By Michal Shvimer
As some may or may not know, last Sunday was Rosh Hashanah: the Jewish New Year. But the year does not simply restart with the dunk of an apple slice into honey. That would be too easy. The year truly starts after 10 days of reflection culminated in Yom Kippur, which was this Wednesday. The only reason the Hebrew school teacher in me is coming out is to provide context for the theme of the past 10 days for me, which have been forgiveness — the forgiveness of myself and the forgiveness of others.
Forgiving yourself and forgiving someone else can feel like a chicken and egg argument — what goes first, what comes next, how do I start, etc. But in reality, both kinds of forgiveness are reinforced by each other, and each is necessary for the success of the other.
The Jewish holidays suggests that there are three levels of forgiving yourself: a surface-level forgiveness that is easy and basic to do, a forgiveness of the heart in which you forgive what truly hurt you and then complete atonement, which is a kind of spiritual forgiveness between you and G-D, or goddess or whatever you believe in.
Despite my best efforts, of which there were honestly few, I couldn’t get past the superficial first layer of forgiveness. Each day, I would forgive myself for not working out or not finishing a homework assignment — things that I had really forgiven myself for before I even did them.
I realized that I was scared to forgive myself for anything I was actually harboring because I was worried I wouldn’t have forgiveness for myself. Forgiveness for oneself is much harder to conjure than forgiveness for someone else.
Fortunately, forgiveness is not exclusive to Yom Kippur. It is vital to our general contentment in ourselves and our relationships with others. If I couldn’t fully forgive or atone myself, it is because I was gathering the tools I needed to do so, which can often feel harder than the act itself.
We put a lot of pressure on forgiveness. We idealize it as this practice that can salvage our relationships and friendships and restore them to their original state. That isn’t fair to ask of forgiveness, or of people. What forgiveness really offers is an opportunity to acknowledge someone’s humanness as being as flawed as our own.
By recognizing this humanness, we can respect someone’s inherent human value, regardless of their relation to us. Forgiveness does not guarantee a fresh start, but it does guarantee an establishment of respect, merely on the foundation that people make mistakes and feel hurt.
As we respect someone else’s human value, it is important that we also grant it to ourselves.