Rabbi Neil Sandler on Forgiveness
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Rabbi Neil Sandler on Forgiveness

Rabbi Neil Sandler is a rabbi at Ahavath Achim Synagogue in Buckhead.

Rabbi Neil Sandler is the senior rabbi at Ahavath Achim Synagogue.

Rabbi Neil Sandler
Rabbi Neil Sandler

“Forgiveness is not a matter of exonerating people who have hurt you. They may not deserve exoneration. Forgiveness means cleansing your soul of the bitterness of ‘what might have been,’ ‘what should have been,’ and ‘what didn’t have to happen.’ Someone has defined forgiveness as ‘giving up all hope of having had a better past.’ What’s past is past and there is little to be gained by dwelling on it. There are perhaps no sadder people than the men and women who have a grievance against the world because of something that happened years ago and have let that memory sour their view of life ever since.”

Rabbi Harold S. Kushner, Overcoming Life’s Disappointments

When we can forgive someone who genuinely asks for our forgiveness, we should obviously respond positively. We should recognize and respond to heartfelt contrition. To do otherwise is to inflict unjustifiable anguish on the one who wronged us. Consequently, to forgive someone who asks us to forgive her is usually the right and healing thing to do. But Rabbi Kushner says so much more.

Sometimes the wrongdoing is so profound, so deeply hurtful, that a person cannot and maybe should not grant forgiveness to one who seeks it. So be it … in rare instances.

However, in considering the effect of granting forgiveness, Rabbi Kushner focuses primarily on the one who might grant forgiveness for the wrong done and pain caused him; not on the one who perpetrated the wrongdoing and would usually be considered the beneficiary of forgiveness.

Long ago, I learned that “life is too short…”  Life is too short to harbor grudges. Life is too short to swear, “I’ll never talk to her again.” Life is too short to obsess over how he wronged you whenever you bump into him. All these misplaced feelings and thoughts rob us of energy that would be better used toward more positive ends. They simply enervate us and may make it more difficult to recognize the good in people, especially in those who have wronged us.

Elsewhere Rabbi Kushner has described forgiveness as a gift we give ourselves. Why should we allow someone who has wronged us to “dwell in our heads?” Why would we give them such power over us and our thoughts? Granting forgiveness, sometimes even a unilateral “quasi – forgiveness” in the absence of the wrongdoer approaching us, is a much wiser course and better for us.

After all, what is the benefit in “[harboring and nurturing] … hope of having had a better past?”  By granting forgiveness we can use our precious lives in much wiser and pleasant ways.

My wife, Susan, joins me in wishing you and your loved ones a year of good health and wellbeing throughout 5780!

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