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Forgiveness is Not Enough

Friday, 26 December, 2014 - 4:47 pm

In one of the most dramatic stories in the Torah, Yosef (Joseph) reveals that the viceroy of Egypt is not some mean-spirited Egyptian, but rather their own brother, whom they had sold into slavery.

His brothers, reeling from shock, wondered what their fate would be. Yosef reassured them:

But now do not be sad, and let it not trouble you that you sold me here, for it was to preserve life that G-d sent me before you. And G-d sent me before you to make for you a remnant in the land, and to preserve it for you for a great deliverance.  And now, you did not send me here, but G-d, and He made me a father to Pharaoh, a lord over all his household, and a ruler over the entire land of Egypt.

What’s remarkable about this statement is that Yosef puts the blame squarely on his brothers (that you sold me here), yet does not bear a grudge against them. He forgives them wholeheartedly. Not merely because they did teshuva, as demonstrated in last parsha as well as the beginning of this week’s Parsha, Vayigash, but because he saw a deeper significance in their actions.

Yosef acknowledged that his brothers had free will, which they sadly exercised in a terrible way. Nonetheless, he did not see that as the ultimate cause for his suffering.  He recognized Hashem as the root cause for how he was treated.  When seen from this perspective, everything was part of a master plan.

It was this appreciation of Hashem’s intimate involvement that helped Yosef achieve such a remarkable degree of selflessness. It helped him forgive them with all his heart.

***

When it comes to forgiving others, we sometimes struggle with two parts. First we are tormented by the betrayal itself. Secondly, we are haunted by the effects of that harmful act. If someone hurts us in some form and subsequently truly regrets it and genuinely seeks our forgiveness, we ought to forgive them. If they are really rehabilitated and sincerely wish to make amends, we can usually find it within ourselves to pardon them. Getting over their behavior, however, is only Part One.

Here is where Part Two comes into play.  The more difficult step in forgiveness is overcoming the resentment that settles into our hearts due to the suffering we underwent (or perhaps continue to endure).  Even if the person displays earnest remorse for the actions and will never do it again, the effects of the act are still real.  In other words, their teshuva may restore the relationship or the outlook we have on them as a person. But it cannot take away the pain that they caused.

This lingering anguish over our own suffering makes it difficult to forgive them wholeheartedly. We see them as the cause of our misfortune and continue to bear a grudge against them, even if we feel they are not the same person that committed that act.

How do we move beyond this resentment?

***

In 1985, after hundreds of unique and highly valuable books from the Lubavitch library in New York began mysteriously making their way onto the rare book collectors’ market, a legal battle ensued regarding the ownership of these sacred books and manuscripts.  On 5 Tevet 5747 (1987), a U.S. Federal Court issued a decision in favor of Agudas Chassidei Chabad ("Union of Chabad Chassidim") regarding the ownership of the priceless library of the 6th Rebbe of Chabad-Lubavitch, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn. The ruling was based on the idea that a Rebbe is not a private individual but a communal figure synonymous with the body of Chassidim. (See this video for more information).

In the Chabad-Lubavitch community, this date (which occurs on Shabbat, December 27, 2014) is marked as a most special and joyous day. The day celebrates the "victory of the sefarim"--the victory of the Torah books.

Amongst this episode’s many lessons, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneersohn of righteous memory, emphasized that this was not simply the work of human beings. Yes, there were real people that tried to harm the Chabad movement as well as the Rebbe himself.  Yet, the Rebbe remained adamant that this was orchestrated from Above. And the only reason that G-d would allow such a challenge to Judaism and to the Chassidic movement was in order for a positive outcome to develop. Therefore the Rebbe issued a call to his followers and Jews around the world to increase the activities of the library, establish new Chabad centers, publish holy books, purchase Jewish books, and study more Jewish texts.

Seen from this perspective, it is not merely an individual (or group) that has brought this upon us. Rather it is G-d Himself. And, if so, we must look at the suffering as a meaningful message and tool for growth. Forgiveness alone is insufficient. The past must be a catalyst for more good.

***

The Rebbe took his cue from other great Jews of our past, including the founder of the Chabad movement. But ultimately, this lesson is taught to us in this week’s parsha by Yosef.

We need to see the events of our lives as being dictated by G-d, even when influenced by others. Then, and only then, is it possible to completely forgive – and even embrace – the occurrences that come to pass in our lives. And then, without a doubt, we will utilize these events as tools for greater spiritual and personal growth.

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