My first reaction when asked to write about “forgiveness” for this issue of Yashar was: “In what sense?” Here’s what I mean ...
There is the idiom “forgive and forget.” Or should we “forgive but not forget?” Is it forgiving someone if I still remember the grievance every time I see him? The Torah exhorts, “Do not take revenge and do not bear a grudge” (Vayiqra 19:18). These are two distinct but related prohibitions (Talmud, Yuma 23a). Taking revenge refers to the one who was denied when he asked to borrow his neighbor’s rake who then refuses to lend his neighbor some sugar to repay in kind. Not to bear a grudge goes beyond that. This is the person who lends the neighbor that sugar, but does so telling him, “Sure, not like you said ‘no’ when I needed that rake.”
In the va’ad about forgiveness in A Season of Mussar II, participants are invited to stand before the group and recite a prayer to forgive someone. The power of the words is palpable. Releasing the pain of a wrong done to you takes gevurah (strength), emunah (faith) and more than a little anavah (humility), too.
I felt moved, even as the facilitator, to hear myself speak the words and forgive someone close to me. I have continued to try to work on this middah, because freeing myself from the burden of unmet expectations feels so much better than carrying around that bitterness.
My wife, Adriaan, introduced me to Mussar when she bought me a copy of Climbing Jacob’s Ladder at a retreat in December 2004 at the former Elat Chayyim in Accord, N.Y. I immediately read it and asked, “How does one engage in this practice?” because I sensed this would be great for me, addressing directly my flaws, hidden and explicit, and longings for a better life and existence.
I then looked up Alan Morinis and The Mussar Institute online and discovered that Web-based Mussar programs were being offered beginning in January 2005. I immediately enrolled, and thus began my immersion and commitment to a daily Mussar study and practice. It began with online material emailed biweekly, an online va’ad that eventually faded out, and chevruta study by telephone with Gerry Owen of Santa Monica, Calif., a weekly study relationship still in place.
Forgiveness is the opposite of forgetting. Insight can reclaim a disconnected past. One of the most moving moments in our Season of Mussar va’ad was learning this truth.
Temple Beth David in Rochester, N.Y., is a small Conservative-affiliated synagogue with a strong heimish spirit and a reputation within the community for lively participative davenning. While Rochester has relatively rich resources for adult Judaic education and participation for an upstate New York community, most efforts are intellectually or culturally oriented rather than providing for spiritual development. Seeing a need for new approaches to spiritual engagement, Temple Beth David’s rabbi and leadership were supportive and encouraged the starting of a Season of Mussar course during the spring of 2013.
We are grateful for our Chevrah members. The cadre of TMI va’ad facilitators is growing each year and now numbers well over 50. While the growth is exciting, it also creates challenges.
The Chevrah fellowship was formed to help create community among Manchim-trained va’ad facilitators and to lend support as they pursue their own spiritual growth as Mussar practitioners and group leaders. Over the past year, the Chevrah Council assessed the current Chevrah program in order to create a plan for new initiatives. We are excited to update the entire TMI community about the many new Chevrah offerings, and we look forward to introducing new initiatives in the coming year.
As we enter Elul and the holiest time of the year, our thoughts turn inward to how we can become better people. What middot (soultraits) appear to us as needing work? What can we do to improve our relationships? What steps must we take to assess our personal situation and set our intentions?
In keeping with the theme of this month’s edition of Yashar, we might begin with forgiveness. What does each of the articles have to say? Turn to the exercise in the Practice Corner. As Rabbi Berger suggests in “Through a Mussar Lens,” we need to not just forgive, but also restore our relationship to what it was before the incident, and then perhaps approach life with a forgiving attitude, so that we not take offense at what others might do.
In his Mussar classic Alei Shur, Rav Wolbe writes,
“G-d is a shadow of your right hand (Tehillim/Psalms 121)—man points his finger, he is shown a finger, man shows his hand, and he is shown a hand. This is a valuable and far reaching method with which HaShem deals with us; the entire way that HaShem acts toward us depends on our actions!”
As we prepare for the High Holy Days and focus on building our positive middot, Rav Wolbe teaches us “to strengthen our love of humanity,” and forgiveness is one such route.
Pledge to forgive at least one person each day in the month of Elul, whether it be someone close to you or a stranger whose path crosses yours just long enough to cause you some small harm.
Say a prayer of forgiveness aloud, affirm your love of humanity, and feel the warmth of the forgiveness in your heart.
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