Exploring Forgiveness: A Jewish Perspective

There are two quotes on forgiveness from the Jewish tradition that I find very moving (and indeed practical).  They are:

‘Each night, before retiring, forgive whomever offended you’. Asher b. Yehiel, ‘Hanhaga’

‘The most beautiful thing man can do is to forgive’.  Eleazar b. Judah, Rokeah, 13C

But regardless of our faith perspective, whether it be Jewish, Muslim, Christian, Baha’i or Atheist, forgiveness can be incredibly difficult.  We all carry pain in our hearts; we all have broken relationships of one form or another; we all struggle with the question of what to do with the hurt others have caused us, whether intentionally or inadvertently.

In Judaism, and indeed Christianity, there is a very tangible sense that God provides the model for forgiveness that we humans are expected to emulate.  That all of us fall short of that perfect calling is evidenced by our constant desire for forgiveness; it is that calling that leads us to grant to others what we have received from God. Without mercy, in Judaism, the world is dysfunctional and cannot hope to survive. This modelling of divine behaviour is illustrated by these few short words written by a Rabbi and published in an article on ‘Beliefnet’ entitled ‘Fighting Forgiveness’ (read it here):

‘We forgive in part because we need forgiveness. Every one of us has bruised another, has betrayed and ill-treated even those whom we love’.

The UK’s recently retired Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, is a source of wisdom on many issues that resonate across our faith communities, including forgiveness.  In this video, from the Fetzer Institute’s ‘Consider Forgiveness’ series, Lord Sacks discusses forgiveness in the Jewish tradition, reminding us that “Harbouring a grudge, or a resentment, is a terrible weight to carry around with you. You have to travel light in this world.”

You can watch Rabbi Sacks here:

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