‘Resentment is an acid that damages its container.’
The central concept of Yom Kippur, the holiest day of our year, is forgiveness:
1. for God to forgive us and
2. for us to forgive ourselves and others.
One of the great treasures in the Bible is the instruction to free ourselves of anger and resentment, especially in dealing with close relationships:
You shall not hate your brother in your heart…You shall not take revenge and you shall not bear a grudge. Leviticus 19:17-19
The Talmud notes ‘anyone who foregoes revenge merits that God forgives all of his sins.’ Yoma 22b-23a
Pesachim 113b further advises that God loves a person ‘who does not get angry … and who does not insist on his due measure.’
Maimonides goes further, in Laws of De'ot 7:7, requiring a person to ‘wipe the wrong from his heart entirely, without remembering it at all.’
Does this mean that we should be passive victims in the face of abuse? Absolutely not! The very same Biblical portion cited above tells us that:
1. We must verbally confront someone who has wronged us, in order to avoid hating him in our heart.
2. We must do so directly and emphatically, but without hatred and without destroying the relationship.
3. Similarly, we have an obligation to protect ourselves and not put ourselves in a vulnerable position where the offence may be repeated.
4. At the same time, we need to do so without speaking hostilely, or taking an action that goes beyond self-protection, without vengeance, or withdrawing into a cold, judgmental contempt, or prolonged silence.
There is a well known recurring tragic family scenario:
Over the years, a man has maintained an angry distance from a relative (a parent, child or sibling). Suddenly, the relative dies, and the man's love, long masked by a veneer of anger, erupts into awareness and the man is racked by regret and guilt. ‘How could I have wasted these years, when I could have….?
Yom Kippur offers us protection from such tragedy:
1. Do not believe that you cannot forgive…it is always your task to achieve forgiveness.
2. Understand that anger and resentment are sustained by irrational thoughts…if you deeply examine your anger, you will identify and correct these distortions.
3. There is a negative force in the world, HaSatan, that seeks to destroy closeness…that force is the source of those irrational thoughts.
4. Underneath the anger in personal relationships there is hurt, fear and most importantly, a need to love and be loved.
Forgiveness means that after I make my apology, I'm off the hook. Atonement means that I am engaged in hard work to restore the relationship to its original state.
The word for atonement in Hebrew is kaparah, which also means ‘wiping up.’ If I spill my grape juice on your carpet, I can say sorry and be forgiven. But the stain is still there. Atonement only comes when I get the carpet cleaners to come clean your carpet.
Making amends means trying to remove the stain, making things right again, and eventually even restoring the relationship to how it originally was.
If an apology will make the person feel better, then we may include an apology in the amends. But the main thing is that we make it up to the person in a way that is significant to them. Our amends to God are not an apology, but rather a sincere attempt to restore the relationship on His terms; the way He likes it.
Genesis 37:24 describes the pit into which Joseph was thrown, and it states that it was an ‘empty pit, with no water.’ The obvious question is: why the irrelevant comment? Is it not obvious that if the pit was empty, it had no water?
Rashi, in his commentary on the verse, cites the Talmud: ‘It was empty of water, but full of snakes and scorpions.’
The spiritual parallel of snake and scorpion venom is explained in the two attitudes that threaten our spiritual life:
1. enthusiasm for that which is wrong.
2. indifference to that which is right.
What can we do to get rid of our own personal snakes and scorpions? Battling them is not the best option, as they will soon be replaced by others…
The best method is to fill the pit with water. Water represents the study and knowledge of God expressed and explained in by Jesus in the Gospels. The best way to protect yourself against spiritual snakes and scorpions is by filling your mind with the Living Waters of Jesus, the Fountain of Living Waters, because whoever believes in Him, out of his heart will flow rivers of Living Water. John 7.37
The Livin Water of Jesus fills every crevice, leaving no room for harmful feelings of guilt and other such negative thoughts that only serve to destroy the one who harbours them.
The key is ultimately in our own hands. Please use this key to unlock your heart on Yom Kippur.