compassion through forgiveness

Written by  rabbi benjamin ehrenfeld

art-openhandsFor the Lord will comfort Zion, He will comfort all its ruins, and He will make its desert like a paradise and its wasteland like the garden of the Lord; joy and happiness shall be found therein, thanksgiving and a voice of song. -- Isaiah 51:3

Every year we arise out of the ashes of Tisha b’Av and are met with words of comfort from the prophets each Shabbat. The above is the final verse of the second Haftarah of consolation during the seven weeks between Tisha b’Av and Rosh HaShana. The common thread of these special haftarot of comfort is God’s compassion toward his people through restoration, empowerment, and recognition of the greatness of the Lord. God’s compassion in these verses is expressed in his forgiveness after years of punishment.

One of the deepest forms of human pain is the feeling of estrangement as a result of being unforgiven by those whom we’ve hurt. That God would forgive us after so many years of disobedience is one of the most compassionate things he does. It is also one of the most compassionate things we can do. It is easier to be kind to those people we know have been afflicted due to no fault of their own. It is quite another thing to show compassion to those who we feel “deserve” punishment. There are people in this world who are self-serving and wicked and are not motivated to betterment. This, however, is not true of the majority of people. Most of us generally have good intentions though we regularly screw up and become self-centered at times. In this season of teshuvah we are uniquely called to not accept our “status quo” failures lying down. We have to confront our shortcomings and do the work necessary to make things right in the future (and repair past damage when possible). Nevertheless, the season of teshuvah is also characterized by compassion for others through forgiving them for their wrongs against us. We listen every Shabbat to words of God’s forgiveness and we are called to follow suit. This does not mean we become trampling mats. All people deserve to be treated with dignity. Our own dignity is not less important than anyone elses. That said, healing cannot take place with everyone holding grudges against one another. God began the healing process by giving us the opportunity to do teshuva and by forgiving us for our wrongs. When we do the same, we draw closer to full redemption because if we all worked to eagerly improve while forgiving one another when we fall short the world would start to look much more like God’s kingdom. May we all use this season of compassion to forgive one another and work towards a better future.

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