Quiet often we are instructed to feel obligated to forgive our loved ones and other relations. As I wrote in the previous post, it is important to act in a Godly manner and bypass anger with forgiveness and mercy. Rarely do I hear discussions about the severe negative impact that non-forgiveness has on the person who is not granted forgiveness.
It is important to focus on what goes on with a person who was not forgiven. Recently I met with Sara (not her real name) who shared a very painful story about not being forgiven by (what was) her best friend -- a story full of anger, sadness and toxic energy.
In Sara’s description, the mere thought of this person gives her pain. She said: “I feel like a knife is stubbing my heart every time I am around this individual.” I tried to re-direct her attention from painful feeling of “not being forgiven” to a more positive understanding of it, but Sara kept expressing her anger and sadness. I also sensed her deep mourning for the loss of this friendship by holding onto grievance. In a way, she has been forced to keep this individual in her life, while in fact - he is no longer a part of it.
Sara claims that in order to obtain forgiveness, she acted according to the Jewish ethical law. She sincerely apologized three times for the wrong she committed against this friend. Still, her friend refused to grant forgiveness. This law is described in the Gemara, Yoma 87a;
R. Jose b. Hanina said: One who asks pardon of his neighbor need do so no more than three times, as it is said: Forgive. I pray thee now . . . and now we pray thee (in Gen. 50:17 the brothers, in their appeal to Joseph to forgive the wrong they had done to him, use the term ‘na’ [O, pray] three times).
The Gemara in Baba Kamma 92a also teaches;
Our Rabbis taught: ….For regarding the hurt done to the feelings of the plaintiff, even if the offender should bring all the 'rams of Nebaioth' in the world, the offence would not be forgiven until he asks him for pardon…
Sara believes that if one truly asks for forgiveness there is no option but to forgive this person as an obligation; Maimonides writes in Mishneh Torah, Teshuvah 2:10
”It is forbidden to be obdurate and not allow yourself to be appeased. On the contrary, one should be easily pacified and find it difficult to become angry. When asked by an offender for forgiveness, one should forgive with a sincere mind and a willing spirit... forgiveness is natural to the seed of Israel."
Unfortunately, Sara’s ex-friend cannot get over the hurt. But, there is nothing more that Sara can do in order to un-do her hurtful deeds. Perhaps the only thing that was and is left – is to seek redemption and repentance by apologizing. Thus, anyone who denies forgiveness after being begged for it is cruel! The Mishnah in Baba Kamma 92a also believes it is so;
Mishna; even though the offender pays him [compensation], the offence is not forgiven until he asks him for pardon… whence can we not learn that should the injured person not forgive him he would be [stigmatized as] cruel?
I hope that all of us would have the ability to forgive because forgiveness is a great gift that could be given to others. It helps release pain and relieves emotional turmoil - for both parties involved. Let us show this high moral and divine quality in us that could repair and build, not destroy and tear down. As the Gemara in Ta’anit 25a informs us that the prayers of the great sage, Rabbi Akiba were answered because he was forbearing and forgiving, I pray that we could be like Rabbi Akiba and spare the pain that Sara shared with me;
R. Eliezer long prayed for rain but was not answered. R. Akiba came up to the Bima, offered a prayer of a few verses, and rain descended. A voice from heaven was heard to say, “It's not that R. Akiba is the greater man, but R. Eliezer remembers his wrongs and those who wronged him, and R. Akiba forgets”.