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The Music of Halacha: Forgiveness I

“Master of the Universe, I hereby forgive anyone who angered or antagonized me or who sinned against me – whether against my body, my property, my honor or against anything of mine; whether he did so accidentally, willfully, carelessly, or purposely; whether through speech, deed, thought, or notion. May no person be punished because of me.” (The Opening Prayer of The Bedtime Shema)

I am embarrassed to admit that there are nights when I am tempted to skip this prayer. There is a part of me that does not want to forgive people who have willfully hurt me. I don’t want to forgive self-righteous people who justify their actions as being “for the sake of heaven.”

This is a constant issue, not only when I prepare to recite the above prayer before I go to sleep. Must I forgive people who have not asked for forgiveness? Am I obligated to forgive them if they actually say that they intend to do it again?

Must I forgive people who done things to hurt me and I am not even aware of what they did or said?

I recently taught a class on prayer, focusing on the 6th blessing of the Amidah, Forgiveness. I wondered aloud whether we can recite the blessing as we should if we are not able to forgive. How can I ask God to forgive me when I am not able to forgive others?

The question raised many issues for everyone in the class. We are often hurt by people who are unaware that they hurt us. Other people can acknowledge to themselves that they hurt us, but are too uncomfortable to directly address the issue or incident. When we have the courage to speak to someone who hurt us, we are met with denial, which is often worse than the original action. “I never said that!” Are we obligated to forgive deniers?

Does the Torah command us to forgive everyone? If yes, can we fulfill the Mitzvah by reciting the prayer without meaning what we say?

We are prohibited from bearing a grudge. Are we breaking this commandment if we do not forgive someone who has not requested our forgiveness?

I plan to use the next two weeks of The Music of Halacha to answer these questions and to develop a Derech – a path we can follow when dealing with hurt caused by others.

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