Friday, 1 May, 2020 - 2:11 pm

This Dvar Torah is dedicated in loving memory of a young Shliach/Rabbi in Hanover, Germany, Rabbi Binyamin OBM Wolf who tragically passed away this week from Covid-19 at the age of 43. He is survived by his wife, 8 children, by his parents and siblings. May we share good news in the future.

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, Achrei Mot - Kedoshim, the Torah says:

Don’t hate your brother [or sister] in your heart... Love your friend like yourself. I am G-d.

Rashi explains the meaning of the twin prohibitions of taking revenge and bearing a grudge.

Let’s make this practical. 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 a prohibition, a sin, in the Torah.

Next case scenario. 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, every time you do an act of kindness, it is a mitzvah, but you are not morally obliged to lend me your car or your iPhone.

Yet, 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. The first fellow got away “with murder.” He has the right to refuse my request. Then when I reciprocate his actions and refuse his request, I am guilty. Where is the justice? You can be selfish toward me, but I can’t be selfish toward you?

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 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 of 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. I may protect my property. Maybe I’m not the most generous human being on the planet, but for whatever personal reason, I do not want to lend you my car. That’s fine.

My refusal could have been for 100 different reasons. By no means is it an affront to you, even if you are naturally and humanely upset that I didn’t grant you the favor you requested.

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 when 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.

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, Nu. 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.

In the beautiful words of Rambam:

When one person wrongs another, the latter should not remain silent and despise him internally, Rather, there is a mitzvah that 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?" If afterward, the person who committed the wrong asks his colleague to forgive him, he should do so…

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.

2. Forgiveness comes from me recognizing my inner unshakable confidence and strength as G-d’s child.

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.

These are difficult situations. Of course, you have the right to pursue justice and financial compensation. 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.

If you can, try to forgive. Yet, according to the Torah, you are not obligated to forgive a person who hurt you, and knows that they hurt you, and never apologized. Those who know how to let go of all grudges and toxic thoughts, travel more lightly through life, free of the burden of feelings that do no one any good. Which is the better identity: a life lived with an unwanted inner guest or a life free to be a conduit of good toward others and yourself?

Sometimes we must give up the need to regain what we have lost. Stop expecting an apology or explanation. It may never come. And if it does, it will not seem enough for all the suffering you have had to experience. Offer the gift of forgiveness to yourself!

Forgiveness is not letting the offender off the hook so they can hurt you again. You must set up personal boundaries to protect yourself from future offenses. It is not saying that what they did to you did not matter or did not have an impact on you. It is not to minimize or ignore the offense. Forgiveness is the process to bring internal healing to your wound or scar.

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. When we release the bitterness, then the healing process begins.

Bitterness comes from the mental rehearsing and remembering insults, hurts, injustices, rejection, and pain from others. That can turn into hatred when we are unwilling to let go. If we could forgive the person who offended us, we would no longer be so angry or stressed out.

Forgiveness is NOT forgetting or promising to forget. You will never forget being hurt. Forgiveness is NOT promising to believe that the other person was not guilty or responsible for what they did. Forgiveness is NOT approval of what has been done. You are not conceding that the wrong committed is viewed as anything less serious than before. Forgiveness is NOT permission to repeat the offense. It doesn’t mean that your values and beliefs have changed.

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

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.

It is amazing that there is a sacred title for each of the six million murdered by the Nazis, following their name: Hashem Yinkam Damo. G-d will avenge his/her blood. As Jews, this is ingrained in our faith. The blood of each of the six million will be avenged for. Justice will be served, by the Creator of the world, in ways that we will know, and in ways that we will not know.

This is the Month of Iyar that G-s heals all of us and blesses us with health happiness nachat and success.

Shabbat Shalom,


Rabbi Yoseph Geisinsky


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