FORGIVENESS


I wish I knew as much today with as much certainty as when I was in my twenties. Then I knew the precise difference between right and wrong. When someone offended me with their words, they were wrong. When someone crossed a boundary, like did something I deemed bigoted, they were wrong. When someone said something I considered ignorant, they were "less than." Somewhere along the line, over years, living got complicated. I noticed that my mood affected how I treated people, and wondered if I got treated as a "less than" because of someone's temporary bad mood that infected them for good reason. Noticing that someone accused me falsely, I wondered if perhaps I had jumped to conclusions with others. Noticing how my psychology affected my conduct, I wondered if perhaps someone else treated me poorly because they didn't know any other way. Perhaps they were guided by what they thought they had to say or do in a circumstance, just as I did. If someone offends you, you're allowed to get defensive, right? If someone behaves badly and deserves criticism, there's no reason not to tell them, even if they may be suffering in other ways. Isn't that right? Or you can distance yourself emotionally, even if they are showing you they actually need you more than before. Sometimes I noticed someone had lost their way, but they were still to blame for their actions, right?

Yeah, life got complicated, in part by my own foibles. People who didn't have the information I had, or I didn't have the information they had, were not lesser than, they were "different from." And somehow, they were no longer "wrong," just differently informed, with a different background, taught differently at home, with different values from childhood and other life experiences. People became more interesting, but more complicated, and over time I found an inability to evaluate the worth of another human being. All I could do was try to appreciate who this person is, and why they do what they do.

And now Rosh Hashanah is coming, and I am retired for 4 years, and have virtually no pressures, and I am trying to think of whom to forgive for their offenses against me, and there's no one. There's no one because, amazingly, no one offended me this past year. Perhaps I'm forgetting someone, but I actually can't remember being offended and not finding the reason for the feeling of being offended inside myself instead of in the other person. It was my psychology, my mood, my temporary circumstances that got offended. Even when they meant to offend, I understood that it was their temporary situation, not some objective reason to be at odds with them. People are complicated. And not always at their best. We worry about major and minor issues; we get annoyed about major and minor matters; we suffer from what we perceive we lack, and sometimes we lack things that are important: like food, or health, or friendship, or love, or self-esteem, or meaningful work, or personal security (feeling safe) and those things affect us, and perhaps we don't react as we might. People are pretty interesting, aren't we? Much weaker, and much stronger, than in my twenties. I could not see, because I knew so much that I was sometimes blinded by my "knowledge" of what was actually happening. I thought I knew people, and not just books. Books are easy.

But age slows us down, and self awareness removes blinders, and then one year, there's no one to forgive, because no one did anything offensive. And for some reason I don't understand, writing this made me cry. L'shanah tovah

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© 2016 by Rabbi Mark H. Levin.