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The Music of Halacha: Forgiveness II

In the previous Music of Halacha we raised some of the Halachic issues that pertain to forgiving someone who has hurt us. We touched on a number of the Biblical Mitzvot that apply to such situations: One should not bear a grudge. One should not take revenge. One should not participate in arguments, as did Korach and his followers. One may not hate someone else in his heart.


There are also positive commandments that apply: We must emulate God. We must be forgiving as God is forgiving. This commandment also obligates us to “overlook what others do to us.” The Ramchal in Mesillat Yesharim, Chapter 11, Concerning The Particulars of The Trait of Cleanliness, writes, “Hate and revenge, too, are very difficult for man’s spiteful heart to escape, for in view of his being extremely sensitive to insult, and suffering great anguish because of it, revenge, being the only thing that will put him at rest, is sweeter than honey to him.

Therefore, if it is within his power to abandon the urging of his nature and to overlook the offense so as not to hate the one who ignited hatred within him, nor to take revenge against him when the opportunity to do so presents itself, nor to hold a grudge against him, but to forget the whole affair and remove it from his heart as if it never occurred – if he can do this, he is strong and courageous.

Such conduct is easy only for the ministering angels among whom the aforementioned traits do not exist. But the King has decreed, “Do not take revenge and do not bear a grudge.” (Leviticus 19:17-18)”

The Ramchal continues to explain that the first step is “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Focus on our positive obligation to identify with that which is positive in the other.

I also find it helpful to remember that even if I choose to forget what another did to hurt me, I am not obligated to forgive him until he requests my forgiveness.

The Ramchal describes two separate stages: my willingness to forget, easy only for the highest angels, and forgiving the other.

When we begin to deal with hurt or insult, we must first deal with our internal process, not the act. We focus on our Mitzvah to love the other and identify with his or her positive attributes. We have to work to shed our resentment and pain. We do NOT have to forgive them. We might, circumstances permitting, be obligated to rebuke the sinner, or , at the very least, inform him that he insulted us. (See The Music of Halacha – Telling It Like It Is, The Messy Essence of Friendships, and Tidying Up The Mess)

We must also be very careful to not “hate him in our heart,” meaning, for example, not speaking to him for three days despite having opportunities to do so.

I offer a first sample case study for you to consider and which I will discuss in next week’s column. I invite you to offer your suggestions and submit some situations that raise all of the above issues.

Case Study

Someone saw me doing something, which he mistakenly believed, that violated Shabbat. He ran over to me and publicly yelled at me, questioning my commitment to Shabbat observance. I was embarrassed and insulted.

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