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The Other Side of Unforgivable

The Other Side of Unforgivable

Counting the Omer


A friend of mine felt insulted by a comment I had made. Although the comment wasn’t intended to be hurtful, was not said in anger, and was open to various interpretations, she felt slighted nonetheless. Over the course of the next two years, I apologized three times, including once in a formal letter. Finally, she forgave me, acknowledging: “At least you feel bad about it.” But the friendship was over. In her mind, what I had done was unforgivable.

Since that friendship ended, I have decided that there is very little place in my life for unforgivable, especially among friends, and extra-specially among family. Most hurts, misunderstandings, and even hurtful acts can and should be forgiven. We grow, they grow, and we chalk it up to life experience. In this way, allowing for mistakes and imperfections, I have found that relationships can grow and flourish for years.

Most hurts can be forgiven I wasn’t always like this. In fact, I suspect that once upon a time, I was very much like my friend. I was easily hurt, and I guarded my hurt tightly. The world was populated by people who could have and should have known better. I have had to learn how to push myself to say “I was hurt by what you said.” Most of the time, the other party responds, “I had no idea. I am sorry.” Or sometimes with the response, “Well, I was hurt by something you said/did as well.”

What pushed me to change, to learn how to forgive and move on, was a growing awareness that I, too, am imperfect. Perhaps once upon a time, I honestly expected to achieve perfection by age 30. Now 30 has come and gone, and the elusive self-perfection that seemed just around the corner has faded into the distant horizon.

Now I am as old as my parents were when, as a teenager, I judged them so harshly, and expected them to be much more together than I am now. I am aware that one day my own kids will come to me with a list of my transgressions, and at that time I hope they will find my failings forgivable.

Yet how can I expect to be forgiven if I have not extended the same grace to others, if I have not demonstrated with my daily behavior that we can treasure our relationships despite their imperfections?

The Omer period is especially suited to the emotional stock-taking and spiritual stretching that long-term relationships require. Although the Jewish people were on the lowest level of spiritual imperfection, the long-standing relationship that G‑d had established with our forefathers meant that G‑d still found us worthy of redemption and forgiveness, and allowed us to develop a special relationship with Him through receiving the Torah.

G‑d still found us worthy of redemption and forgiveness Sometimes, it is hard for me to forgive someone when I recognize that she will probably make the same mistake again, and maybe in the same way, despite her best intentions. At that time, I find it helpful to remind myself that shortly after the Jewish people stood on Mount Sinai and received the Torah, we messed up and almost destroyed our new found spiritual connection with G‑d. At that time, when unexpected setbacks delayed Moses from returning, it was the very same Jews who accepted the Torah and promised to keep it faithfully that immediately regressed to idolatry.

And G‑d forgave them. G‑d forgave us. If they worshipped a golden calf shortly after receiving the Torah, and G‑d forgave them, then I can also forgive people. After all, that was pretty big, and G‑d let it go, so I can let things go as well.

The problem is: How do you get there? How do you learn how to forgive when it is not an intrinsic part of your personality, and not just say “That’s G‑d, not me”?

That’s where counting the Omer comes in. Every day we count one day. We acknowledge that today, we are a little better than we were yesterday. A little more loving. A little more humble. Today, I can be a little more forgiving, a little more understanding. I can acknowledge that even when people should have known, they didn’t, or they felt pressured, or they just made a mistake.

For a long time, I hoped that my friend would forgive me if I just apologized again, or said things differently. But then, after awhile, I realized that it wasn’t about me anymore. By that point, it was about her holding on to something that should have blown over a long time ago.

That experience taught me that forgiving isn’t about the forgiven. It is about the forgiver. By forgiving, I move up the spiritual ladder. I climb up another rung.

These days, I don’t expect to reach the top of the ladder. Perfection is somewhere up there in the clouds. But I can expect to keep climbing, and I can expect the Omer period to remind me to keep moving forward.

Each of these achievements deserves it own blessing The Omer teaches us that it is not OK to remain in the same place we were yesterday. When we count the Omer, we make a blessing on that day’s count, which reflects the singular spiritual achievement of that individual day.

Unfortunately, many things in life are looked at only in their entirety, in terms of their completion. Little, if any, credit is given for the process, the journey. We don’t look at how many days someone spent in the college library. We look at whether or not they received a degree. We don’t look at how many buses or trains someone took to work, we look at whether they got there on time, whether they made it before the bell rang.

Yet the Omer teaches us to look at things differently. Did we move forward today? Did we come closer to our goal? Did we hold out a little longer before we blew our cool? Each of these achievements deserves its own place in our consciousness and awareness. Each deserves it own blessing.

