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לימוד תורה

Parshat Nitzavim - Rabbi Eliezer Shenvald

"G-d will not agree to forgive him. For then G-d's wrath and jealousy will smoke against that man, and all the curses written in this book will rest upon him…" (Devarim 29:19)

Forgiveness is one of the foundation stones of the mutual relationships between man and his fellow men, and between man and G-d. However, in extreme circumstances, when a man acts in a manner that is unforgivable, then even G-d's infinite forgiveness is impossible.

During the days of Teshuva and forgiveness during the month of Elul, it is fitting to dedicate thought to forgiveness between man and his fellow man, and between G-d and man. Despite the difference, they share common features, and for this reason the Rambam considered it proper to include Teshuva and forgiveness between men in the chapter that deals with Teshuva and between man and G-d. (Rambam, Hilchot Teshuva, ch. 2)

Forgiveness is one of the challenges is the mutual relationships between man and his fellow. Man is close to himself, to his needs and feelings, and he attends to them before he notices his fellow man and his surroundings. However, man depends on his surroundings and cannot survive without interacting with them. These relationships create wondrous connections of friendship and reciprocity, however they are also liable to cause friction and offense which result in alienation and conflict between people.

Offense causes different feelings in the offended. Sometimes it is difficult to forget the injury and to forgive, and sometimes the offense and the insult motivate the injured party to seek revenge and to hold a grudge. These feelings intensify the alienation.

The axiom "two hold onto" (like an object) is true regarding "forgiveness." On one hand there is the offender – whose apology is necessary to amend and to reduce the damage he caused, and to alleviate the victim's sense of injury. On the other hand is the injured, who requires the ability to forgive in order to not intensify the damage done.

Man's "ego" makes it difficult for him to apologize, and it causes him to see this as a kind of humiliation. As far back as Adam, man found it difficult to admit his mistake - that he did an unworthy deed and to take responsibility. Apologizing and asking forgiveness seemingly puts him at a moral disadvantage before the injured party. Therefore the offender tends to "entrench" himself and justify the act he has done.

On the other hand, it is also difficult for the offended person to forgive. The hurt feelings make it difficult to "give in" to the offender and to open a new page. He attempts to distance himself as much as possible from the offender. Sometimes his passion for revenge will lead him to exact the highest possible "price tag" for the injustice done him. Or he may think that the apology isn't sincere, and is entirely superficial.

Asking for forgiveness is a difficult, noble act which requires overcoming one's "ego." On one hand it is a mitzvah "between man and his friend," but no less than that, it is a mitzvah "between man and himself." Man is required to repair the damage he did to his spiritual world by offending his friend, and to examine what is the "root" that brought him to cause this offense, whether it was a lack of appreciation and awareness of the other, or not being careful and sensitive enough.

This point is best illustrated when the offended person dies before the offender has the chance to ask him for forgiveness: "One who sins to his friend and the friend dies before he asks forgiveness, he must convene ten people at the grave and say before them: 'I have sinned to G-d the Lord of Israel and to this person by doing such and such to him.'" (Rambam, Hilchot Teshuva 2, 11)

He doesn't ask forgiveness from his friend who is no longer, but he confesses before people and before G-d. This way he amends the moral offense "between man and himself."

Accepting an apology is also a noble act, where man cleaves to the attributes of G-d "the Master of Forgiveness" whose infinite forgiveness is boundless and incalculable. G-d requires no "compensation" for offenses, and even though we make the same mistakes again and again, He responds (to our appeals for forgiveness) and says: "I have forgiven as you requested." This is a characteristic which is uniquely required from Am Israel: "A man is forbidden to be cruel and refuse to be appeased, but he should be easy to placate and (conversely) difficult to anger, and when the offender asks his forgiveness, he must forgive him willingly and with a whole heart. And even if he caused him distress and sinned gravely against him, he must not seek revenge or hold a grudge, and this is the way of the generations of Israel and their proper heart." (ibid, 2,10)

Forgiveness is also a cornerstone of the mutual relationship between man and his Creator. However, the Rambam doesn't mention there (in Hilchot Teshuva) the necessity to ask forgiveness when doing Teshuva on sins between man and G-d, but only in Sefer HaMitzvot: "This is what He commanded us, to confess the sins and iniquities we transgressed before G-d, and to recount them along with the repentance, and this is the vidui (confession), and the intention is that he should say: 'Please, G-d, I have sinned and transgressed and committed (the following) crimes…' and he should elaborate and ask forgiveness for this according to his verbal ability." (Positive Command 73) Perhaps this omission in Hilchot Teshuva is the Rambam's way to negate the possible thought of "punishing" G-d – as if He "is hurt" by us when we sin, and we have to appease Him. Therefore he mentioned there only the obligation to confess. Nevertheless, despite the difference, common features can be discerned there between Teshuva between man and G-d and Teshuva between man and his fellow man.

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