It's so simple to be wise.  Just think of something stupid to say, and then don't say it.     Sam Levenson (1911-1980)

Sunday, August 10, 2008

"Forgive Just One Person"

(See an
earlier post for links to sites explaining Tisha b'Av).

In Israel, Tisha b'Av is winding down to its last, most difficult hours.  The heaviest burden of mourning has been replaced with hope that redemption is on its way, and we wait...

On the West Coast, we are just starting our morning, intensifying our mourning.  We have woken up to a new day and to the realization that the Temple has not been rebuilt, our society has not been rebuilt, we have not yet united to rebuild it.  

I was moved by a 2005 piece by Sara Yoheved Rigler, who writes of waking up, two days after his death, in a world without her father.
What else are we missing, lacking the frame of reference to know that we are missing it?

Like many people, I usually have a lot of trouble getting into "the mood" of Tisha b'Av.  After all of the usual little daily efforts to feel focused, grounded, "at peace" with my little world, I'm now supposed to switch gears completely and force myself to be sad, to accept the pain, the unfixable, the uncontrollable?  To be "at peace," so to speak, with the horror of it all?

And there are so many, many horrors, both man-made (rape, slaughter and displacement in Darfur, political repression in China, secret prisons of torture around the world) and G-d-made (severe pain, illness and early death, floods and earthquakes and catastrophic storms), I can never get my mind around them.  

Only the personal stories, the small examples, can slowly lead me to a place of partial acceptance, that "small still wind" G-d granted to Elijah, where all one can do is ask G-d, Why?

I feel no connection whatsoever to John Edwards and his family.  Nothing personal, nothing political. I do not know them, do not really care about him.  For the most part, I do not identify with him, except for one element of his recent statement on Nightline (emphasis mine):

In the course of several campaigns, I started to believe that I was special and became increasingly egocentric and narcissistic.

If you want to beat me up -- feel free. You cannot beat me up more than I have already beaten up myself. I have been stripped bare and will now work with everything I have to help my family and others who need my help.

Perhaps this statement was the most prudent political road to take, and so he took it.  Still, that second sentence in bold feels pretty human to me.  We err, we hurt others, and we beat ourselves up with guilt.... that sounds so sensitive, so restorative.

So self-serving, actually.  The person we have hurt may, in part, want us to suffer in revenge or empathy for the hurt they feel.  Overall, the guilt won't right what was wrong.  It only locks the guilty party into a loop of self-destructive, self-focused self-loathing, and we know that a person stuck in a place of guilt and self-loathing is not really free to love or forgive others.

As for the earlier statement in bold, John Edwards really did sum it up:  I started to believe that I was special.  The rules that apply to others, no longer apply to me.  I can cross the line with impunity.

We've all thought this way.  We do it all the time, and we'll continue to do it.  

I think back to the years following my high school days in a national religious youth group, the exposures and fall-outs from the sexual liaisons conducted between married Rabbis and the young single women in their charge.  These are men who were supposed to be teaching others and setting moral examples, and started to believe that they were "special."   Or perhaps they have an addiction problem but were too "special" to seek the helped they needed.  

(I was fortunate enough not to have been a victim of such abuse, but I have close friends who were, and I spent many hours with them as they tried, over the years, to recover from their experiences).

Some of these men lost their professional positions, after many years and a lot of pressure.  Not too many lost their social positions. Some admitted their guilt and apologized to their wives, their victims, their communities.   Some did not.

This problem is widespread, and one of many that our community needs to admit to, and then face head-on.  But today, on Tisha b'Av, all of that is too overwhelming for me.  I want to focus on the accessible.   I recommend this short video, by Rabbi Yaakov Salomon, who invites us to try doing something within our reach:  

Forgive someone, just one person, who has wronged us.  

Last night, when I heard this, my thoughts jumped immediately to a work colleague who, time and again, engaged in back-stabbing behavior that has hurt me and undermined the entire team.  I want to forgive her, I know it will be good for me, and for the team.  My pain is lessened now compared to what it was.  But I don't yet know how to forgive her.

In his video, Rabbi Salomon does not outline the steps to forgiveness, but I have one small idea:  I can get out of the loop of guilt, get past my own pain, so that I will feel the pain outside myself.  If I can manage to get to that point, I think I'll figure out how to forgive.

To those still fasting, a meaningful fast.

Keep the balance,



Jameel @ The Muqata said...

Do we need to forgive those who do not even ask for forgiveness?

I wouldn't.

A Living Nadneyda said...

I don't know about you, but I over the years, for various reasons, I have not asked forgiveness from every person whom I felt I wanted forgiveness, therefore it's definitely not a determining factor in my eyes. Anyway, I think he was also referring to the type of forgiveness one can reach without directly involving the other person.

I'm sure Rambam (Maimonides, in his Laws of Repentence) has something to say on the subject. Anyone?