Recognizing that I am growing, I can recognize the growth of those around me. I can smile. I can apologize. And I can also forgive.

Tzippora Price, M.Sc. is a marital and family therapist working in private practice in Ramat Beit Shemesh. She is also an acclaimed mental health journalist, and has been writing articles to increase community awareness of mental health issues for the past 14 years. She is the author of two parenting books, Mother In Progress, and Mother In Action, and a psycho-educational novel Into the Whirlwind. She can be contacted via email.
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Sapir Roth Coral Springs May 19, 2017

I printed it out so I could re-read it. Just playing devil's advocate when I say that maybe the insulted friend you mentioned has forgiven you, but decided not to continue the friendship anyway. In a recent interview, Chris Rock said that when his marriage ended, his wife didn't say she didn't love him; it was more like "I don't need this." That's how I feel, at least sometimes. I consider myself to be a loyal friend who goes extra miles for people, and I give people the benefit of the doubt over and over. I recently I befriended someone, somewhat against my better judgement, and things sort of went south a bit...and you know what, I can forgive him, but I still "don't need this." This friendship did not benefit me and, had it continued, would probably have dragged me down. So if he apologizes for what he did (several strikes against him, not just one), I can certainly accept his apology, but it doesn't mean I need to continue the friendship, and I don't feel I owe him an explanation. Reply

jim dallas May 18, 2017

okay, now you know and work at it, so great for you and those around you....maybe that is you who you keep meeting...maybe HaShem?
thanks for the encouragement! Reply

Anonymous May 16, 2017

Well said! Reply

Norma Canadensis May 15, 2017

Thank you for this wonderful article. It helped me greatly. I never really understood the reason for counting the Omer except to lead to Shavuot. This has opened up a whole new world for me and has given me an opportunity to forgive without holding on to severe hurts. Hugs'n' Shalom Reply

Jolie Greiff Ramat Beit Shemesh May 15, 2017

Like Dena, I opened this article because I saw the author's name. (Thanks for adding back the authors' names with the article titles!!) I also was not diappointed, and I learned some valuable things. I remember Bill Clinton said that if he expected to be forgiven, he had to forgive others. But Tzippora said it far more eloquently. Thanks! Add a comment... Reply

Patrizia Luna Tarragona, Spain May 3, 2012

the other side of unforgivable Thank you, thank you so much Reply

Theresa Anchorage, Ak May 1, 2012

The Omer Period This is such a powerful and well written article. Thank you for posting and encouraging others. I can relate to the writer's position and the person who ended the relationship as well.

Still counting. . . . Reply

marty smyrna, me April 5, 2010

Thank you for this article. It's something I needed to hear today. Reply

Anonymous Silver Spring, MD April 4, 2010

Not being forgiven I had a similar experience at work. I said something about someone which immediately got back to that person. When I apologized, the wronged person told me that they do not "know the meaning of forgive." I then apologized several more times. I still feel bad but at this point, I am beginning to think that I have to let it go. Hashem forgives us when we ask for forgiveness and we have to learn to forgive others too. Reply

Dena Gottlieb Modiin Ilit, Israel April 4, 2010

Fine Article Indeed! Very well said, Tzippora. I totally agree. I learned a long time ago that if I want to have friends I have to be forgiving. If I'm going to just be strict on everything they say or do, there will be no one left to be friends with because that makes it impossible for them to live up to my high standards! Thanks for bringing in the connection with the Omer. I like. Reply

lori Averick May 19, 2009

perfectly put Reply

Anonymous May 12, 2009

where can I find this article in hebrew? I'd love to send this article to a very good friend who has changed, just like the author! Reply

Kelly Rae Sydney, AU May 11, 2009

Nicely Written "Yet the Omer teaches us to look at things differently. Did we move forward today? Did we come closer to our goal? Did we hold out a little longer before we blew our cool?"

This is particularly true. It is not the entirety of what we have achieved. Instead it is an individual and personal inventory of what direction we are headed in. If we see that we are spiritually headed up the ladder most of the time, we won't beat ourselves up over an occasional setback. Instead, we can learn to treat ourselves with forgiveness and understanding and extend that to others as well.

Thank you for the fine article, Tzippora Price. Reply

Dena Modiin Ilit, Israel May 10, 2009

Wow Excellent, excellent article! I knew when I saw the author's name I would open the article and find something that comes straight from the heart and goes directly into the heart. I have managed to have many close relationships with people over the years because I'm not a super demanding and unforgiving friend. I'm convinced that that is the secret to long lasting friendships. I never looked at it in terms of personal growth. Thanks for the perspective! Reply

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