yom Kippur the rabbis’ responsibility is to encourage each practitioner who is fasting and praying to not only go to the person and ask forgiveness, but to make a vow and a commitment to never commit that wrong again. Consistency in life-style is what the offended party will be looking for. There should be a willingness from the offended party to go beyond their own offence and attempt to restore the person seeking forgiveness. Even if the sin is murder, physical beatings, physical accidents that have disabled a person, and so on.
Reconciliation involves reparation. If you have spoken evil against a previous business partner, or in the difficulty of divorce, or you have spoken evil against a rabbi and you are guilty of la shanah hora, the evil and slanderous tongue and that person’s reputation has been damaged, which would include: business, a person’s domestic reputation even if you inadvertently participated by following someone else’s offence, it might mean that you, financially, would need to give back remuneration based upon the instruction of the rabbis. Now what would happen if you offend the very leaders who are there to watch over you and protect you? (Hebrews 13:17 says, “Obey those who have the rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, and have to give an account, do it with joy and not with grief, for if you give them grief, it will be of no profit to you.” That person who has rebelled against leadership might possibly open themselves up to a harsh judgment or a stiff penalty from G-d.
In this world today instead of being reverent and careful with leadership people will only follow leadership so far before they stop and rebel and leave the rabbi of their previous choosing, because today most people are not people of their word. More and more we are seeing a growing desire and a brazenness and an attitude in thinking that people can get away with offending others, family friend or G-dly leadership.
Do I need to remind the reader that throughout the documents of scripture that you do not touch G-d’s anointed or do his prophets any harm. This would include all the people of G-d whether you agree with them or not. Many who are reading this are saying, “I haven’t physically bothered anyone”, but in your heart you come against people or leaders and you offend them needlessly by not being a man or woman of your word, then again, you are literally touching the anointed of G-d and I must say, that there is no way out of it. Forgiveness should not be accompanied by a casual, flippant, cavalier attitude for as you treat others so also G-d will treat you. Many times sin involves people’s lack of commitment to others in the family of G-d. We say one thing but do the other.
As a chief rabbi of several congregations it is not someone who keeps his word six months to a year, but it is the person who keeps his word 5, 10, 20 years at a time. Why? Because a consistent lifestyle, even if it means asking forgiveness, helps repair the damage of the world. The Hebrew word tikkum olam, means to repair the breach of the world. Our daily domestic life, in the years that you live will at times include asking for forgiveness, but it must be done in a G-d-centered way, based upon the Tanakh, based upon the oral law and its halachic rulings, and to be honest and forthright and transparent to your rabbis. I include myself in what I am going to say next, I am sure I can include other rabbis and Christian pastors in saying, that we all get disgusted and at times even irritated with students or congregational members who say one thing and do the other.
Over all, in closing, if you make a commitment to your family, or to your friends, or other members of the congregation you attend or more importantly, your own rabbis, then be a man or woman of your word. Be careful how you act and what you say. G-d’s word says, “for if you do sin, he is faithful and just to forgive you of your sins, and to cleanse you from all unrighteousness.” He is G-d, we are not, G-d has given us a godly prescription to heal the marrow of the soul, in reestablishing relationships with the proper forgiveness that includes; confession, reconciliation, and perhaps even reparation.
May you walk in holiness, which is your cooperation with G-d so that the decisions that you make will be accurate, authorized of him, that other lives would be touched for the better.
Think on these things,
Chief Rabbi, Yosef Hilbrant