Chaim Ingram
Chaim Ingram

Acute angles: Must I Forgive?

Dear Rabbi,
Before the pandemic, I was working for a religious Jew who cheated me out of about $9,500 which I only found out after I overheard him speaking badly about me while on a phone call to an investor whose daughter I was training. My ex-boss lied to Fair Work Australia and got out of paying me what he owed me.

I was shocked when last week he sent me a text message wishing me a Shana Tova.    Am I supposed to forgive him, as one is meant to do during this high holiday?  Because quite frankly, I can’t do it.  I am still so livid and feel so betrayed.  Awaiting your response.  D.S.K.

Dear D.S.K,

As the most significant part of the Tefila Zaka prayer which many recite before Kol Nidre (ArtScroll Machzor Ashkenaz, page 41) makes clear, while we are expected to forgive, or at least try to forgive, insults, gossip or even slander, we are not expected to forgo money rightfully owed to us.

I believe the right and appropriate course of action for you now that he has initiated contact by sending you a Shana Tova greeting (maybe out of a guilty conscience?) is to confront him (by phone) calmly and courteously and explain to him why you feel wronged. It is possible that he has convinced himself that he is entirely in the right!  Our Sages say that even a thief davens to G-D that he will be successful in his exploits!  Man is capable of the most extraordinary self-deception!  He has probably justified his actions in his mind.  Are you so sure he realises the extent of the bitterness and betrayal you feel?

Say to him (even if you don’t believe it) “perhaps you are not aware of what you did to me? surely if you were, you would be trying to make tangible amends!”

And of course, tangible means tangible.  It is no good him saying “I’m sorry!”  if he isn’t prepared to make restitution.

There will be three possible outcomes: (a) he will deny that he cheated or wronged you; (b) he will acknowledge it and make appropriate monetary restitution; (c) if, as you say, he is a religious Jew, he will at least offer to go with you to have the case adjudicated by a Beth Din.

In case (c) you should willingly agree to such adjudication. In case (b) once restitution is made, you are required to unconditionally forgive him. In case (a) you are not.

HOWEVER, I would recommend that even in case (a) you try not to hold on to the bitterness. Not for his sake. But for yours!

Many years ago, someone grievously wronged me which had far-reaching effects. I held on to the bitterness for quite a while until a wise person, addressing a similar situation, remarked: Why should you let this person dwell rent-free in your brain?

 This remark had a very powerful effect upon me. I was able, through an act of willpower, to remove all thoughts of him and his wrongdoing from my mind, in other words, to “evict” him from my brain.  This enabled me to let go of the bitterness.  So much so that when I saw this person in Shul years later, I held out my hand and wished him a warm “good Shabbos!”  Since then (it was a long time ago) I harbour no thoughts nor hopes of requital.

Needless to say, I feel much better mentally because of it!

Hope this helps.

Gmar Chatima Tova to all my readers.

About the Author
Rabbi Chaim Ingram is the author of four books on Judaism and honorary rabbi of Sydney Jewish Centre on Ageing.
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