Monday, October 4, 2010

So when are we forgiving and when are we enabling; some thoughts about Mechilah!

We have just completed the full cycle of Tishrei Hagim. One of the most compelling themes of the season is that of asking for forgiveness and a fresh start – both from G-d and from each other. I, for one, take this very seriously and do ask for Mechilah (forgiveness) from friends and family members whom I may have hurt intentionally (G-d forbid!) or unintentionally (much more likely and producing so much guilt on my part I don’t even imagine trying the former!). So here is the question that is still floating around in my head more than usual (which it does as well) as we prepare for the entire year. The gates have closed at Neilah and then the one small bit of opening has been locked with Hoshanah Rabbah and its colorful beating of the willows and I am still quite perplexed.

When does forgiving another become enabling poor and inappropriate behavior, even abusive, dare I say, on their part and to what degree am I responsible for that? Rambam (Maimonides) teaches that one is not to say “I will sin and I will repent, I will sin and I will repent, I will sin and I will repent” over and over again for this is not repentance, which is truly a change of heart. Yet, I find that people do exactly this all of the time.

So, what do we do when someone who has continually and consistently wronged us in a profound way (ruining a reputation or trying to, for example) through ongoing actions (as opposed to one time long ago that no one really remembers!) comes to ask for Mechilah from you? I just had this happen, where someone did ask for such forgiveness. I must say I do not know exactly what my response should be. I know this much – I must not ever be in a position that makes me vulnerable or accessible to the type of abuse that this person has meted out in the past. Yet, my religion and everything I believe tells me that another, no matter what they have done (and this is the most difficult part!) is just a human being as I am and is deserving of another chance. True, we are all flawed and imperfect. True, we are all supposed to strive to go “higher and higher” in our attempts to be the best person we can be. True, if someone comes to ask forgiveness, it is our responsibility to give that. Wouldn’t each of us want and hope for the same from another – I know I would! So what do I do?

We are all familiar with the expression “forgive and forget!” But really, forget… erase past wrongs so that you are beginning yet again! Remember that definition of insanity – doing the same thing over and over again hoping for a different result. Where is the balance?

I actually once went to a Rav to try to figure this out. This is the advice he gave me. Forgive and give the benefit of the doubt (“Dan Lechaf Zechut”) but don’t forget and put yourself in a position to be hurt again. Play the defensive. Give a guarded and conditional apology – I forgive you but will not allow you to hurt me again. After all, don’t we learn “Im ain Ani Li, Mi Li?” – If I am not for myself and do not defend myself, who will do so?

So, as we move into the busy, hectic, crazy year of activity and further away from this season of Mechilah, I will allow for new beginnings but/and am just as committed to not repeating old mistakes. This is the best I can do in this difficult balancing act!

1 comment:

  1. I very much appreciate and respect this approach. I think it encourages cautious enabling, which I never really thought about until now, but seems to have the potential to benefit both involved parties.