Question & Answer With Chabakuk Elisha - Forgiveness & Our Comprehensive Internal Files
A Simple Jew asks:
While it is possible to forgive a person for things they have done to us, it is extremely difficult to erase our memory banks that contain an itemized and comprehensive listing of all the past wrongs they have committed against us. For some individuals it seems like we keep a dossier that is thick in size; full of years and years worth of incidents or disparaging things they have said to or about us.
Is our maintenance of this list an indication that we do not truly forgive the person or a self-defense mechanism from being harmed again?
Chabakuk Elisha answers:
It's hard to know what the real, pure, truth is. We often have multiple motives and some of them are so buried in our subconscious that we aren't even aware of them. So, honestly, I don't know our true motivations. But, I also don't think that memory of being harmed is contrary to forgiveness. Do we have to erase the database because we forgave someone? And does a database mean that we are holding a grudge? I can think of many times that I have been harmed, but laugh about it today - the offenders have long been forgiven...
I would say that - in my experience - people who really were sorry, I forgave without further thought of the matter. Chazal say "Kamayim HaPanim al Panim, Kach Lev HaAdam" (just like water reflects a face, so too does the heart of mankind). I do think that when someone harms another and truly regrets it, the one harmed can tell that it's sincere - and humans tend to forgive and (pretty much) forget ( i.e. not hold it against the offender) in that case.
However, should that person re-injure - or repeat harmful behavior - the past offences are immediately readmitted as valid evidence, not unlike a multiple offender in court. I don't think that there is anything wrong with this: Wouldn't it be foolish to allow others to abuse us endlessly? What is so noble about getting beat up again and again without protecting ourselves?
When we daven we say the brocha "selach lanu" asking G-d to forgive us for crimes against Him. Judaism teaches that G-d differs from man because His forgiveness is limitless - we commit the same offence time & time again, yet G-d is infinite and so are His attributes. He can infinitely forgive us - when we are sincere - but man is not that way. Man has a threshold of forgiveness, and although we are told to emulate G-d's attributes, we aught to remember that the key here is sincerity.
G-d knows when the offender is sorry - man cannot. We cannot forgive endlessly, because we do not know what lies in the heart of man - we must rely on the evidence. Therefore, we collect evidence throughout our lives, and we let that evidence guide us. So I cannot help but repeat what I think is the only responsible refrain: "Forgive, forgive, forgive, but don't necessarily forget."
This posting resumes a conversation that was left off here.