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Forgiveness

Forgiveness

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These were the days before Yom Kippur. I was lonely and couldn't figure out why. The loneliness had been there for months.

Things were good with my wife and kids. I'd been on the phone with my sisters and in close contact with my friends.

So, what was the source of this loneliness?

I was missing G‑d.

I was and had been feeling distant from Him. A strange feeling for me. Even in my late teens I had been able to connect with Him when I needed to. He always answers my calls. Sometimes I don't even need to call. I just feel his companionship as I journey through life.

We share the same disease, so we never have to worry about boring each other

But these last months had been lonely. I had been separate from Him, unable even to call out. And I didn't know why.

Just before Yom Kippur, I received an e-mail from a friend. He's not a religious Jew, though we discourse often about G‑d and Torah. He's a writer and has a way with words. We also share the same disease, and talk much about our symptoms, history, fears, treatments and aches. There's a special something that happens with people who share the same disease. We never have to worry about boring each other. All our concerns and obsessions about the daily changes in our health or symptoms, our latest internet discoveries about new cures and clinical trials may bore others, but are continuously fascinating to us.

At the end of this email my friend wrote: "Jay, this Yom Kippur, I don't think you should go to shul and ask G‑d for forgiveness. This Yom Kippur you should stay home and G‑d should come crawling on His knees and beg you to forgive Him for what He's done to you."

When I read these lines I laughed. My friend is a sacrilegious provocateur. He believed what he said, but he mainly wrote those words to shock me. I filed his words, but paid them little attention.

As Yom Kippur drew close, I continued to wonder what was taking place between G‑d and me. I worried that this day of prayer and fasting would be void of the usual connection that Yom Kippur brings.

And then in a flash I realized that I was angry at G‑d. And had been for some time. I was angry about my disease and I was angry that I was not yet healed. I was angry about my pain. And I was angry at the disruption to my life, the fear, the worry and anxiety that my disease was causing my family and those who loved and cared about me. I was angry about the whole thing, and He, being the boss of everything that happens in the world, was responsible and to blame.

And so, I entered Yom Kippur angry at G‑d.

I put on my kittel and my tallit and I went to shul. I had received permission from my doctors and rabbi to fast. I beat my chest and listed my sins. I asked forgiveness. And yet, no matter how long the list of sins was, no matter how much I sought forgiveness, I could not find any act so heinous as to deserve the punishment that I felt was being inflicted upon me.

I prayed for G‑d's forgiveness, and in my prayer book I read the words that promised His forgiveness. He would forgive me, I read, because that was His nature. He is a forgiver. He loves me. He wants me to be close to Him. And so He forgives me not for any reason, not because I deserve it, but simply because that is who He is. He is merciful and forgives and wipes the slate clean so that we -- He and I -- can be close again for the coming year.

I read these words, nice words, yet my anger remained.

Then I again remembered the email. In his cynicism, my friend had hit the mark: I needed to forgive G‑d. I needed to rid myself of my anger and blame for the sickness He had given me. I needed to wipe the slate clean so that He and I could be close once again.

I realized that I was angry at G‑d

But how? On what basis should I forgive Him? If He was human, I could forgive Him for His imperfections, His fallibility, His pettiness, His upbringing, His fragility and vulnerability. I could try to put myself in His shoes, to understand His position. But He is G‑d, perfect and complete! Acting with wisdom and intention. How could I forgive Him?!

As I continued my prayers throughout the day, with my anger and inability to forgive foremost in my mind, the words in my prayer book began to transform from pleas for forgiveness to instructions on how to forgive. Could it be that on this Yom Kippur, G‑d was teaching me how to forgive Him? Were these words lessons on forgiveness from the Master of Forgiveness?

The instructions seemed clear: Forgive for the sake of forgiveness. Forgive not because there is a reason that you understand (for you may never understand My ways) nor because I deserve it (for the ways that I manifest are often terrible and frightening). Forgive solely out of love, so we can be close once again. Forgive because you, created in My image, are also a forgiver. I created you with that capacity so that always, no matter what happens in your life, you and I can be close, so that you and whomever you love, despite what transpires between you, can always reunite and begin again, clean and pure, ready for a new start.

The message and instructions were there and I began to hear through the prayers G‑d speaking to me, reaching out for reconciliation, waiting for my forgiveness, providing instruction on how to forgive Him.

Again I remembered my friend's provocative e-mail. No, G‑d was not crawling. But was He begging? Was He beseeching me for forgiveness and reconciliation? Was our unity more important to Him than any sin I had committed against Him or any pain He had inflicted upon me?

