It is forbidden for a person to be cruel and refuse to be appeased. Rather, they should be easily pacified, but hard to anger. When the person who sinned asks for forgiveness, they should forgive him/her with a complete heart and a willing spirit.
Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Repentance, Chapter 2, Halacha 10
אָסוּר לָאָדָם לִהְיוֹת אַכְזָרִי וְלֹא יִתְפַּיֵּס וּבְשָׁעָה שֶׁמְּבַקֵּשׁ מִמֶּנּוּ הַחוֹטֵא לִמְחֹל – מוֹחֵל בְּלֵב שָׁלֵם.
רמב”ם, מִשְׁנֵה תורה, הלכות תשובה, פרק ב, הלכה י
Foundations for Planning
- How can I be the best “me” this year? In class, at home, on the playground, etc?
- How do I grow as a result of the Jewish calendrical cycle?
- How do Jewish practices reflect Jewish values?
- Why is it important to forgive?
- How is possible to forgive someone who hurt you?
One of the main themes of Yom Kippur is the process of cheshbon nefesh or soul-searching that all Jews are expected to undergo during the day. Cheshbon nefesh is a term that refers to a process of self-criticism, reflection by a person on their...
One of the main themes of Yom Kippur is the process of cheshbon nefesh or soul-searching that all Jews are expected to undergo during the day. Cheshbon nefesh is a term that refers to a process of self-criticism, reflection by a person on their life, and a summary and evaluation of their actions and achievements. If someone feels they acted wrongly toward another person, they must ask that person for forgiveness and repent. This process of introspection is supposed to lead to decisions about the future and about the changes the individual wishes to make. The flipside of asking for forgiveness is accepting the apology. The period of cheshbon nefesh is also a period of forgiveness, when the individual pardons those who hurt them and seeks to correct their relationship.
In our source, Maimonides emphasizes that a person must forgive their fellow if he wishes to reconcile and make peace. Someone who genuinely asks for forgiveness is sorry for the harm they caused and now seeks to make amends. This explains Maimonides’ use of the word cruel: by refusing to forgive, the injured party prevents the other person from correcting their errors and moving on. Someone who is not forgiven will continue to feel guilty and may be unable to turn over a new page.
According to Maimonides, it is important to forgive someone “with a complete heart,” because someone who recognizes that they hurt their fellow, takes responsibility for their actions, and expresses sorrow and remorse is no longer the same person they were, and it should be assumed that they will not behave in the same way again in the future.
Rabbi Moshe Ben Maimon (known in Hebrew as “the Rambam” and in English as Maimonides) was a rabbi, thinker, and physician, and is one of the most important and influential characters in Jewish culture. For most of his life he lived and worked in Egypt. His treatise Mishneh Torah is one of the most important books in the Jewish library.
Click here to view our consolidated list of suggested interactive pedagogies for classroom discussion.
- Why does Maimonides use the word “cruel” to describe a person who refuses to forgive someone who asks them for forgiveness? Do you agree with his choice of this word? Explain your answer.
- Sometimes it is difficult to really forgive someone in your heart if they have hurt you. Why?
- Why is it important to make an effort to do this, even though it is difficult?
- Do you think people should forgive others in every case? Are there some cases where this doesn’t apply? Explain.
- In your opinion, is it easier to ask for forgiveness from those close to us (relatives, friends, etc.) or from people who are more distant (a storekeeper, the security guard at school, etc.)?
- What is harder for you: asking for forgiveness or forgiving someone else?
- Work in pairs (or small groups): Each pair makes up a story about someone who hurts their friend and then asks their friend to forgive them. Make a little play based on the story, the request for forgiveness, and the offended person’s response. In the play express the hurt that the action caused, the difficulty faced by the offending party in asking for forgiveness, and the way they choose to do this. Similarly, express the difficulty the offended party faces in forgiving their fellow, how they can tell if the request for forgiveness is genuine, and how both sides feel after they have reconciled
Note: It is worth checking the themes the groups chose before they prepare their plays, to make sure that the cases are suitable for the class framework.
- Look at the statue Reconciliation by the sculptor Josefina de Vasconcellos, which is on display at Canterbury Cathedral in England. The sculpture marks the 50th anniversary of the end of the Second World War. Identical sculptures were also displayed in Germany and Japan. You could discuss the fact that countries also achieve reconciliation and find ways to express forgiveness (for example through sculptures).
- Read the excerpt It’s Hard to Forgive, from Chaim Potok’s novel The Chosen, which discusses the difficulty faced by someone who has been hurt in accepting a request for forgiveness, even though it is genuine.
- Study the source Asking for Forgiveness, which presents the Mishnah’s emphasis on the importance of the request for forgiveness.
- You could study the following poem and use it to expand the discussion of the difficulties involved in forgiving others and the importance of reconciliation:
לֹא קַל, לֹא קַל לִסְלֹחַ,
קָשֶׁה עַד מְאֹד לְוַתֵּר.
הַלֵּב מְסָרֵב לִשְׁכֹּחַ
הַלֵּב לְעִתִּים נוֹטֵר.
קוֹרֶה שֶׁכְּאֵב מְפַלֵּחַ.
קוֹרֶה שֶׁקָּשֶׁה לְהַשְׁלִים.
אַךְ אִם אֱלוֹהִים סוֹלֵחַ
אֲנַחְנוּ וַדַּאי יְכוֹלִים.