Shortcut to Forgiveness
Not many hours lie between us and the sealing of our fate for the upcoming year. We cannot afford to waste time. This situation causes pressure for many of us. How are we going to complete our "teshuvah agenda" by Yom Kippur?
Our Rabbis teach that there is a kind of shortcut: . כל המעביר על מדותיו מעבירין לו על כל פשעיו Loosely translated, this means: If a person overlooks his natural tendencies (middot) and forgives those who have wronged him, G-d will overlook all of his sins (Rosh Hashanah 17a). G-d is willing to judge us the way we judge others. If we treat others strictly, that is how G-d will treat us as well. This is not a punishment. Rather, it is the most precise way of executing justice. Each person's actions are judged in accordance with that person's perception and standards. (Interestingly, this can result in a situation where two people with identical merits and sins get entirely different judgments.)
But it's not quite that simple. As Rav Chaim Friedlander reminds us, this "shortcut" is not available to one who forgives those over whom he/she has no power. It is reserved for the person who has power over the one who wronged him – such as an employer or teacher vis-à-vis an employee or student – but grants forgiveness anyway. When a powerless person turns a blind eye to the one who has wronged him, this does not qualify as overlooking one's natural tendencies. Allow me to elaborate.
Anger, for example, is a place where one's middot (natural tendencies and character traits) are clearly visible. Why do we get angry? It usually stems from the feeling that someone stepped on us or our principles. And that is exactly how we are measured! How much we can forgive and how much can we overlook. This may be the reason why the word middot also means measures. Upon becoming angry one reveals where the limits of his/her endurance are. Through one's middot one can reveal the limits of spiritual growth that can be achieved as well.
Taking control of our middot is so important because they not only led to our past misbehavior, but they also dictate how we will act in any given situation in the future. That is why we are judged on our middot on Yom Kippur, and that is why Hashem grants atonement to one who overcomes anger. Such a person has overcome his middot and essentially become a different person. For him or her, past misbehavior is no longer a sure indication of future misbehavior.
The Satan testifies on Yom Kippur that the Jews are angelic for overcoming anger and letting bygones be bygones. For if we can learn to understand and accept, we are displaying angelic behavior. We are no longer judged by the pettiness of our own "rules and regulations."
The days between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur are a time when G-d is especially close to us, and when it is easy to call out to Him: דרשו ה'בהמצאו קראוהו בהיותו קרוב Where exactly do we find G-d? The Baal Shem Tov offers a Chassidic approach based on the passuk, שויתי ה' לנגדי תמיד (I place G-d before me at all times). The term לנגדי (before me) can also mean opposite me. G-d is to be found opposite you, in your "opponent" – the person whom you feel is the hardest person in your life to deal with. G-d put the annoyance in your life to see how you deal with it. And He is right there taking notes.
This is the secret of the Selichot prayers and the repetition of the Thirteen Divine Attributes. The repetition is intended to help us internalize the awareness that the greatness of G-d lies in His finding a way to forgive us. Our obligation is to emulate Him and His Attributes of Mercy. As one Rabbi put it, G-d sends us annoyances to overlook so that we can understand.
Gemar Hatima Tova!
Rabbi Isaac Farhi
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