Still, I could not do it. Even seeing the extent to which He was reaching out to me, I was incapable of forgiveness. Though I wanted to forgive, on this day of truth, I saw that I could not. What He had done to me remained too terrible, too intentional to forgive.

As the closing Ne'ilah prayer approached, I was in despair. It all seemed hopeless. When I presented my case before my invisible set of internal of judges I carry with me, I was judged right, He guilty. He deserved my distance and rejection and I would stubbornly and righteously continue it.

As the sun began to set I felt completely alone. The loneliness was intolerable.

The feeling reminded me of times when I argue with my wife. We fight about some injustice or hurt that has occurred. I present my case before my internal judges and I am proven right. I withdraw in righteousness, punish her with rejection and distance. Sometimes it will last a few hours, sometimes a couple of days. But finally, the loneliness sets in. The distance becomes unbearable. The withdrawal demands an end. My desire for reconciliation and reunification overpowers any need to be right or to punish. And so, without needing to even speak about what it was we were fighting about, eventually we forgive each other so that we can be together again, loving again, carrying on our lives and relationship and family in good will and with a fresh start. We don't forgive because of any reason, nor out of our acceptance of each other's human pettiness or frailty or imperfection. We forgive simply from the desire to love and reunite. Simply so we can be together again. So that things will be the way they should.

We forgive simply from the desire to love and reunite

And in the last minutes of Yom Kippur, out of my unbearable loneliness and separation from G‑d, I found my ability to forgive. I forgave simply so that we -- G‑d and I -- could be close again. So that we would return to the unity that is meant to be between us. Out my love for Him, my need of Him, my inability to carry on without Him I found the capacity somewhere in me. I reached out to Him in forgiveness and in that moment the pain and blame began to recede.

For me, Yom Kippur has not ended. This forgiveness business is not so easy as to be learned and actualized in a day. My anger and resentment, frustration and intolerance still flare, still cause damage. On my bad days it is hard for me to accept all that is happening, changing, challenging my life. But some new dynamic has entered the process. A softening. An acceptance. A letting go. A…. forgiveness.

For, you see, the last thing I want during the fragility of this time in my life is to be separate from G‑d or from those whom I love or from the rising sun or a star-filled night.

I don't want anger and blame to ruin any moment of my life nor rend me from the unity with which G‑d has created the world and that only I have the power to destroy.

Thankfully, G‑d has provided me with the capacity to forgive and, now, in these days since Yom Kippur, he has provided me with the opportunity to reveal that forgiveness. He knows that both He and I, and all those that He and I love, will eventually, continuously do unforgivable things to each other. And despite the pain we will cause each other, we will need to forgive each other.

To not forgive would be an unbearable breach of the unity of creation.

Jay Litvin was born in Chicago in 1944. He moved to Israel in 1993 to serve as medical liaison for Chabad’s Children of Chernobyl program, and took a leading role in airlifting children from the areas contaminated by the Chernobyl nuclear disaster; he also founded and directed Chabad’s Terror Victims program in Israel. Jay passed away in April of 2004 after a valiant four-year battle with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and is survived by his wife, Sharon, and their seven children. He was a frequent contributor to the Jewish website Chabad.org.
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Discussion (52)
September 5, 2015
Loneliness
Separation from our Heavenly Father is such a terrible feeling of loneliness. Being not able to forgive puts such a barrier between loved ones that the burden doubles twice over ( once for each side)
I know how Jay felt. I was there too.
Yet I am glad for it because as Jay learnt our Heavenly Father taught Jay and me the importance of forgiving.
To me it was manifested in the words of a mother ( whom I am not aquainted with ) to her grown children:
" I love you even though you are treating me this way"
So now, because I love my Heavenly Father so much, I am able to forgive. For the object of that forgiveness was created by Him with love and caring. It is the deeds that hurt not the person. Thank you Jay.
Andrew
Pretoria
September 7, 2013
Forgiveness
Thanks for this article. I am in the same fate "unforgiveness" as the author of this blog. I am excited for Yom Kippur so i could pour out my all to God. I felt that God's presence was taken away from me. I lost my business and became poor in an instant. The only thing that i am thankful is that i am not depressed nor lost my sanity. Still, the grace of God is upon me. I am now more closer to God than any other days in my whole life. Thanks for this article becasue i thought am alone. The article open my eyes to focus on God not on things that has already been lost.
Nieve
Philippines
May 23, 2013
To Roxane (commentor in 2007)
Roxane, thanks for being honest enough to express your own opinion. Your comment is almost 6 years old, so you may never read this reply. I hope you do, or maybe someone who also feels the way you do.
I think you are looking at this connection/loneliness situation completely in reverse of the way I think Mr Litvin intended, and definitely the opposite of my life experience. I believe the way you're looking at this is putting the cart before the horse, so to speak.
When there is a breach in a relationship, one doesn't seek to reconnect BECAUSE of loneliness.... One is lonely because the connection already exists, and the loneliness is a result of the separation.

