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How Can I Forgive Them?

How Can I Forgive Them?

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Question:

I understand that you're supposed to forgive everyone before Yom Kippur. I was told that if I forgive others, G‑d will forgive me. Nevertheless, there are people I cannot forgive. I cannot forgive the teacher who ruined a whole year of my life in sixth grade. I cannot forgive my verbally abusive uncle who made me feel so small over and over. And there are things for which I cannot forgive my parents—even though I really do love them and appreciate them.

Does this mean G‑d will not forgive me either?

Response:

You've probably heard of the Jewish mother who serves her child broccoli and when the child says, "yuk!" the mother responds, "You will eat it and you will enjoy it!"

Well, Mom, if you insist, I will eat it. But no matter how much you insist, if I don't enjoy it, I don't enjoy it—and I'm sorry, there's nothing I can do about that.

Same thing with forgiveness: You can tell a person to hold his tongue. You can tell him to refrain from getting even. You can tell him to not even think about getting even. You can even tell him to do the opposite of how he feels by doing nice things for those who were mean to him—like how Joseph helped his brothers settle in Egypt, even though they had sold him as a slave.

But you can't tell him, "Thou must feel good about this person." He doesn't. Too bad.

So that's all forgiveness means: You don't do anything because of your grudge, you don't say anything to express your grudge and you don't even think about why you have a grudge in the first place. When it comes up in your mind, you just ignore it. You say, "Hey, I'm on an adventure through life, and the people with all the baggage have a real drag."

And now here's a little secret: Feelings are like plants. Don't water them and they wither away to dust.

So too, let your grudges go without any pondering for a short while and one day you wake up and the feeling is all gone.

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman, a senior editor at Chabad.org, also heads our Ask The Rabbi team. He is the author of Bringing Heaven Down to Earth. To subscribe to regular updates of Rabbi Freeman's writing, visit Freeman Files subscription. FaceBook @RabbiTzviFreeman Periscope @Tzvi_Freeman .
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denise salamone September 15, 2017

How do you forgive someone when they come to you and preface their conversation by saying "I have no guilt and no regrets"? I was shocked but calm and asked are you sure to which she replied adamantly I have none. I severed my relationship for my spiritual wellbeing and continue to pray for her and love her but I cannot continue a relationship with someone who exhibits jealousy and hatred. I understood forgiveness in Judaism to be those who have wronged you, should seek you, and ask for forgiveness, not for me to feel better, rather that they should acknowledge that which needs correction in themselves to be at peace. The other person whom she hurt unbearably has passed and never asked for forgiveness.... what happens when you no longer have the chance to make ammends in this case? Reply

Sarah K. September 10, 2017

Todah Rabah! Reply

Anonymous Jerusalem August 23, 2015

Forgiveness Thank you for this! Reply

Rachel Garber Philadelphia, PA August 19, 2015

Forgiving a deceased parent? A few years ago, I found some cards sent to me by my mother (who died in 2000) in which she wrote many beautiful things to me, how much she appreciated everything that did for her, how much she loved me, etc. However, during my lifetime, I was 67 when she died, all she did was find fault, criticize, call me names, dummy was a favorite when I was growing up, and I never felt like anything I did could please her, and she beat me many times, and threatened to beat me in my own home. She moved in with me when 17 years before she died, and ours was a chronic battle. One time I tried to apologize for an argument we had, she threw it back in my face, saying I argued.when I found the cards, and took them with me to meet with my rabbi before the holidays. I felt I needed to forgive her before the New Year began. We talked about her inability to express her love for me, other than in writing. It was a relief, but sometimes I still discuss her abuse with my sister and niece, who were victims too. Reply

Lisa Providence, RI October 6, 2014

Forgiveness on Yom Kippur Forgiveness IS difficult, but NOT impossible!

There is such a thing as forgiveness after death, which means when someone dies, that person paid for hurting you. I sometimes find myself in this situation.

I stayed angry at my mother for some things she did to hurt me until the day she died. Once she was dead, she was forgiven.

On Yom Kippur, we try to better ourselves as human beings in any way we can. Even if forgiveness isn't immediate, it's an eventual process everyone has to deal with, no matter what. Reply

Anonymous September 30, 2014

Yom Kippur You can forgive but you can't forget Reply

Anonymous North Carolina September 30, 2014

the will to forgive I am reaching out to the comment from Terry in Central Mass. First of all, I am deeply sorry for your pain and suffering. A tragedy happened to you, and I can only speak to it, as many more tragedies have happened to my daughter. She too, has not been able to forgive - or even get over the nightmares and anxiety of her torture and abuse.

In the Proverbs, it is written, It is better to trust in Yahweh, then in man. Ultimately, the Creator is the only one who can heal the broken in heart, and bind the wounds. If you can't forgive, perhaps you can try this - ( because wounds of unforgiveness do not hurt your perpetrators, but continues to hurt you). in your prayers, whisper that you cannot forgive, but that you want to be willing to forgive. OR, say ", I'm not willing, please help me to be willing, - you may find that the mercy and grace of our powerful and Almighty can begin to massage your heart. Reply

Terry Central Mass April 2, 2014

Forgiving abuse With all due, respect try having your Mother's husband calling you an "IT," him giving your so-called "siblings" contract with monetary reward for you death. Being tortured, gang-raped by him and my so-called brothers , tried to cut my eyes ou, and tortured so badly that they would be tried for crimes against humanity! I was NEVER protected, my Mother had to work because he didn't. To this day I consider myself ugly and worthless and I hope one of these days I will succeed in committing suicide. There are No help lines where I'm at. And I'm supposed to forgive these dip-sticks? I think not! Reply

Victoria St. Louis, o. September 14, 2013

Forgiveness This statement may also be simplistic and is not meant to demean or dishonor someone's pain. That kind of pain may need direct intervention by loving and caring people.

