Thursday, September 17, 2009

Rahamim, Compassionate Forgiveness

"For He knows how we are formed, remembers that we are dust. Our days are like the grass; like flowers of the field, we blossom. The wind sweeps over us and we are gone; our place knows us no more. But the Lord's kindness is forever, toward the faithful from age to age." --Torah, Psalm 103:14-18

In recognition of this the Jewish day of the New Lunar year, 5770, Rosh Ha-Shon'ah is again upon us with all its great blessings and preparations for the coming New Year. Ever important to the full understanding of Jewish wisdom are the extensive teachings about kindness, compassion and forgiveness. At the New Year these thoughts are again forefront in the Jewish mind. Canadian Rabbi, Stuart Rosenberg writes in his book, More Loves Than One about the force and authority of love. Love, he writes, is communal, it is familial, it is Eros, and above all, it is patient and forgiving.

Rahamim, is described by the author, as "a humane nearness of G-d to the offender, a willingness to accept and affirm that person as a person, while standing firmly opposed to his wrongdoing... is profoundly related to much of the ethos" of Torah. He says that the word, rahamim, is accurately translated as 'compassionate forgiveness.' Rosenberg asserts that nothing greater can happen to a human being than to be deeply and wholly forgiven. "And there can be no greater love of things, ideas, or persons without the central, ethical role which forgiveness plays in human affairs."

In this view, a 'first step' consists of perhaps excusing the transgression once, while awaiting the next fault, or mistake so as to pounce again, since it can't be a mistake twice, the Rabbi writes. In this hard, rational mind, these persons of the 'first step' draw conclusions quickly before learning of all the factors; yet mature love asks, and needs, patience. It "bids us to wait and tolerate."

And sometimes we think we have learned the meaning of forgiveness when we have really only achieved a sort of truce or cease fire. "Too many of us," writes Rabbi Rosenberg, "pardon our neighbors, but seek to exact tribute. "Gleefully, we set down a catalog of pre-conditions for our compassion. But forgiveness is incomplete if we can only offer punishments fitting the crime, and not true love," or Maitreya. Forgiveness that is complete and whole exacts no tribute, it requires no moral barter.

The forgiveness, Rabbi (Rabbi, a Hebrew word meaning teacher) Rosenberg writes of is biblical, not pragmatic; it is extravagant, not quid pro quo; it is mindful, not forgetful, and it is life changing and healing to all involved, not only to 'transgressors.' "Forgiveness is the Divine answer" to the utter imperfection implied in human existence. It is a free-will act, liberating all who engage. "This is why no man truly loves who cannot accept forgiveness as a way of life. The deeper our experiences of forgiveness, the deeper and fuller our love experience."

In this radical viewpoint, forgiveness is a wild, bold risk, and a healing, freeing opening to a new day. Its wisdom lies in recognition of our mutual clumsiness and imperfection. Forgiving means reconciliation "in spite of estrangement, reunion in the face of hostility, acceptance of the unacceptable, receiving the rejected. If we are not to kill the things we love, we must learn to accept help rather than reject, receive rather than to defy, embrace rather than to revile those whose lives connect to our own."

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