Consider Forgiveness

This article was submitted by my eldest daughter Vicki Sue Mc Kinnis.

Vicki Sue Mc Kinnis

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks: Consider Forgiving.

In Judaism forgiveness is absolutely fundamental. It’s the theme of our Holy of Holiest of time, the Day of Atonement, the time when we turn to God for forgiveness and in preparation for that we try and apologize to those whom we have hurt and we forgive those who have hurt us.  And normally in Judaism we see forgiveness as something associated with atonement, remorse, and apology.  But Mymonodies, our greatest sage of the Middle Ages rules that if the other person does not apologize, you are still free to forgive, and you should. And I agree with him because harboring a grudge or resentment is a terrible weight to carry around with you and you have to travel light in this world. You have too little energy to waste on being unforgiving.

Letting go of the Past

The search for perfect justice in this world is impossible so try and create a just society as far as it lies within you.  But you have to let go of the past.  And that really is what forgiveness is and though it benefits the forgiven, it benefits the forgiver still more.

And When the Evil is Ongoing

You cannot forgive while evil is ongoing. That’s in my view simply irresponsible. I may forgive somebody who is planning a suicide bombing attack, but what then will I say if my wife or my children are among the victims.  Forgiveness is always something that accompanies a cease, a pause, an armistice.  There has to be an end, a truce in the hostilities before forgiveness can begin, otherwise no one is in the real mood to forgive.  You have to create space

Forgiveness the First Step toward Hope

If I harm you, the natural thing is for you to harm me; that is a chain of cause and effect, cause and effect which destroyed many ancient societies and is destroying many at this moment. Forgiveness is that a radically unpredictable thing that human capacity to do the unexpected, respond in a way that could not have been predicted. Forgiveness has something to do with human freedom. Even though I may feel assaulted, and victimized I can momentarily stand outside that and think not as a victim but as somebody who is an agent of forgiveness. Because of forgiveness we are not condemned endlessly to replay the conflicts of the past. That is why forgiveness is logically and psychologically related to hope.


Forgiveness is the prelude to reconciliation.  Once we forgive we get rid of the bad stuff and we’re able then to shake hands.  And because we’ve been liberated from the past, together we can plan the future in which we work together instead of against one another.   And I remember a moment, I doubt whether I will ever forget it. In 1919 towards the end of the summer when I went over to Proscenia, to visit, to make a television program it was the end of the Kosovo conflict- slowly the Kosovian Albanians were coming back to their homes—hundreds of thousands had fled in terror. The NATO presence was very evident with tanks outside every house of worship. And I stood there in the middle of Proscenia with all the rubble of bombs all over the place and I suddenly discovered-realized the power of one word: forgive.  If the Serbs and the Kosovian Albanians were able to forgive one another and to be forgiven by one another, which mean apologizing as well, then they would have a future.  If not, they would find themselves endlessly replaying the battle of Kosovo of 1389. Therefore I suddenly saw that the whole future of that part of the world will depend upon whether they can forgive or they cannot. I don’t think I’ve ever felt it came home to me as immediately and as powerfully as it did then as that conflict had been going on for 700 years.  It was dormant for many years, but various leaders were able to reignite it. As Ogden Nash once said, “No man ever forgets where he buried the hatchet.”

Facing Toward the Future

If you focus on children or even on grandchildren not yet born, then you’re facing toward the future.  And if you’re facing towards the future you can forgive because what matters to you is not what happened but what we can build together. A lack of forgiveness is always tied to a strong sense of reverence and loyalty to the past. That’s why people find it impossible to forgive because I may forgive, but what about my father or my grandfather whom they murdered or stuck in prison.  I have to honor their memory by avenging their honor on their enemies. So if I am totally loyal to the past I will actually find it a moral failing to forgive because I will not be honoring them. Then I suddenly realized that we have to be able to move from a past oriented culture to a future oriented culture. We should not ask what happened to our grandparents we should ask what kind of world we want to create for our grandchildren.  And that does not mean forgetting; forgiving does not mean forgetting, it means living with the past but not living in the past.


2 responses to “Consider Forgiveness

  1. Sali Cosford Parker

    Well done, Vicki Sue!

  2. Vicki Sue McKinnis

    I was enthralled listening to this lecture given at Duke University by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks concerning the connection between current events and the different interpretations of the stories of Ishmael/Isaac and Esau/Jacob. The meat of the story begins at about 27:44 of the lecture.

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