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Rabbi Avraham Sutton
by Published on November 13, 2019

As we all probably know, there is an important custom before Kol Nidre for everyone to forgive everyone else for whatever wrongs they may have committed against us (ben adoam le’chavero – between man and his fellow).

In the Sefardi Machzor (based on the Ari and the Ben Ish Chai), we say:

Master of the world! Behold, I pardon and forgive every single Israelite – man or woman, child or adult – who has ever wronged me. [I forgive them] whether they sinned against me under duress or willfully, whether inadvertently or deliberately, whether by word or by deed, whether in this lifetime or in any other incarnation; whether [they injured] my body or caused me monetary loss, whether [they offended] my honor or inflicted me with any pain or anguish; whether whatever they did is known to me or not; whether I have forgotten or not. For all, I pardon and forgive every single Israelite, completely, with a willing heart and soul.

When everyone forgives everyone else (ben adoam le’chavero), then G‑d can forgive us (ben adam la’Makom – between man and G‑d). If, however, we can’t truly forgive another in our heart, we can’t get close to G‑d. What do we gain from forgiving someone else? If we clean ourselves – if we get out of the way and trust the true Judge – we will be able to truly connect to His Oneness and to our own selves in a much deeper way.

This custom was even introduced into the Kriat Shema She’al HaMitah (the Bedtime Shema), in which we say:

Master of the word, I hereby [declare my desire to] pardon anyone who has angered or irritated me, or who has offended me, whether [they injured] my body or caused me monetary loss, whether [they offended] my honor or [damaged] anything belonging to me, whether under duress or willfully, whether inadvertently or deliberately, whether by word or by deed, whether in this lifetime or in any other incarnation. [I forgive and retract any complaint I may have had against] any person, and may no human being ever [have to suffer or] be punished on my account.

There is a problem here: The only way we can say these words and mean them is if we get over always thinking that it is the other person who is wrong. If we always think it’s someone else’s fault, we miss the whole point of why G‑d set us up with these specific relationships in this lifetime. Heaven set us up with these relationships to fix something in ourselves.

That is why we say this prayer every night. In our bed, at night, in deep hitbodedut, we realize that the only way we can clear our relationship with G‑d (the most important thing in our life), and remove whatever barriers we have created between us, is to ask for His forgiveness. But why should He forgive us if we’re not willing forgive others? When we become the kind of person who is capable of forgiving others who have hurt us, we can then ask for G‑d’s complete forgiveness.

To the extent that we can forgive others, we begin to take responsibility for our life and are no longer victims of circumstance.

Taking responsibility doesn’t mean taking the blame. It has nothing to do with feeling guilty and ashamed. That’s not what G‑d wants from us. Rather, as I understand it, taking responsibility involves waking up to a higher meaning in our lives; realizing that there is a Director; that nothing happens by chance. If nothing happens by chance, the whatever we have gone through, whatever we have suffered – whether inside (our inner makeup) or outside (in relation to others) – all of it was somehow meant to teach us something.

Most of us don’t know what we really came to fix. But if we think about it, the people in our lives who have done things that really bother us – who get us angry and irritate us – these are the people who are doing us the greatest favor. We begin to realize that it is not the people who are the problem but rather our reaction to them.

So the first thing we need to do is fix ourselves. Then we can see everyone else with new eyes. For whatever reasons (perhaps leftover energy patterns from past gilgulim), they just had the unfortunate privilege of being chosen to get under our skin. Our job is to see beyond our immediate reaction of being hurt, to see who the other person really is, and to awaken our compassion for them – for who they are and how much they are suffering. They were basically just messengers. By working on ourselves in this way, we not only have a chance of breaking old energy patterns from previous gilgulim but of creating incredibly positive new ones with the very people who seemed most problematic.

Everything depends on our awaking to the higher reality of why we were born. Once we awaken to this higher reality, a lot of things start to make sense. Forgiving others (as opposed to holding grudges and taking revenge) opens the way for us to overcome the erroneous dichotomy that we have created between "ben adam le’chavero" and "ben adam la’Makom." From the equivalent gematria of "ve’ahavta et G‑d Elokecha – Love G‑d your G‑d" (907) and "ve’ahavta lereakha kamokha Ani G‑d – Love your friend as yourself, I am G‑d" (907), it is clear that the two are one.

This in turn allows us to forgive ourselves, because we are now taking responsibility for our destiny instead of being victims. This allows us to forgive G‑d for the way He made us, filled with problems and discomfort.

This is VERY difficult. It involves a threefold action that may seem insurmountable at first sight: We have to forgive ourselves. We have to forgive others (especially parents). We have to forgive and make peace with G‑d for the way He made us.

But consider the rewards! When we finally do get it together, we will look back and realize the tremendous chesed G‑d did by making us the way He did, by putting us in such dysfunctional situations, thereby allowing us to feel and experience the consequences of our wrong actions. In addition to all this, in the end, we realize that it wasn’t only our pain that we endured, but G‑d’s pain as well, the pain of the Shechinah.

In this way we will be more grateful for everything (including the garbage) than we could possibly have been if life had been in Paradise from the beginning to the end! That’s incredible.

[Adapted from: "Days of Awe – Awesome Days," ch. 4. These one hundred pages of excellent material on the High Holidays are available as a print book or an e-book from the author’s website.]

Originally Published on Chabad's Kabbalah Me