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Friday, 6 May, 2022 - 4:45 pm

 Once, on Yom Kippur, a Rabbi spoke about forgiveness.



After the sermon, he asked how many were willing to forgive their enemies.



About half held up their hands.



Not satisfied, he lectured the congregation for another twenty minutes and repeated his question. This received a response of eighty percent.



Still unsatisfied, he lectured for fifteen more minutes and repeated his question.



All responded except one elderly lady in the rear.



"Mrs. Cohen, are you not willing to forgive your enemies?"



"I don't have any."



"That is very unusual. How old are you?"



"106." "Mrs. Cohen, please come down in front and tell the congregation how a lady can live to be 106 and not have an enemy in the world."



The old lady teetered down the aisle, slowly turned to face the congregation, and blurted out, "I outlived them all!"



In this week’s portion, Kedoshim, the Torah says:



Don’t hate your brother/sister in your heart. Don’t take vengeance, and don’t bear a grudge against the members of your people. Love your friend like yourself. I am G-d.



What is meant by taking revenge?



I ask you to lend me your car. You say no. You ask me to lend you my iPhone, and I say no, I will not give it to you, just as you didn’t give me your car. That’s revenge, a sin, in the Torah.



What is meant by bearing a grudge?



I ask you to lend me your iPhone, you say no. You ask me to lend you my car. I say ye. “I will not be like you who refused to lend me your phone.” Again, this is prohibited by the Torah.



There is something amiss here. For refusing to lend me your car, you do not violate any prohibition. The Torah does not obligate you to do me the favor I ask of you. Of course, every time you do someone a favor it is a mitzvah, but you are not morally obliged to lend me your car or your iPhone. When you said the first “no,” there was no sin involved.



Yet, when I utter the second “no,” I committed a sin! When you asked me for my iPhone and I say, “I shall reciprocate your “no,” suddenly I violated a transgression in the Torah.



It seems unfair.



What is worse, even if I do not reciprocate your actions, and I act kindly, giving you what you ask for, yet, I make mention of the fact that I am not behaving like you—I still committed a Torah prohibition.



Does this make sense? The first guy sent me out of his home with nothing, yet he’s off the hook. I, on the other hand, have lent him my BMW, telling him that I’m not as selfish as he is—and I am the one who violated a prohibition in the Torah.



The Torah, in this distinction between the first “no”—which is permissible—and the second “no”—which is forbidden—is guiding us on how to live a happy and wholesome life.



If you don’t lend me something, or do me another favor I ask for, you may not be “Mr. Nice Guy,” but you did not violate any Torah prohibition. The Torah does not demand us to give away or lend, whatever we own, to someone who wants it. I may have many good reasons not to lend you something—and that does not make me a bad person. What if my car is new, expensive, and I am very protective of it? I do not want to entrust it to another driver. Nothing wrong with that. I may protect my property. Maybe I’m not the most generous human being on the planet, but if I do not want to lend you my car. That’s fine.



But now, when you ask of me something, and the reason I am not giving it to you is—not because I am afraid you might damage it—but take revenge; or even if I am giving it to you, but I am harboring a grudge toward you for not lending me yesterday what I asked for ah, this is a different story. Now I am harboring negativity and toxicity in my heart. Now, I am operating in the dangerous and vicious orbit of revenge.



If I have a good reason not to lend you my iPhone, granted. I am not obliged to share my iPhone with you, just as you are not obliged to share your property with me. Maybe I am right; maybe I am wrong. but I did not transgress a sin by not sharing my property with someone. But when I am refusing to do you a favor as revenge, this is inconsistent with the morality of Judaism. When my behavior is being dictated by animosity and a desire for revenge, this is no good. This will corrode me, my relationships, our community, and ultimately our world.



Even if I do not take revenge, and I lend you the item you asked for, I add: “I am not like you!”—it demonstrates that I am walking around with resentment, hate, and toxicity in my brain. The Torah never wants me to walk around with toxic negativity in my brain, harboring a grudge and the feeling of what a terrible human being you are.



A wise person said, “Hanging onto resentment, is letting someone you despise live rent-free in your head.” What is happening, in this case, is even worse: I am allowing my perceived enemy to live in my brain rent-free. This means I am not in a good space. When my heart swells with resentment, I am not in a healthy space; I am not capable of serving G-d at this moment.



