When I was younger and less jaded, I came across a chapter in Tehillim [Psalms] (Kuf-Tes 109) that bothered me to no end. In a lament against those who hounded him, King David prays: “may his days be few…may his sons be orphans…and let there be no one doing favors for his orphans…” On and on goes the impassioned plea to G-d for annihilation and suffering to those who, for no good cause, harmed Dovid.
Tehillim in hand I wandered off to find my sagacious father to make sense of what I was reading. “Totty, how could it be?” I asked, “how did Dovid pray for such things, that others should suffer!?” In my naïve mode I believed religion dictated all must be forgiven, no matter what the circumstances. That let bygones be bygones was a command to us. I didn’t fully understand my father’s answer to me. He smiled a very sad smile and said, “You are too young to know that there are certain things people do that can’t be forgiven.”
I’m no longer that naïve. I’ve consulted with rabbis about certain circumstances and have heard that abused folks have no mandate to forgive their molesters and abusers. I was the go-between between a former student and teacher, where the student said she would never forgive the teacher for killing her reputation and taking away her opportunity to get into a mainstream high school – -and the Dayan consulted said there was no mandate for the student to have to forgive the teacher. It was a sad scenario as there was tragedy in the teacher’s life which she felt was due to the grudge held by the student. In the end, the Dayan and the student discussed it, aired the pain, and the student did come around and offer forgiveness to the teacher, but she did so out of pity. I have heard a teenager, upon hearing of the tragedy of a former classmate say, “Good. You have no idea how she made me suffer.” In general, the rule is that the person who did the harm has to set things right before being entitled to ask for forgiveness, and sometimes the harm cannot be set right.
I have learned the travesties and harm we can inflict upon one another, and know already just how much uncalled-for pain we humans bring into the world. There are some wrongs that just can’t be righted. And in the absence of the righting of the wrongs we commit, how can we expect carte blanche forgiveness?
May we never know the travesty of such injustice done to us that forces us to cry out to G-d to make our tormentors suffer. And may we have the sense to stay far away from words and actions that might just make us the abuser.
For an interesting read on forgiveness, read here http://lists.aishdas.org/pipermail/avodah-aishdas.org/2009q3/013283.html