For the Lord will vindicate his people and have compassion on his servants, when he sees that their power is gone and there is none remaining, bond or free. (Devarim / Deuteronomy 32:36; ESV)
We are currently in the time period traditionally called yamim noraim (English: the Days of Awe), which is between Rosh Hashanah (English: New Year) and Yom Kippur (English: Day of Atonement). It is during this time that we are encouraged to seek out those whom we have wronged to ask their forgiveness. What a wonderful tradition! While this is something we should be doing every day, if you don't normally consciously take stock of life like this, what better time is there than right now to make right any relational brokenness you may have?
Years ago I read the book "The Gift of the Jews" by Thomas Cahill, which claims that the greatest contribution the Jewish people brought to the world is the concept of linear time in contrast to cyclical time, which had been prevalent among most ancient cultures. But I wonder if an even greater gift is the concept of forgiveness.
Forgiveness is one of the most profound, but painful, human experiences. There are all sorts of easy versions of it, since most of the wrongs done to us are minor. But when a wrong costs us dearly, it's another matter. Maybe you have never thought of wrongs costing something, but that is actually the best way to understand what forgiveness is all about.
When we are wronged, it is as if someone stole something from us. If I step on someone's toe and cause them pain, I rob them of the physical comfort they were enjoying up to that point. If you cause a car accident, you may not only steal someone's physical well-being and create significant financial problems for them, you may also take from them the once in a lifetime opportunity they expected at their destination.
Some things can be paid for by the offending party such as car repairs and medical bills, but only forgiveness covers those things that can't be paid for. That means that the offended party assumes the cost of the wrong. When we forgive, we give up our right to exact payment from the offending party, whether it is monetary or not. Non-monetary payments are often in the form of emotional and relational aggression such as blame and bitterness, which produce nothing constructive, but only serve to imprison the offending party in some way. The irony is that it is often the person withholding forgiveness who finds themselves imprisoned by their own bitterness.
Some may think that it is inappropriate to forgive someone who hasn't asked for forgiveness. While lack of regret for a wrong is an issue when courts deal with crimes against society, we are well advised to forgive any and all who have wronged us personally, including those who have passed away. Forgiveness doesn't always mean that the wrongdoer will not face any consequences for their actions. It simply removes the relational debt that would be otherwise owed to the offended party. In fact genuine forgiveness often allows the most appropriate consequences to result without the complication of personal hurt getting in the way.
Some may think that this kind of forgiveness is far more Christian than Jewish. I assert that the only way that anything can be truly Christian is that it must be authentically Jewish first. While the depths of the richness of forgiveness are only discovered through what the Messiah has done for us by dying for our sins, what he has done for us can only be properly understood in the context of the God of Israel's covenant love as revealed in the Hebrew Scriptures. God's relationship with his people was never based on human performance, but on his love and grace. So during these Days of Awe, besides seeking forgiveness from those we have wronged, let us also forgive from our hearts all those who have wronged us, whether they seek us out or not.
Here are two videos that vividly express a biblical view of forgiveness. The first is a recent release by artist Matthew West and is based on a true story. The second video is the story upon which the song is based.
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