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Four Ways to Forgive, A Yom Kippur Lesson

Forgiveness. It’s the theme of Yom Kippur, and not an easy concept to swallow—kind of like that pickled herring served at break the fast.

Yom Kippur is a time for atonement between us and God. It is the most solemn (and yet positive) time in the Jewish calendar. During the High Holidays, or the 10 Days of Awe, we not only ask God for forgiveness, but also that of our fellow human beings…and ourselves. We can pretty much count on God forgiving us for our mistakes, wrongdoings, and lashon hara (talking negatively about people behind their back) because the Almighty has unconditional love for us, like a parent would of his child. Making mistakes is an inevitable part of human nature and an opportunity for self growth. Asking (and accepting) forgiveness, whether the hurt was caused intentionally or not, is a physical, tangible way to heal the soul and clean the slate for the coming New Year. And it’s not meant to be easy. For Jews, this is the time when the real homework begins.

Fortunately, the Torah gives us practical advice when it comes to dealing with hurt feelings and resentment that we all experience. The Hebrew word for resentment is Hakapada, a negative feeling that we hide form others and eats away at our soul. Unlike the emotional outburst of anger, which is Ka’as in Hebrew, resentment is more dangerous to our health and psyche because we hide it from others and allow it to fester within us like a disease. God doesn’t want us to be unhappy or make ourselves sick, and the Talmud is clear on how to handle this complex human characteristic.

As recently explained to us by one of my favorite teachers, Mimi David at Aish HaTorah St. Louis, the Talmud says that if we go three days without talking to that person we are upset with, it is considered “hatred.”  In fact, of the 613 mitzvahs mentioned in the Torah, one of them is translated to “you are not allowed to hate a brother in your heart.” (A brother refers to a close relative, sibling, parent, child, or spouse, and not just an acquaintance). Resentment is forbidden because it makes us unhealthy, physically and spiritually. The Torah recognizes, way before modern day psychology, that how we feel on the inside effects how we look on the outside. Harboring resentment can actually decrease our longevity by eating away at our body and soul, keeping us from being happy.

So how do we get rid of this internal anger and stop holding grudges known as Hakapada? This topic must have resonated with a lot of women because last night we all crowded around a big table with our notebooks and tried to comprehend the answers. Although Mimi is proud to be a Rebbetzin and is happily married to Rabbi Yosef David for 22 years and together they have eight children, she hesitates to use the formal title and prefers to be recognized as a teacher and friend to many. In her quick paced Brooklyn accent, she also starts off the dialogue by reminding us she’s not a licensed therapist and recommends for serious deeply rooted issues professional help is the way to go. But for the purposes of dealing with the little everyday things that can build up to be bigger problems, Mimi uses her Jewish wisdom and Torah perspective as guidance on how to get rid of resentment.

“Sometimes if we tell someone of our resentment, it doesn’t go well and no one is happy. So we need to find a way to neutralize our feelings with the goal being to make the inside of us happy to match the outside,”  said Mimi, who also laments that she has no room left in her freezer because she’s been cooking for days! “It’s not easy to purify our own soul, but with these techniques and with practice, it can become a habit.”


ONE: Judge Favorably. “Our own perspective is limited. There are two sides to every story. One of my favorite sayings is, ‘Although it may seem wrong to me, I am not her.’ The closer people are to us, such as our spouse or children, the harsher we tend to judge them. The Torah says, ‘Judge the whole person or Kol hadam in Hebrew. When we feel resentment, we try to remember good things about them and recognize that we all mess up sometimes.”

TWO: Be Mevater. This means stop measuring, stop keeping score. “Life should not be about tit for tat. I’ll do you a favor if you do me a favor. Stop expecting something in return, and you’ll remove a lot of resentment. If we stop measuring people, then God stops measuring us. The Torah says, ‘Anyone who passes over her own character, then Hashem will pass over our transgressions.’ In a marriage if we’re the scorekeeper, than we will tilt in our favor and our relationship will be more like a business transaction instead of a warm, loving connection.”

THREE: Use Opportunity for Growth. “This is not an easy technique and is a high level quality to learn. If you are in a group setting and someone says something saracastic that hurts you, it doesn’t feel good. But maybe you can find some truth in it and grow from it. Ask yourself, ‘what about that sarcasm can I focus on to be a better person?’ Take the negative thing being said and flip it into something positive.”

FOUR: Develop Sense of Humor. “Humor is a valuable tool to have in your disposal. Change something that is upsetting to us into something to laugh about, without puting someone down. The famous author Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe says, ‘Humor is a sandwich of cleverness and love.’ People with a sense of humor have a good spirit that surrounds them, and everyone likes to have them around. When we look at life in a lighter way, we don’t have heaviness in our heart.”

So on the holiest day of the year, Yom Kippur, we fast for 25 hours and refrain from things that distract us of the meaning of the day.

And basically, we ask God to welcome us back. And God always does, with open arms.

Have a meaningful and easy fast, Gmar Chatima Tova! And save some pickled herring drenched in sour cream for me!

Recommended Reading: Listen To Your Messages, by Rabbi Yissocher Frand

Alei Shu, by Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe