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Sharon Becker Jacobson

Rethinking Forgiveness

Courtesy of Eitan Halperin, Jeremy's Circle member

There is a story told about the Hafetz Chaim. As a young man, he set out to change the world. He soon realized it was too daunting a task, so he rationalized that he would be satisfied if he could change his country. That, too, was too difficult. He compromised further and worked to change his city. When he could not do that either, he decided to try to change his village. When even that was beyond him, he decided to change himself. He wrote several books including Shmirat Halashon (Guarding One’s Speech) and Ahavat Chessed (Love of Good Deeds), which have had a tremendous impact and have indeed helped to change the world – achieving his original goal even if not according to his original plan. 

In Israel, for most of this past year, the country has been deeply divided over the judicial reform bill. Protests have been held week after week. Arguments have spilled over into the workplace, houses of worship, and family events. Passions over policies have put personal relationships at risk. At first, these arguments seemed justified, but over time, while positions may not have changed, concerns are valid, and the issues at hand are real, the consequences of constant open disagreements have left many people from both sides feeling victimized and anxious.

While Rosh Hashana is the Day of Judgement based on the relationship between each individual and G-d, Yom Kippur is the Day of Atonement based on the relationship between one individual to another. An intended purpose of Yom Kippur is that EACH interpersonal conflict should be resolved. We are supposed to seek forgiveness from our friend, colleague, or family member that we may have wronged. We are obligated to beseech as many as three times – hoping to be forgiven.

But herein lies a dilemma: We will not / cannot seek forgiveness from someone if we are unaware that we hurt or offended them. Also, let’s be honest, conflicts by nature are uncomfortable. We all prefer to avoid dealing with them. There are so many cases of low-level percolating tensions or baggage that we all carry around. How often has it happened that you have felt wronged by someone, and that person likely has no idea you feel the way you do? 

We can resolve this dilemma by rethinking it. Here are three ways: ·        

  • Level 1: Even though you are the one who has been hurt, you initiate resolution, approaching the person(s) directly, relaying the incident, telling them  how you feel, and giving them the opportunity to apologize to you. This level is quite difficult. One must be willing to become vulnerable, open closed wounds, and be prepared that the process might not go as hoped. 
  • Level 2: Play back the incident in your own mind slowly, with the mindset to broaden your perspective, and perhaps see that the hurtful comment was not intentional, granting forgiveness to them, truly letting go of the pain.
  •  Level 3: During this “play back” you still conclude the action or comment was intended to be hurtful. Nonetheless, continue to  play out in your mind what an imagined apology would look and feel like. Give them the benefit of the doubt that they would indeed apologize if they understood how badly the comment had hurt you. And then forgive them, truly letting go of the pain.

These techniques are based on the principle of Dan LeKaf ZechutGiving a person the benefit of the doubt. This is one of the most fundamental, beneficial, and transformative principles in Judaism. Since this is almost always applied in retrospect,  I categorize it as a type of Rethinking for Personal Gain. While exercising this method, bear in mind that perhaps another person somewhere, who you may have inadvertently hurt, is playing out the same exercise for you. Imagine if each of us would let go of at least one hurt feeling we are carrying around and forgive one person on their behalf!

Every year at Jeremy’s Circle, an Israeli nonprofit for kids who have a family member battling cancer, we hold a High Holiday Art Card competition. This year, we decided to explore the idea of rethinking. We challenged the kids to “reverse engineer” a pomegranate and come up with their own interpretation of how it could be used for a high holiday message. Looking at the pomegranate from the outside, with its simplicity, and opening it up to see how it is made, and perhaps come up with a totally different  design and use. The kids were instructed to use all pieces of the pomegranate.

One child cut the pomegranate in half, used the seeds for enhanced coloring, added wax and a wick, and created a magnificent glowing candle. This is exactly the kind of rethinking that we could all benefit from – individually and as a society. As she cut open the hard shell of the pomegranate to find the glowing beauty inside, may we proactively apply some rethinking to our own lives, both at work and with our relationships. As the Hafetz Chaim taught us – by doing so, we each have  the power to change the world! Shana Tova!

Courtesy of Shireen Nasralla, Jeremy’s Circle Member
About the Author
Lead Architect on Site at the Museum of Tolerance Jerusalem, Sharon Becker Jacobson is a licensed architect with a professional focus on Architectural Project Management. She holds a Masters of Architecture from Harvard University's Graduate School of Design, and a Bachelors Degree in Studio Art and Judaic Studies from Brown University. A mother of three, she and her family moved from the United States to Israel in 2014. She serves on the board of the Israeli nonprofit Jeremy's Circle.
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