By: Rabbi Judith Beiner
My grandmother Florence was one of five sisters, whom we visited frequently throughout our childhood. She was a strong intelligent woman who assisted my grandfather in building his business. But despite her sharp mind, one of my strongest memories of her was that she was always ‘not talking’ to at least one of her sisters. Depending on who she was angry with determined who we would see when visiting. I never knew what the arguments were about, nor if they were ever resolved. But I remember her tight smiles and tense postures as she deflected our questions as to why we wouldn’t be able to see our beloved aunts.
Florence lived until 97, which was well into my adulthood. Looking back I have a better understanding as to why she was always in a squabble. I often wonder how different things would have been for her (and everyone else) had she been able to be more forgiving, and to let go of hurts and resentments that had such a hold on her.
In contrast, my husband’s grandmother Dora, one of three sisters took a different approach to sibling conflicts. Any contentious issue which arose had to be resolved before they went to bed. She’d call and make peace because as she would say “God forbid, something happens overnight and your last memories are those of angry words”.
Throughout our worship on Yom Kippur, we ask God to forgive us, pardon us, and grant us atonement. The unequivocal response from the Holy One to our pleas is always the same: I have forgiven them.
For lots of people, the process of atonement is easier said than done. We admit our wrongdoings, make restitution whenever possible, and then try to refrain from making the same mistakes in the future. Even more difficult for many is to be forgiving of others as they also commit to this deep spiritual and emotional task. How wonderful it would be if we could respond to others as easily as G-d responds to us.
How does one become more forgiving? How does someone let go of his/her grudges? For some, a deep conversation is needed to rehash the wrongs and name the feelings and express pain so as to clear the air and move forward. For others, starting from the present moment, not forgetting the past but letting go of any anger, bitterness or resentment experienced is a way forward. Either way, forgiveness becomes an option the moment we decide not to allow our past to dictate how we will live today and in the future.
Yom Kippur is an opportunity for us to reflect, repent, forgive and begin anew. Do we choose to be the grandmother who won’t forgive or the grandmother who will not rest until she has made peace?
In the Utaneh Tokef prayer, we ponder the question: who shall be tranquil and who shall be tormented? Perhaps this is a reference to our ability to be forgiving. There are those people who are unable to hold grudges, live without resentments, able to move on from hurt feelings, and the word ‘tranquil’ aptly describes them. May we resolve to learn to do the same, by growing in our forgiveness, striving for tranquility.
G’mar Chatimah Tova- May you be sealed in the Book of Life.
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