Friday, September 22, 2006

Giving and Getting Forgiveness I

The forgiveness is supposed to be asked before Yom Kippur, not Rosh Hashanah.

If it is not sincere, you accomplish nothing.
If the forgiveness was granted on the grounds that the victim thought you were sincere and you weren't then the forgiveness is not valid - like any decision made under false pretenses.

It doesn't say that you have to ask mechilah per se - it says that you have to be mefayes - pacify - your victim, and get his mechilah. If he feels better and is pacified because he thinks that you really want mechilah but you don’t, then you accomplished nothing except lying to him.

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The obligation of asking mechila hincludes piyus -- pacifying the victim, making them feel better, which, in this case, means you. And a condition of expecting mechilah is to undo or pay for whatever damage was done, to the extent possible. Also, if by not being mochel he will be encouraged or more likely to do it again, whereas not getting mechilah would be a deterrent, you don’t have any obligation to be mochel.

All that having been said, even if all those circumstances are fulfilled, it is not obligatory to forgive, but strongly recommended.

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It's not fair to ask a 15 year old to articulate her pain and try to convince a difficult adult that he is wrong. You write it first in your words. Don't try to be fancy or convincing. Just write how you feel, and what you think is wrong here. Then change it around and use the right words so adults can understand.

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If parents need mechilah they must get it like everyone else. But based on the rules of Kibud Av and what they are entitled to do, there are much less actions on their part that would demand they get mechilah than there are on the part of a child. The same action may be wrong for a child but not wrong for a parent.

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Teachers and principals have the same status as regular people regarding Mechilah - if they do an injustice to someone, including a student, they have to ask Mechilah, like everyone else. It is also true that the same rules that apply to being wronged by your friends apply to being wronged by your teachers or principals as well - meaning, we should try to forgive them as we would and for the same reasons we would anyone else.

Even if someone did you wrong, and even if you did not forgive them, you still have to have gratitude for what they did for you. But you do not have to invite to your wedding anybody that you don't want to. Especially if their presence will aggravate you.

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If someone hurts you, you do not have to forgive them until they come to you and pacify you. If they owe you money they have to repay it or else they cannot get forgiveness. They should undo the damage that they did if that is possible.
If they still continue to hurt you then you do not have to forgive them, since by forgiving them they will just feel less guilty to hurt you again.

Or if you will be damaged by forgiving them, the same thing applies. In such cases, even great Tzadikim did not forgive (see Shulchan Aruch Hilchos Yom Kippur - L'Fayes Chaveiro). If people will only be hurt by your forgiving it defeats the purpose. If someone wants forgiveness then you should forgive them, but if they did damage, you have a right as a human being to get the damage undone.

The Sefer Hachinuch, on the Mitzvah of Onaas Devarim, writes that even though there were Tzadikim who were "unhurtable" emotionally - you can say anything to them and they would ignore it - this is not what we expect of all people. People are not "stones that cannot be moved". We are allowed to be hurt when people hurt us. Forgiveness is usually the best way to go -- but in a case where we're talking about someone who just CAN'T bring themselves to forgives someone who ruined their life, or continues to hurt them in whatever way, they have a right to know that they need not feel guilty about their inability to forgive, because the Halachah is on their side.

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Forgiveness doesn't mean defense. In other words, if we could defend the other person's actions then they would not need forgiveness. She did something wrong, she didn't mean harm. She shouldn't have done it. Forgiveness means to cut them loose even though they did wrong.

The idea is that we also do wrong and we would like Hashem to release us as well. And he treats us the way we treat others.

Listen, people mess up. All of us do -- teenagers, adults, everyone. Believe me. That's not an excuse, just a fact. You girls really need each other now. Holding this anger in your heart is easier but it’s not the best thing for you. I know you WANT to forgive her, you just can’t feel it in your heart. Well, you have the ability to just ignore your heart and do what’s best for you and your friend. You gain nothing by harboring this festering feeling of frustration and fury. Don’t think that your instincts here are telling you what’s good for you. It’s like a mosquito bite – the more you scratch the worse it gets. If you can’t feel OK about what she did to you in your heart, don’t try to force yourself, you can’t force your heart to feel what you want, but you can ignore it and DO what you want. You don’t have to let this anger control you.

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First, you don't HAVE TO forgive him, at least not until he somehow appeases you. He is not forgiven until he undoes the damage he did to you, or at least tries hard. Until then, you are under no obligation.

