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Must I Forgive Everyone?

Must I Forgive Everyone?



How can you forgive someone that really hurt you especially if it is someone close, and the trust between you has been shattered?


Forgiveness is not a single action that you begin and complete in a short time. Forgiveness is a multi-layered process and a long journey where we slowly progress and move towards the goal.

In an essay on the topic, the Lubavitcher Rebbe explains that there are three levels of forgiveness:

1) We don't wish the person any harm and we even pray for their wellbeing. At this basic level of forgiveness we might still be upset, feel hurt or even angry. Yet we find it within ourselves not to hope for the person's downfall and not feel the need for revenge.

Forgiveness is not a single action that you begin and complete in a short time

2) We stop being angry. At this second stage we might not be ready to relate to the person as we did before, but we are able to move on and let go to the point where we no longer carry feelings of anger and resentment on any level.

3) Restoring the relationship. At this final stage the forgiveness is complete. Not only have we forgiven the individual but we have totally understood and reaccepted him or her. We are now ready to be as close to the offending person as before.

The Talmud explains that even if someone has hurt us terribly, it is expected of us to find the strength to forgive them at least on the first level. Absence of any forgiveness whatsoever is a sign of cruelty. Wishing badly on someone and the desire for revenge represents a weakness of personality that requires rectification.

A more difficult form of forgiveness is the second stage, where we cease to feel hurt or anger. If we have been hurt or betrayed we might need time and hard work to rid ourselves of negative feelings. It could be a long process of healing and soul searching, until the feelings of resentment actually disappear from our heart and soul.

The ideal form of forgiveness is the third level where we restore the relationship. However, it must be pointed out that this is not always possible. Some relationships are so toxic that the responsible thing is to walk away from them. But we don't need to take an "all or nothing" approach. If restoring the relationship is impossible it is not always necessary to terminate all contact or become antagonistic. We can still achieve a more basic level of forgiveness by wishing them well. We can still cease being angry and give them basic respect. We can still greet them when we see them and give them the dignity that every human being deserves.

Every small improvement in our relationship is significant, has a profound effect and generates happiness. Take the first step now.

Based on Likutei Sichot vol. 28, p. 141ff.
Rabbi Michoel Gourarie lectures on a wide range of topics with a special emphasis on Personal Growth and Self Development, including self esteem, communication and relationship building. He is the director of "Bina" in Sydney, Australia.
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Discussion (40)
March 14, 2017
to Adele
Bless you that you can forgive all enemies.
I, on the other hand, will never, ever forgive the perpetrators of the Holocaust.
Good for you that you can say "OK, although you murdered millions of innocent men, women and children, you're OK by me." A Jewish person you will never be.
louise leon
PA, Usa
January 10, 2017
Besides forgiving our enemies we bless them too. This may be hard to do, to bless them. But we must.
adele mandagie
October 30, 2016
Good rerun
So good to re-read my comment of 11/15. Apparently I gave myself very good advice that I needed to remind myself.
louise leon
October 19, 2016
Forgiveness happens on so many levels, love, friendships and even in the workforce – all places where we forgive one another for different reasons. Writing about it connects a writer to the reader and helps him relate to his own experiences. A good essay grabs the reader’s attention and holds it until the end, leaving him with lasting impact. Superb essays often get used repeatedly as examples of good writing and good messages.
September 7, 2016
I have just sent a copy of this to two close friends who are suffering dreadfully. I searched everywhere for the right words and, as usual, found them in Chabad. G-d bless you for your work.
Dr. J.H. Reynolds
United Kingdom
November 29, 2015
change the definition
By considering for giveness, two words, I can give myself a cleansing of my hurt soul and decide that the perpetrator of hate and vileness is no longer alive in my life.
This seems to be the best I am capable of.
Louise Leon
August 31, 2015
I disagree with the belief that the one who does not forgive is weak. I believe to forgive or not is simply a matter of choice. It's my heart and love of God that when given a choice, it is to forgive. Regardless of whether I am forgiven or not.
July 2, 2015
Yes, but this needs to be tempered with accountability for the wrongdoer. For example, if someone you know gets angry and smashes your window, restitution must be made and some kind of anger management training to follow. Can being too quick to forgive mean you are a pushover? Also, people need to be held accountable or might their unacceptable behavior keep going on?
December 13, 2014
It makes a lot of sense why our families were killed in Europe, Egypt, and even in Israel. They tend to know our beliefs, our moral characters and they take a lot of advantage of that. Because though they torture us, we still open doors to them, and though they kill us, we still give them kindness of hearts and forgiveness. It is sad, but in a way, this article has shown me even much strength to keep on keeping on, regardless of what the circumstance may be. Thank you.
Hamilton, MT
November 20, 2014
That's the nuttiest thing I have ever heard. Go and forgive Hitler and W. Unless you think that they should be applauded. That's stage three... Kiss and make up. There are dangerous people walking around, and your advice, taken at face value, can get someone killed.