“If I have done any wrong toward my parents, my teacher, my elders, to anybody in the past, by thought, by deed, by word, consciously or unconsciously, may I be forgiven. If anybody has done wrong to me – if they have cultivated a grudge or complained or accused or offended – by thought, by deed, by word, I forgive him completely. “

Prayer before Starting Buddhist Metta [Lovingkindness] Meditation [1]

“Master of the Universe! I hereby forgive anyone who has angered or vexed me, or sinned against me, either physically or financially, against my honor or anything else that is mine, whether accidentally or intentionally, inadvertently or deliberately, by speech or by deed, in this incarnation or in any other…may no human being be punished on my account.

May it be Your will, Lord my God and God of my fathers, that I shall sin no more or repeat my sins, neither shall I again anger You nor do what is wrong in Your eyes. The sins I have committed, erase in Your abounding mercies, but not through suffering or severe illness. May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable before You, o Lord, my Strength and my Redeemer.” – Jewish Prayer before Retiring at Night

We say, “to err is human, and to forgive is Divine.” In this respect, we all know how to be human. How do we learn to express our Divine nature in our lives?

We begin with the most basic level of controlling our lower animal instincts. The Ten Commandments gives us a clear direction in this regard:

“You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. You shall not covet your neighbor’s house;  you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his man-servant, nor his maid-servant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is your neighbor’s.” – Exodus 20:12-12

These commandments teach us to overcome our primitive animal passions. We all have these instincts, and the first step in our spiritual evolution is to learn how to restrain them. This is the beginning of the path to awakening the Divine spark within us.

Once we have begun to get our lower instincts under control, we move on to the next stage of this spiritual process. Leviticus 19:18 declares: “love your neighbor as yourself.” With this commandment, we are being asked to go beyond our self-centered awareness and think about the needs and feelings of others. We are being told to give of ourselves to other people, to care for their wellbeing as much as our own. This step is crucial for the development of our heart center, and the inculcation of the virtue of compassion in us.

The Book of Proverbs 24:17-18 states:

When your enemy falls do not rejoice, lest God turn His wrath from them to you.”

We have begun to use our heart, now we have to master our mind. The mind is a very potent instrument. Our state of consciousness affects everything around us. Our thoughts draw energy toward us, and emanate that energy back into the world. This proverb warns us to be careful about what we think, for what we think will determine what we attract to us. If our mind is full of thoughts of love, then love is what we will attract. And if our head is filled with thoughts of revenge and vengeance, then that is what we will receive in turn. Therefore, we need to learn how to let go of our negative feelings and forgive others, otherwise those same feelings will come back to us.

The Ethics of the Fathers 4:19 tells us that there was a rabbi who made this teaching the centerpoint of his spiritual life. His name was Rabbi Shmuel haKatan. All of his life, Rabbi Shmuel strove to feel no animosity toward anyone, and to see good in everyone.

The Tractate Brachot 28B recounts that Shmuel haKatan was the rabbi who composed the extra blessing in the daily standing prayer, the shemonei esrai, which calls for the destruction of evil doers. Only a pure soul like Shumel haKatan could have written such a prayer and still be free of hate and animosity.  The author of this prayer is dealing with serious karmic responsibilities. To maintain both a keen awareness of the karmic effects of our words, and a constant positive regard for others, is not a simple task.

Even though modern scholars now believe that Rabbi Shmuel was not the author of this blessing, nonetheless, this Talmudic passage shows us that the rabbis had a deep understanding of the power of words. They recognized the need for purity and caution before we ask God to destroy anyone, and a profound capacity for forgiveness.

The final stage in the development of forgiveness is the cultivation of love for our enemies. For many of us, this might appear to be an impossible objective.  It is, after all, quite natural to hate our enemies and want vengeance. Vengeance is only a desire for justice to be done. Each act has its consequences. If an individual has inflicted suffering upon others, it only seems right for him or her to suffer in turn.

To bring this final stage to fulfilment, however, we need to expand of our consciousness beyond its natural limitations. We need to examine our feelings and motives in greater depth, and with a more acute sensitivity.

Are our enemy’s feelings any different than our own? Are they any less human? We have all experienced a moment of great sorrow or rage when we were ready to kill someone. If a loved one has been harmed, or even threatened, our immediate instinct is to strike back. Who has not felt the power of intense passion when it fills the body? We all know how quickly it can take control. Therefore, we need to have compassion for the effect of those feelings on others.

To love our enemies does not naively assume that people are always good. On the contrary, it recognizes that every human being is capable of doing serious wrong, of creating evil and suffering.  Rather, what this spiritual injunction is asking us to do is to transform our reaction to our enemies.  Instead of trying to destroy their lives, it urges us to strive to eradicate the hatred and evil within us all.

As the Buddhist teacher, Anagarika Sri Munindra, has explained:

“If you do anything good for others, it is good for you. Hatred never ceases through hatred in this world. Through love alone it ceases. This is an eternal law. There is no American love, Indian love – no difference. The mind is a wonderful force. Pervade you whole being with loving thoughts, from your pure heart. If you love your enemies, you will have no enemies. This is the only way, so you can be helpful to the universe.” [2]

Mercy for the frailties of all human beings can imbue us with the wisdom to forgive. It can help us to let go of our need to balance hurt for hurt. All we need to do is accept that everyone is imperfect; everyone one of us is capable of inflicting injury and harm. Once we have internalized the truth of this spiritual perspective, the doorway to forgiveness will open wide for both ourselves and our enemies.

The Hasidic Master, Michael of Zlotochov, suggests a simple way of developing this extraordinary capacity for forgiveness. Rebbe Michael believed that the highest form of service is to pray for our enemies. And we cultivate love for our enemies, Rebbe Michael explains, by touching on their essential Divinity. Praying for our enemies keeps our heart flowing, even as we confront the negative force of their hatred. It enables us to forge a link with our Higher Self and draw on its infinite capacity for forgiveness. It opens the door for God to enter our enemies’ hearts, and awaken their inherent Divine nature.

“To err is human, and to forgive is Divine.” We may not be able to achieve the pure love and forgiveness of Anagarika Munindra or Rebbe Michael, but we all can take a further stride toward revealing our Divine essence. We can transcend the limits of our petty human behavior and link our heart and mind to God. We can stretch the boundaries of our humanity so that the light of Divine Spirit comes flooding into us. In that light, our instinctual need for “justice” will be washed away, and be replaced with the grace of forgiveness.

Copyright © 2012, by Yoel Glick

Acknowledgements    (↵ returns to text)

  1. Mirka Knaster, Living this Life Fully, Stories and Teachings of Munindra, p. 141-2
  2.  Mirka Knaster, Living this Life Fully, Stories and Teachings of Munindra, p. 141

Join the discussion 2 Comments

  • Judy Enteen says:

    Dear Yoel,
    We are really looking forward to spending some quality time with you.
    This is a beautiful piece. Thank you for sharing this. I have one personal comment. I really believe that the missing piece is about forgiving ourselves – as we can be compassionate with ourselves, so we can develop this towards others. So many of us live with all this left over self hatred and we forget that we too are human.
    Love to Nomi. Love, Judy

    • Rabbi Yoel Glick says:

      Thank you for your comment Judy. I agree with you that self-forgiveness is the starting point. From there, we can embrace others as well. But unfortunately, there are many people that are more than willing to forgive their own faults and errors, but are very reluctant to forgive others, even for the same errors and faults. So both aspect are part of the process. The key is the ever-greater awareness of our own and others’ Divinity, and the continual expansion of our heart.