If the reason you want to forgive him is because you want to lose the anger inside you but you can't bring yourself to just excuse what he did, you should know that you can still leave him unforgiven even if you lose your anger. There is no Halachah that says if you are no longer angry at someone that means you forgave them.

So let's start with getting rid of the anger even without forgiveness.

The best way to do that is to bear in mind that this guy has problems. Big problems. And even though at the beginning you thought he was sincere, he never was. He probably couldn't be even if he wanted to. He's probably so damaged by whatever it is that caused his problems (I would guess his family life is a mess) that he doesn't have the foggiest notion of what a real relationship is. The relationships that he is used to are probably so messed up that he doesn't even know where to start.

You shouldn't be angry at him because you should pity him. Being stuck in the emotional prison camp that he is stuck in is more painful and more punishment than anything you could imagine. He's a lonely guy, with no real relationships to nurture him. He's gotta be hurting inside, bad. And the anger and rage he caused you to harbor is nothing compared to the anger and rage that he carries around with himself 24/7.

The violence he committed on you was NOT directed at you, but rather at himself and the world. You just happened to be in the line of fire. Anyone in the place you were at that time would have received the exact same treatment. It has nothing to do with YOU. It has only to do with HIM.

He should elicit more pity than anger.

None of this, however, is an excuse. What he did was bad. Plain and simple, regardless of the reasons. You do not have to excuse him for it. When the time comes that he begs for forgiveness and pacifies you (though I can't off hand imagine how), then you can forgive him if you want.

In the meantime, forget the forgiveness. Just get rid of the anger. What happened is his problem, not yours. You learned a big lesson about life, guys, and that just because it feels, smells and looks like a relationship does not mean it really is.

Don't want to kill him, because just being him is a bad enough punishment as it is.

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There are two issues here: (a) The hate you are harboring toward your assailant, and (b) the distrust that his betrayal has generated in you. I can imagine what kind of crime we’re talking about. The distrust will last for a while. Time will help a lot. These wounds do close. (If the crime was overly traumatic though, and left deep scars perhaps you would want to seek the help of a professional to speak this over with.) However, you can help accelerate the process.

It’s very simple. Just like someone who was in a bad car accident may be afraid to get behind the wheel again, you were in a bad ‘trust accident” and are afraid to trust again.

And just like you would advise someone who got into a car accident to get back behind the wheel and start driving again whether they feel comfortable or not, because the more they allow their fear to control them the more the fear will grow, so too the solution for you is to get back behind the wheel and trust people again even if you are not comfortable doing so. It IS possible. Here’s how:

There are 2 types of trust: (a) “Action Trust”, that is, the willingness to take a risk, and (b) “Emotional Trust”, or, feeling safe despite the risk.

When you fly a plane, you are taking a risk. Your getting on that plane is an act of trust in the machinery, the crew, and the pilots. You may be petrified, but you did a trusting action by getting on the plane. If you have emotional trust as well, you will feel safe on the plane, not petrified.

The more you are willing to risk, the more you trust. Without risk, there is no trust. If you hire a babysitter you trust them. The more steps you take to reduce the risk – hidden video cameras, calling in every 10 minutes, etc. – the less you trust.

Trust IS risk. The amount of trust you have is directly proportionate to the amount of risk you are willing to take.

You have lost your ability to trust other people, meaning, you are not willing to risk getting hurt by people. You want to make sure that in your dealings with other people, there is no risk involved.

You are unable, now, to muster Emotional trust, since it is difficult to rule over your emotions. But you CAN do “Action trust”, meaning, force yourself to risk getting hurt by other people even if you don’t feel safe doing so. You will not feel the emotions of trust but you will be performing the action of trust. Of course, the risks have to be calculated and reasonable. The measure of risk you should take should not exceed that which you used to take before your “accident”. But it should be as close as you are willing to go.

At the beginning you will feel frightened, but as time goes on and your feelings learn that taking such risks does not bring pain, they – your feelings – will be more and more inclined not to fight you when you take such risks. Emotions are very efficient in this manner. They will eventually learn that there is no reason for them to sound the fire alarm every time you trust someone. This may take time, and it may go slowly, but it will happen.

Remember, if you make sure that there is no risk involved, you have not performed an act of trust. Only when there is risk can your action be considered a Trust action.

And do this – get back behind the wheel – as soon and as much as you can. If you want, you can have a friend at your side to give you chizuk when your fear surfaces. It’s OK to be afraid, but don’t let the fact that you’re afraid deter you from acting.