Resentment, it has been said, is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die. As smoking is to the lungs, so is resentment to the soul; even one puff is bad for you.



Resentment is lighting yourself on fire hoping your enemy will die from smoke inhalation…



It is not always easy. If someone refused to lend me their car, Nunu. But if they hurt me, insulted me, or wronged me?



If I am human, I will feel hurt and upset. I am not made of steel. But, as the Torah warns us right in the previous verse, “Do not hate your brother in your heart, you should rebuke your fellow.” Even in this case, we should make sure not to allow the resentment to sit and build up. Instead, the Torah commands us to approach the one who hurt us and ask for an explanation or an apology.



When one person wrongs another, the latter should not remain silent and despise him internally, as the Tanach describes the behavior of immoral people: Rather, there is a mitzvah in which he notifies the person who hurt him and asks him: "Why did you do this and this to me?", "Why did you wrong me regarding this matter?" as the Torah states "You shall surely admonish your colleague." If afterward, the person who committed the wrong asks his colleague to forgive him, he should do so...



Likewise, if a person stole money from you, or damaged your property, you have the full right to demand compensation, as appropriate by Torah law. This is not called revenge; it is called justice. I was hurt; I was damaged; I deserve to get my money back. And I deserve an apology.



And when someone apologizes, we should always forgive.



Forgiveness comes from recognizing four things: 1: We are all affected by the sadness of life; so many of us suffer trauma, are weak, and often make bad mistakes. We ask G-d to forgive us for our mistakes, we must afford that dignity to others. 2. Forgiveness comes from me recognizing my inner unshakable confidence and strength as G-d’s child. Nobody can destroy that inner “I,” which is a creation of G-d. And that innate I is not a victim and have the strength to forgive. 3. Finally, living with animosity and anger is toxic not only for the perpetrator but also for me. When I withhold forgiveness from you, I am punishing myself. 4: A world without forgiveness is a dangerous world, where cycles of violence never cease.



The Nazi Hunter Simon Wiesenthal related the story of a man who lived near him in one of the displaced person camps after World War II. This man borrowed ten dollars from Wiesenthal and assured him that he had a package coming from a relative any day and would pay him back the next week. At week’s end, he had an excuse for not paying. And the next week, he had an even better one, and so it went for almost a year.



Finally, one day, the man came up to him with a ten-dollar bill in his hand and said. “My visa has just come through. I’m leaving for Canada tomorrow. Here are the ten dollars I owe you.”



But Wiesenthal waved him away: “No, keep it. For ten dollars, it’s not worth changing my opinion of you.”



Wiesenthal was a fine man, but he might have been wrong, though I would never judge his response till I have not been in his shoes. He could have gotten a bargain! To give up a grudge for ten dollars.



You think that by not forgiving, you hold power over that individual who pained you, yet if you let it go, if you give it up, you can begin to realize that, by your choosing not to forgive, this individual holds that power over you.



Sometimes, people will step up to the plate and apologize, and make amends. Sometimes, they will not.



As we said, that is called justice, not revenge. But never resort to revenge, and you must do all you can not live with resentment, bitterness, and hate.



Wrong must be punished, but only after it has been established by a fair trial. This is not revenge; it is justice.



There is a very real reward even here on earth, for those who forgive. And that is healing. Our bodies and souls cannot contain bitterness, resentment, and rage toward another human being and experience healing too. Our vessel cannot contain both. When we release the bitterness, then the healing process begins.



Forgiveness is your decision to no longer hate the offender. It is letting go of your vengeful thoughts, your venom, and your hatred to healing yourself. It is the greatest gift to yourself.



“Vengeance is mine,” says G-d. If payback is due to your offender, G-d can and will do a much better job than you could ever do! Let go and let G-d do the revenge.



Of course, we need not be helpless victims of those who have malicious designs on us. We must protect ourselves from being hurt and do all we can to prevent acts of evil. When someone comes to kill you, says the Talmud, kill him first. We must pursue and punish evildoers.



Especially today, as Jew-haters are springing up like mushrooms after a rain, we must never confuse safety and justice with revenge. Our first and greatest priority is to protect innocent life and to hunt down people who want to murder.



But we do not live with a yearning for revenge. We leave that for G-d.



May Hashem remember us for good, together with the other righteous of the world, and may He redress the spilled blood of His servants, speedily in our days.







Shabbat Shalom,





Rabbi Yoseph Geisinsky


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