Humans must connect with others for biological survival, at the very least... we are intrinsically that way in a scientific sense, not just philosophically.

Someone may feel lonely and then seek connection, true enough. But the loneliness comes from the lack of connection, not the other way around. It's a (seemingly) small
Dina Truman
california
April 11, 2013
Forgiveness
I have grown to have the understanding that there is a Heaven Realm Authority who direct positive good/right and adverse/s and when mistakes have been realities, the highest power G-d has to be requested to intercept! That the Heaven Realm Authority really not perfect and necessary to pray for them to be directed to improve, upgrade. A lot of experiences and awarenesses seem to back this up. Please forgive if this does not conform to your beliefs. I take interest in and read, study the Bible and have had close friendship with Jewish elderly person who was wonderful with my two sons when young. Unfortunately this man, Henry, passed when they were children. A sad loss to them, me and others who knew, loved and respected him. So pleased to have had him in our lives, never to be forgotten, the affection lives on! Praying for directions, strengths, caring qualities to sensible forgive in ways necessaries and for my sons and others lost loved ones in childhood including if hate/hurt!
joss
Christchurch, U K
October 5, 2011
Interesting!
Hi. I am a Lawyer, and try to think things through. Recently, I have noticed an uncaring, indifferent attitude by others that has disturbed me. On one occasion, my daughter's friend blamed my daughter for doing something my daughter did not do. When my daughter called to straighten things out, the girl cursed her out and refused to listen. That night, her father called our house, and left an ignorant message threatening to report my daughter's two calls to the police. He too, did not know what had really happened. Weeks later my Wife picked up my daughter from high school, & her friend and father were leaving. She screamed "I hate you", to my daughter from her car,and her father just smiled and drove away. Since then her their family has been trying to become re-aquainted with us, and although I have not caused a scene, I merely shake his extended hand and move on. You can't force people to accept the truth. My wife doesn't want to acknowledge them at all, and I understand why.
Anonymous
New Hyde Park, NY
chabadlakesuccess.com
September 19, 2010
You Kippur is over
Thanks for my friend in Brooklyn; I was born there! I'll check into your advice stat.
Oprah tells a story about how a friend had hurt her and that she carried that hurt around her as though it was a precious jewel. She actually hated that person. Then, one fine day, her former friend saw her and said, "Hi, Oprah, how are you doing?" The woman didn't know Oprah was angry with her; Oprah dropped it right there and then.
Bearing anger hurts YOU, not the person who you are angry with. It floods your body with negative endorphines that can really make you ill! People who constantly are angry, from what I've been told, can increase the possibility of creating cancer to start because of the negative endorphines.
Yesterday was Yom Kippur. I honestly feel that I had forgiven everyone for what they'd done to me, real or imagined. One person I wrote asking for forgiveness for hurting their feelings had forgotten about it months ago. Sigh...
May all of you who read this have a wonderful year.
Beverly Kurtin
Hurst, TX
September 18, 2010
I cannot forgive
I was born in Budapest during the Holocaust. My grandparents and many of my family were forced to the ghetto while my mother hid instead. Her father told her that since he is a righteous man G_D wil protect him and his family so he has no reason to worry. All those in the ghetto were taken to Auschwitz and murdered there. How can I forgive? How can I even believe?
Anonymous
Essex, VT
September 17, 2010
I wept as I read this
This article is so beautiful and touching. Clearly Jay had a wonderful and intimate relationship with G-d. What a gift this article has been to me! It has brought me healing.
Anonymous
Ann Arbor, MI
June 2, 2010
response to the last comment
Forgiveness is always one-sided--its something you give, and is not contingent on the other person meeting you in the middle, returning the forgiveness. In an ideal world, we would all forgive at the same time, and love each other the same way, equally, but thats not how it works. But, its a privilege to be the forgiver, it completes you as a person.
Rochel
Baltimore, MD
June 2, 2010
to Beverly Kurtin
for your psoriasis, please try changing to shaklee products it helped my daughter and her psoriasis went into remission, also you can try spraying and drinking GIA water. Main thing is lead a stress free life (as much as humanly possible)
I admire all your comments and your power to forgive. Forgiving is a paradox, specially after going thru divorce, etc. the only thing that helps is believing that it was all from above and your ex was just a puppet from above
friend from Brooklyn
bkyn, ny