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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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Michoel Gourarie April 27, 2017

Just to Clarify:

just to repeat a previous comment:Forgiveness certainly does not mean excusing or condoning evil behavior or allowing it to continue. Judaism teaches us not to tolerate evil and to protect others and ourselves from it. If we are the victim of ongoing hurt, we need to take effective steps to end the damaging behavior and to create the necessary boundaries so that those people cannot continue to hurt us. However, at the same time we can work on forgiveness, which means not to allow our hearts to continuously be filled with hatred. Getting rid of hatred is liberating and allows us to move on.
Secondly we cannot forgive the holocaust for many reasons one of them being that you can't forgive an evil that was done to others. We need to see it for what it is - evil Reply

Louise Leon PA,USA November 14, 2017
in response to Michoel Gourarie:

Thank you so much.. Reply

J NYC April 23, 2017

I don't think anyone should forgive or be forgiven freely.

If you caused me harm knowingly or not and I forgive you without your apology, restitution, and a clear demonstration that you don't repeat the offense - then it's highly likely you will commit the action/behavior again. Against me or another.

This is why we human are so stupid. We don't learn right. This is why after how many years of Torah, we still read the exact same lessons every year. And we still can't get along peacefully with one another. Forgiveness without the steps of acknowledgement of wrongdoing, repayment/punishment and a show of no repeat is bad advice.

The best course of action is the cut all ties w/ the wrongdoer; write them off, and pray that as time passes, the hurt memories will blot and fade. If the low integrity, poor character doesn't return, so be. But should he return, he is still to make amends.

We would all be saved time and heartache if we were not taught to aim for free forgiveness. Reply

Louise Leon PA, USA November 14, 2017
in response to J:

Thank you so much. Reply

louise leon PA, Usa 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. Reply

Ralph Mi April 12, 2017
in response to louise leon:

I have to say, there just may be a difference in forgiving what is done to us and what someone does to another. I am not sure you are in the position to forgive for the holocaust. Maybe we can just forgive those that cause us suffering. For others that are caused to suffer, the pursuit of justice is all that remains? Perhaps that is your sensibility? Reply

Anonymous PA, USA April 21, 2017
in response to Ralph:

No way do I "forgive for the Holocaust" as you wrote. There is never, ever forgiveness for mass murderers wherever they perpetuate crimes against humanity.
As for those that have caused me to suffer so severely that I, at times, felt unable to continue, I will never, ever forgive that person.
As to justice....really ???? I see very little justice in our earthly world. My belief in Hashem keeps me going. Reply

adele mandagie jakarta January 10, 2017

Besides forgiving our enemies we bless them too. This may be hard to do, to bless them. But we must. Reply

louise leon PA, USA 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. Reply

Anonymous October 19, 2016

Forgiveness 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. Reply

Dr. J.H. Reynolds United Kingdom 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. Reply

Louise Leon Pensylvania 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. Reply

Kym US 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. Reply

JDV Paramus July 2, 2015

Forgiveness 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? Reply

Kwanele Hamilton, MT 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.
Shalom! Reply

Anonymous Michigan 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. Reply

Citrine US April 8, 2013

level 1 Maybe in 20-30 years I might get there. Some people I was close to and trusted recently hurt me deeply, more than human words can ever express. They killed my heart and crushed me inside completely. Nothing will ever heal me from it and nobody can "bring back the dead". If anyone could've heard me crying for the last few months they might think my world just ended. So, crying as I type, there's nothing else I can say. Reply

Michoel Gourarie Sydney , Australia November 29, 2011

What Forgiveness isn't Forgiveness certainly does not mean excusing or condoning evil behavior or allowing it to continue. Judaism teaches us not to tolerate evil and to protect others and ourselves from it. If we are the victim of ongoing hurt, we need to take effective steps to end the damaging behavior and to create the necessary boundaries so that those people cannot continue to hurt us. However, at the same time we can work on forgiveness, which means not to allow our hearts to continuously be filled with hatred. Getting rid of hatred is liberating and allows us to move on. Reply

lori hsb, id via November 23, 2011

Shirley..... Give it to God!! He is capable!! Once my daughter came home from school crying, a rumour was circulating at her school about her Mother. I asked what was the rumour so, I can see if it is truth or lie. She told me that it was about me having an affair with the fireman in our town. I laughed so hard. This seemed to upset her more... and she said Mom! you wouldn't like it if you had to hear all the sick things they are saying around school about my Mom, and your just laughing! I told her either we are so popular they just can't stop thinking about us and sit around thinking of us all night long to come to school with a story like that.. what a very sad life!" They have to make up something that isn't true because they aren't interesting enough to be popular them self. She looked puzzled. I told my daughter you go back and tell them, "I must be popular, if all you think of is me and my family."(Give it to God! no one like this is worth your heart breaking)Now if, it be a truth you need to forgive them but also yourself. Reply

shirley Brooklyn, New York November 20, 2011

it doesnt seem possible... what if the effect of the others actions still stand? say, someone spread a juicy rumor about you that totally ruins your name? i just dont think everyone is forgiveable. sorry. Reply

lori hsb, id via October 3, 2011

Forgive your molester Only you hold the only power to release yourself through the act of "forgive"..... To remove the only remaining power those offender(s) have and continue to have over inside your every thought in your head. That is to cut off the only thing that continues the day they took what was not there's. Forgiveness gives you back your mind, your heart and doesn't let them hurt you any more. If you do not forgive you are choosing to live with the pain. "For" "Give" it to God, is forgiveness. True Freedom from your offender. Until then... they still offend you. Reply

Anonymous Phoenix, Arizona September 29, 2011

Forgive my molester? Am I required by Judaism to forgive even my rapist and childhood molester? My scars are not only emotional but physical as well. I have to look at the scars on a daily basis like a constant reminder of my innocence murdered. Reply

Michelle Andre cc, fl August 17, 2011

Tzadik What would a tzadik do if they where a victim of a hate crime? I want to think like a tzadik! Reply

Clifford London , Uk August 17, 2011

Re Hitler The Evil perpetrated by the nazis in the name of Hitler and the German nation will forever anger those who love G-d. I cannot forgive this evil and I was born in the sixties.
How much more those who lived through the years of the Hitler madness. G-d bless you Rabbi Freeman Reply

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