I dislike forgiving, it is hard work, takes a lot of time and just when I thought I have done all the things to put this situation to rest; something else happens and it reminds me of the last time it happened. Suddenly I am mad all over again. I have found not taking offense in the first place stops the angry feelings and the need to seek forgiveness is short circuited

There are many ways to offend others and abusive situations will require our need for others help and a community of G-d's people who have been there...and back.
Shalom Reply

Anonymous New York. September 11, 2013

Oversimplified, Invalidating definition of Forgivenes Dear Rabbi Freeman,
With all due respect.to say" you don't even think about having a grudge. When it comes up in your mind you just ignore it. You say'Hey ,I'm an an adventure in life
and the people with baggage have a real drag" etc, is extremely invalidating
to someone who been raped, been the victim of incest, other sexual abuse ,physical abuse, or any number of violent crimes , a concentration camp survivor who has been tortured and has seen his or her family murdered before his or her eyes etc.
Yes, it is to the individual's benefit to try to move on, somehow or other.but you have put this in a manner that to me is very simplistic. In any of the above examples
an individual is not going to be able to just put this out of his or her mind,and a therapist would not advise him or her to do so.I realize your intentions are good,
but there was another woman who responded who was a victim of rape and other abuse, so perhaps you might re-consider your answer to be more sensitive. Reply

Albert Johnson U.S.A. TN. September 8, 2013

My yoke is easy and my burden is lite. Thank you Rabbini. That is the easiest, simplest, and most child-like explanation of forgiveness that I have ever heard. I thoroughly enjoyed it and it was manna to my soul. Reply

Anonymous September 8, 2013

forgive I was raped, sexually abused, abused by my ex husband, my father was having drinking problem---all those people I am trying for years to forgive! But I can't! Reply

mb louisville, ky September 25, 2012

forgiveness Being human and Rabbi's stop watering the plants analogy...helps. true, kol nidre focused more on g -d and you relationship. It's important to *TRY* forgive relatives that caused pain to you. I told my father that he, two sibs and their families they *LOST* all privileges to see or talk to me. Sadly, they don't have intentions to reconcile. Don't recognize I suffered as ostracized, invisible deaf person. Dad I think wants me to caregive him/lady friend aging now...she was one of many ladies he romanced during our childhood. *THAT* lady...yep. now with him after a young lady my age dumped after 25 years...all of a sudden he wants me to live close by. Never saw him.growing up. Don't trust him. Deceptive ploy I think. False reconcilation. So...shalom, shana tova! Reply

Mr. Joseph Geiser October 28, 2011

Forgiveness is not just for the offender... I know this article is several years old, but I am new to the site (and to Judaism), but one thing I have always held regarding forgiveness - it's for the offender, yes - you are absolving the sin - but it's also for the one offended. Here's my reasoning.

The offense causes anger and bitterness. Bitterness and anger cause not only bad feelings between the offended and offender, but also can cause physical symptoms of illness. When one TRULY forgives, that it's done from the heart, those feelings of bitterness and anger should dissapate.

My father physically abused me when I was young, from the time I was 7, until he left when I was 10. At the age of 25, he passed away. I was counseled to go to his grave and do unspeakable things - curse it, yell at it, do damage if needed. In other words, get it out verbally and release the anger.

I went to that gravesite, and all I said was, "You're forgiven". I felt like a huge load was lifted.

Does this make sense? Reply

Baruch Ben-Melech Memphis, TN October 31, 2009

Don't water the weeds! I like your comment about not watering the plants. They die! You were a great inspiration to me about a month or so back. I was having a terrible time with some very sinful temptations. You advised me to pick up and go forward knowing that G-d has forgiven.
Just now as I was reading this article it came to me, "water the plants, not the weeds" . The plants being all the mitzvas that lead us to a life closer to G-d; and the weeds? That is easy to classify.
Thank you Rabbi for all your help in my hour of great dispair. I have quit watering the weeds! Reply

Dr. L Newark, OH via chabadiowacity.com October 2, 2009

Being Human It is not required that we resume close relations with those that we think have injured us in the past. And it is certainly not required to trust them. Neither of these have to do with forgiveness, in my opinion, or even being a good person--at some times it may even be foolish to do these things.

But forgiveness is about freeing *oneself* from the past. It is about being able to use 100% of our hearts and minds for the present and the future: OUR future, and the future of those we care about. Why go on giving person XYZ so much of your time and energy? Why continue devoting so much thought to them? What have they done for you lately?

So, I don't think you need to be foolish or blind to others' limitations (or your own). But you don't need to give any more consideration to those limitations other than to recognize that they may be a factor in the unfolding of future events. . . . . I think that looking forward, even with a healthy dose of ego in hand, is the most important. Reply

Ms. Rivka Bunnickstein October 1, 2009

Totally True!! Forgiveness is all about letting go. Must of the times a hurt ego makes us hold tight to grudges, or we blame the damages other people had inflicted on us as a way to justify our own failures. Once we shut our ego, we are able to forgive, and most important to forget. Thanks again Rabbi Freeman, you explain things in a so clear way that is imposible not to understand. Blessings! Reply

Eve Brooklyn, NY September 24, 2009

If forgiveness super human? Forgiving a close relative may be the easy part. The hard part is resuming the close relationship with trust it seems. It's seems to be one of the biggest tests in this world to be able to both forgive and stay connected after a hurt; especially when the other person doesn't even acknowledge the hurt. I know, i know, eat your broccoli:) Reply

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