In Jewish thought and practice, the focus is on repentance, on Teshuva, asking for forgiveness as opposed to the importance of forgiving. We are now in the season of repentance as we prepare for the High Holy Days- Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, with the days in between known as the "10 days of repentance". The source of the word Teshuva (repentance) is lashuv, to return to ones potential and a just path of living. The Torah is full of stories of people going "off the path" and attempting to return.
1. Kain and Abel- Kain takes no responsibility
2. Jacob and Esav- Jacob struggles with his actions for his whole life and eventually leads to their embrace
3. Joseph believes his brothers have changed and seemingly forgives them although he uses exclusionary language, only to learn that they feared him and did not accept his forgiveness and they fear him after the death of their father.
Jewish law distinguishes between two form of "sins" or transgressions. Bein Adam Lamakom and Bein Adam Lechavoro- between an individual and God and between an individual and another individual. Repentance requires several steps as discussed by Maimonides. Teshuva is actually a process of self-evaluation and self-improvement. The Rambam enumerates four primary steps to the teshuva process:
1. Recognize and discontinue the improper action.
2. Verbally confess the action, thus giving the action a concrete form in your own mind.
3. Regret the action. Evaluate the negative impact this action may have had on yourself or on others.
4. Determine never to repeat the action. Picture a better way to handle it. There are two different types of transgressions: those between a person and God and those between one person and another.
Teshuva for a sin between a person and God: When one has transgressed a mitzvah that does not affect another person, the teshuva is purely between the person and God; and the four steps listed above are all that are necessary for the repentance process.
Teshuva for a sin between one person and another: When one has caused harm to others, whether by stealing from them, embarrassing them or anything else, then teshuva requires that restitution and reconciliation be arranged between the parties involved. The damaged party must forgive the perpetrator before Divine forgiveness is granted.
However, a person is only obligated to ask for forgiveness three times. After three refusals, the person is no longer held accountable for that action, as he/she has proven their true regret. The person who will not accept a sincere apology after three requests for forgiveness, however, is guilty of bearing a grudge.
A Prayer for the Days of Awe- NY Times
By Elie Wiesel
Oct. 2, 1997
Master of the Universe, let us make up. It is time. How long can we go on being angry?
More than 50 years have passed since the nightmare was lifted. ..
Oh, they do not forgive the killers and their accomplices, nor should they. Nor should you, Master of the Universe. But they no longer look at every passer-by with suspicion. Nor do they see a dagger in every hand.
Does this mean that the wounds in their soul have healed? They will never heal. As long as a spark of the flames of Auschwitz and Treblinka glows in their memory, so long will my joy be incomplete.
What about my faith in you, Master of the Universe?
I now realize I never lost it, not even over there, during the darkest hours of my life. I don't know why I kept on whispering my daily prayers, and those one reserves for the Sabbath, and for the holidays, but I did recite them, often with my father and, on Rosh ha-Shanah eve, with hundreds of inmates at Auschwitz. Was it because the prayers remained a link to the vanished world of my childhood?
But my faith was no longer pure. How could it be? It was filled with anguish rather than fervor, with perplexity more than piety. In the kingdom of eternal night, on the Days of Awe, which are the Days of Judgment, my traditional prayers were directed to you as well as against you, Master of the Universe. What hurt me more: your absence or your silence?
In my testimony I have written harsh words, burning words about your role in our tragedy. I would not repeat them today. But I felt them then. I felt them in every cell of my being. Why did you allow if not enable the killer day after day, night after night to torment, kill and annihilate tens of thousands of Jewish children? Why were they abandoned by your Creation? These thoughts were in no way destined to diminish the guilt of the guilty. Their established culpability is irrelevant to my ''problem'' with you, Master of the Universe. In my childhood I did not expect much from human beings. But I expected everything from you.
Where were you, God of kindness, in Auschwitz? What was going on in heaven, at the celestial tribunal, while your children were marked for humiliation, isolation and death only because they were Jewish?
These questions have been haunting me for more than five decades. You have vocal defenders, you know. Many theological answers were given me, such as: ''God is God. He alone knows what He is doing. One has no right to question Him or His ways.'' Or: ''Auschwitz was a punishment for European Jewry's sins of assimilation and/or Zionism.'' And: ''Isn't Israel the solution? Without Auschwitz, there would have been no Israel.''
I reject all these answers. Auschwitz must and will forever remain a question mark only: it can be conceived neither with God nor without God. At one point, I began wondering whether I was not unfair with you. After all, Auschwitz was not something that came down ready-made from heaven. It was conceived by men, implemented by men, staffed by men. And their aim was to destroy not only us but you as well. Ought we not to think of your pain, too? Watching your children suffer at the hands of your other children, haven't you also suffered?
As we Jews now enter the High Holidays again, preparing ourselves to pray for a year of peace and happiness for our people and all people, let us make up, Master of the Universe. In spite of everything that happened? Yes, in spite. Let us make up: for the child in me, it is unbearable to be divorced from you so long.