This is the season when, traditionally, Jews prepare themselves for the Ten Days of Return (Hebrew: asseret y’mei teshuvah) – bookmarked by Rosh Hashanah, the Day of Judgement, and Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement – through introspection and making amends. While this activity has a great propensity for working ourselves into a guilty mindset, the wisdom of our Tradition prods the individual to flex and employ a spiritual muscle, known as forgiveness.
Rabbi Moses Maimonides, in his Mishneh Torah teaches:
It is forbidden for a person to be cruel and refuse to be appeased. Rather, he should be easily pacified, but hard to anger. When the person who wronged him asks for forgiveness, he should forgive him with a complete heart and a willing spirit. Even if he aggravated and wronged him severely, he should not seek revenge or bear a grudge. This is the path of the seed of Israel and their upright spirit. (Laws of Repentance, 2:10).
We might do better to understand the parlance of upright spirit, rather than as an exclusive province of the Jewish people, to be a universal credo for the positive, spiritual and physical, value of letting go of the ill feelings of resentment that we are prone hold in our vulnerability as human beings.
Dr. Victor Schueller, a chiropractor and founder of Animity Health and Wellness Center in Wisconsin, cautions us not to confuse the forgiveness muscle with surrender and self-effacement:
For many, forgiveness represents weakness or approval in a way – that one is “giving in,” and saying that what happened is “okay.”
And, he goes on to debunk another misnomer, that forgiveness is a gift to the offending party:
Forgiveness isn’t at all about getting to that point where you say that you are no longer angry, so all is forgiven. That’s not forgiveness! Forgiveness is all about doing something for yourself, which is moving forward, and telling yourself that you’re no longer going to give any more time, attention, thought, or energy toward that one event that happened. It’s about telling yourself that you are no longer a prisoner of the past and that you are ready to move forward, living and enjoying your life as the best version of yourself.
Intent as we are about moving forward into a new chapter of life at this season, it behooves us to view forgiveness as the effective key:
To forgive is to move on with your life, no longer shackled by the chains of a past event that had gotten you down or caused you pain and suffering.
Now, mind you, just as wellness should not be an exclusive priority of the cold, wintry months, we should feel empowered to access the healing power of forgiveness in all seasons of the year, with an eye toward balance and self-care.