In a few hours, Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, will begin. For the past few years, I have attended Kol Nidrei services on the eve of Yom Kippur, not at the synagogue where I usually pray, but at the local community centre where the service is always followed by an open discussion. The subject tonight is “What am I (not) prepared to forgive?”
I started thinking about that and I realised that it is not always easy to distinguish between forgiveness and forgetfulness. I think of people who have injured me by word or deed over the years and even if I forgive them – or think I have – I have not forgotten what they did. So – does that mean I have not truly forgiven them? That I still bear a grudge?
What, in fact, is the essence of forgiveness? What does it mean?
One says: “Forgive and forget”. But not always. Sometimes we say: “Forgive – but do not forget.” In other cases, such as when we speak of the Holocaust, for example, we say plainly: “We do not forgive. We do not forget.”
Those who tried to destroy us, we do not forget.
We are not a People who forgets. We remember – everything. We are enjoined to remember Amalek. And this was in the sense of taking revenge. King Saul was commanded by God to wipe out the very name of Amalek but disobeyed and spared their king, Agag, who was then executed by the Prophet Samuel.
We even institute festivals and fasts, for the purpose of remembering. On Tisha B’Av, we remember how our enemies (first the Babylonians, then the Romans) destroyed our holy Temple and crushed our nation. On Purim, we remember our deliverance from Haman who attempted to exterminate the entire Jewish nation. Coincidentally (or not), Haman was a descendant of the Amalekite king whom Saul spared. And we celebrate (there is no other word for it) his downfall. Or are we celebrating our deliverance, rather than the fact that our enemy got his just deserts? I suppose it depends on your point of view.
So – is it possible to forgive and yet remember? Is it truly possible to wipe the slate clean of the wish for revenge, or at least restitution, while retaining the memory of the injury? Does the answer to this question depend on the degree of injury?
What do you think?
Gmar Hatima Tova גמר חתימה טובה