We’re back! And this time it’s onto the topic that everybody seems to have come to this book wanting to talk about:
Let’s jump in, shall we?
What are a few different ways to understand what forgiveness is, or entails?
What does a good apology require? Why do so many apologies fall short?
What is the role of apology in the work of repentance?
Is the person who is harmed obligated to forgive the harmdoer? Even if they apologize multiple times, sincerely?
Do you agree with Maimonides that refusing forgiveness after multiple sincere apologies constitutes a sin or harm of its own?
How has cultural pressure to grant forgiveness affected your own interactions with people who caused you harm? With those you have harmed?
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel responds to the question of forgiving a Nazi for Holocaust atrocities by saying that “no one can forgive crimes committed against other people.” How might we think about the work of repentance when the victim(s) of harm is/are no longer alive?
This time, the Jewish texts are below—the problematic language of Mishneh Torah 2:9 (and my trauma-informed feminist self is not afraid to say it) and the shaky midrashic ground on which it was built; 2:10, aka the sin in question, and the Jerusalem Talmud text I wish Maimonides had thought to use instead.
Mishneh Torah, Laws of Repentance, Chapter Two
2:9 Neither repentance nor the Day of Atonement atone for any save for sins committed between man and God, for instance, one who ate forbidden food, or had forbidden coition and the like; but sins between man and man, for instance, one injures his neighbor, or curses his neighbor or plunders him, or offends him in like matters, is ever not absolved unless he makes restitution of what he owes and begs the forgiveness of his neighbor. And, although he make restitution of the monetory debt, he is obliged to pacify him and to beg his forgiveness. Even he offended not his neighbor in aught save in words, he is obliged to appease him and implore him till he be forgiven by him. If his neighbor refuses a committee of three friends to forgive him, he should bring to implore and beg of him; if he still refuses he should bring a second, even a third committee, and if he remains obstinate, he may leave him to himself and pass on, for the sin then rests upon him who refuses forgiveness. But if it happened to be his master, he should go and come to him for forgiveness even a thousand times till he does forgive him.
Midrash Numbers Rabbah 19:23
(23) 23 (Numb. 21:7) “Then the people came unto Moses and said, ‘We have sinned’”: [They] knew that they had spoken against Moses, so they fell prostrate before him and said (ibid., cont.), “pray unto the Lord to remove [the serpent] from us….” There was one serpent. [(Ibid., cont.) “And he prayed”: The passage serves] to make Moses' humility known to you, in that he did not hesitate to seek mercy for them. And [it is also] to make the power of repentance known to you. As soon as they said, “We have sinned,” he was immediately reconciled to them. [The passage serves] to teach you that the one who forgives should not be cruel. And so too does it say (in Gen. 20:17), “Abraham then prayed to God, and God healed [Abimelech and his wife].” And so does it say (in Job 42:10), “The Lord restored Job’s fortunes when he prayed on behalf of his friends.” And where is it shown that if one has sinned against his companion and says to him, “I have sinned,” without [the companion] forgiving him, that [the unforgiving one] is called a sinner? Where it is stated (in I Sam. 12:23), “As for me also, far be it for me to sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray on your behalf.” When? When they came and said to him, “We have sinned,” [as stated] (in I Sam. 12:10), “and [they] said, ‘We have sinned […].’” And he answered, “Far be it from me to sin.” (Numb. 21:8), “And the Lord said unto Moses, ‘Make a fiery serpent, [and put it on a pole]; then it shall come to pass that, when anyone bitten [looks at it, he shall live],” not only one bitten by a serpent, but anyone bitten, even one bitten by an adder, by a scorpion, a wild beast, or a dog. (Numb. 21:9) “So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it up by a miracle”: He tossed it into the air and it remained there.
(So much victim blaming as a result of this one midrash.)
2:10 It is forbidden for man to be ill-natured and unforgiving, for he must be easily appeased but unwidely to wrath; and when a sinner implores him for pardon, he should grant him pardon wholeheartedly and soulfully. Even if one persecuted him and sinned against him exceedingly he should not be vengeful and grudge-bearing, for such is the path of the seed of Israel and of their excellent heart. Only the idolaters are not so, they are of uncircumcised heart, and their wrath is ever-watchful; and, because the Gibonites were unforgiving and unappeasing, that of them it is said: "Now the Gibonites were not of the children of Israel" (II. Samuel, 21.2).
Jerusalem Talmud Bava Kama 8:7
Rebbi Yose said, [the previous statement] presumes that the person in question did not slander, but the one who slanders never gains forgiveness.