Hard as it is, forgiveness lets go of hurtful anger

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Shalom and peace.

Many themes and even verses are held in common by Judaism and Christianity. With Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement and the holiest day of the year, having just been observed last week, let's consider the theme of forgiveness.

Matthew 6:14-15 reads: "For if you forgive men their trespasses, your Heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will God forgive your trespasses."

About 500 years before Matthew, in the oral tradition of the Talmud, Rosh Hashanah 17a teaches: "Only if you forgive others will God forgive you," and "One who is merciful toward others, God will be merciful toward him (Shabbat 151b)."

Forgiving is hard, especially when one hasn't even apologized to us, or made amends.

Forgiveness does not mean we become doormats. It does not mean that if someone killed a loved one, or 6 million loved ones, we should not want the justice system to punish them, and punish them severely.

It does, however, mean we let our anger go, as that only hurts us.

We all, before undergoing true spiritual renewal, teshuvah, have mental lists of people and the things that they've done to us. Some of these things may be horrible, but for the most part it is a lot of petty stuff.

Yet, look at the power that we allowed these people and their actions to have over us. We became angry and bitter. We let this stand in the way of our happiness. Holding a grudge is a sin in Judaism, not because it hurts the source of our grudge, but because it hurts us.

We must rid ourselves of these resentments. Judaism believes in responding to hate or detraction with love. Do not wait until asked for forgiveness to forgive. With our list of resentments in our minds, hearts and souls, ask God to help us forgive everybody.

If we continue to have problems with one or two on our list, pray to God. Forgiveness is the opposite of holding a grudge and hating.

Mind you, this is not to say that this person has been given a pass on doing teshuvah (making amends). That is between him and God, and maybe the courts, but it is out of our thoughts. Why keep someone in our head who is taking up room but not paying rent?

Rabbi Arthur Segal is an international lecturer, author, and teacher. Visit him at www.JewishSpiritualRenewal.org or email RabbiASegal@aol.com.

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