That’s first. Second, you should think a lot about how what happened to you is not the rule but the exception. There are, of course, unwise behaviors a person can do that will increase the chances of becoming a victim – you don’t walk out at night in a bad neighborhood alone with a money-stuffed wallet poking out of your back pocket for instance – but otherwise, the fact that you were on the wrong side of the statistics once does not increase the chances of it happening again. In other words, if you flip a coin three times and three out of three came down heads, the chances of it coming down tails on the fourth flip is still 50/50. Coins have no memory, and neither do crime statistics. Barring any lack of reasonable caution on your part, the fact that this happened to you once does not increase the chances that it will happen again. The more you turn this over in your mind the easier it will be for your emotions to accept it.

It is likely your emotions will force you to be more cautious about people for a while, and that’s fine. Don’t force the issue more than you can handle. Remember that time is your best ally here.

And when you return to your old self, it will be easier for you to forgive.

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You don't have to forgive him if he owes you something. You do not have to forgo that. Even if he does Teshuva it does not help him until he pays you. You’ll worry more about this on Erev Yom Kippur. Right now, try to get your money.

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When you forgive someone, it's over. But you do not have to "forget" what he did to you. You are allowed to be careful that it shouldn't happen again. For instance, if someone mugs you in the street and you forgive him, that doesn't mean that you are not allowed to avoid being caught with him again at night in a dark alley.

However, there are times that you do not have to forgive someone, even if he asks to be forgiven. They are:

(a) If the person owes you money for damage or a debt and has not paid back or rectified the damage,

(b) If by forgiving him you will somehow suffer or be harmed,

(c) If he (the person who wronged you) will somehow suffer or be harmed if you forgive him.

And example is a case where if you forgive him you know he will repeat his sin, relying on your granting forgiveness in the future. You are not obligated to forgive even the first time in such a case.

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According to Rav Yisroel Salanter, you aren't even allowed to ask Mechilah for loshon horah because you're hurting the person by letting him know that you did it. There's a machlokes about this, but in your case where you have to call a bunch of guys or whatever and enter into this conversation with them, oh do you forgive me, I'm so sorry, yes of course I forgive you, blah blah, the answer is, NO, you should not ask. Just leave it and hope the guy says Tefilah Zakah.

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It will help you if you bear in mind the comment of the Chovos Halevovos and the Sefer HaChinuch. Namely, that whatever someone does to you, it means there was a decree from Hashem that that should happen to you. This person could not have damaged you had Hashem not decreed that it happen.

This does NOT - I repeat: This does NOT - absolve him from any guilt whatsoever, since Hashem would not have used this guy as His "shliach" unless that person willingly wanted to harm you. And that willingness is the sin. But what happened to you would have happened whether or not that person was around. It just would have come through a different source.

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Sometimes, we want something from Hashem, and maybe we don’t always deserve that he should say yes. You know what He does in such a case? The Medrash says “Hashem Tzilchah”, “Hashem is your shadow”, meaning, Hashem will act toward you by imitating your own behavior. It’s so hard for us to really deserve what we ask from Hashem – who knows if we deserve what he gives us already? But there’s another way.

We want Hashem to give us things even though we don’t deserve them. So He looks at us and sees if we give people things even though they don’t deserve them. If we insist on taking what we deserve and giving others what they deserve, then Hashem says “No problem. You, too, will get what you deserve”.

But if the master of the world can look down and say, “You know, she doesn’t deserve what she wants. But you know, too, that she forgave her teacher even though she didn’t deserve it. She gave someone something even though she didn’t have to. Even though it wasn’t fair to her. She gave this person her life back, kept her away from being punished. So you know what I am going to do? I am going to give her what she wants and I am not going to care whether she deserves it.”

So it’s your decision. It’s your choice. But you know, your teacher, she has her problems. You can gain so much by just letting this go. You can get on Hashem’s good side. It’s like instead of working for your pay, you have connections with the Boss. And when you have connections, you get what you want even if you didn’t earn it. And this teacher, no matter what she did, or what she is, she is still Hashem’s daughter. When you go out of your way, do something that’s unfair to yourself, for the Boss’ daughter, you get repaid in a very special way.

And in this case, you become a very special person for doing that.

Drop the baggage. Forget it. It’s over. You can get your revenge and give this woman what maybe she deserves, or you can forget it, and let Hashem see that you sometimes give people more than they deserve. Hashem loves those kinds of people. And He gives them special privileges, more than they deserve.
It's your decision. You can't have your cake and eat it too. You can keep her on the hook, or you can let her off. You know what both choices mean. So what's it going to be?

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