September 23, 2018

Elul Week Six: Give Yourself Time to Forgive

Photo by PxHere

This is the sixth of six weekly columns by Rabbi Zimmerman leading up to Yom Kippur.

When our children were little, my husband and I made a point of apologizing to each other for “little hurts”: “I’m sorry I was impatient with you.” We wanted to teach them that saying “I’m sorry” and “I forgive you” are important qualities to develop and part of everyday relationships. 

Of course when “big hurts” occurred, such as being bullied by peers or shamed by teachers, they required a gentler healing. It was not quick. It was not easy. All the more so when “I’m sorry” was not forthcoming.

Our liturgy at this season is permeated with seeking forgiveness for all the ways we have gone astray, with the clear instruction that for any hurt you have caused another person, you must go to them directly and make amends. 

I want to give voice to those among us for whom our High Holy Days prayers bring up immeasurable pain, with seemingly no path for healing. Those who have experienced major ruptures in relationships where bonds of sacred trust have been broken, or in situations where the people who have harmed them either have not apologized, or worse, do not think they have done anything wrong. 

For many, the 10 days of teshuvah between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, proscribed by our tradition, may not provide enough time to become whole. For some deep wounds, a “sit down and talk it out” strategy might not be possible or even advisable. 

Author Sharon Salzburg wisely writes, “Forgiveness is not a single action, but a process.” Perhaps working toward forgiveness and healing is a more suitable goal when the damage is deep. Some years, the effort needs to be about taking care of our own broken hearts.

In this spirit, I offer a prayer:

Prayer for Those Not Ready to Forgive

The design of this season compels us to forgive,
To open our hearts
And sometimes to re-experience wounds.

Some of us have suffered profound trauma
At the hand of parents, partners or friends.

They might be fresh bruises
Or from many years ago. 

They bubble below the surface, having been pushed away,
But now reemerge
In the quiet or the music or the prayers.

Amid the urgent pleadings of these days,
To wipe the slate clean and start anew,
Some of us are not sure of the path forward.

To the woman who has been violated,
The man whose spirit has been beaten down,
Anyone with a broken heart or a crushed soul
Who might not be quite ready to forgive:
It’s OK.

Take your time.

 “Trust that you will find your way, that you will come to a time where holding on hurts more than letting go.”

Sometimes the timetable of these holy days
Doesn’t match the rhythm of your heart and soul.
Sometimes our devoted prayers get intermingled
With inner voices not quite resolved:
“Maybe it wasn’t all that bad”
“Just let go”
“Let bygones be bygones”
“Be the bigger person”
“Maybe I’m being too sensitive.”

This year, love yourself enough
To trust your own timing.
Be patient enough
To stay in the place of “not yet.”

Trust that you will find your way,
That you will come to a time
Where holding on
Hurts more than letting go.

Forgive yourself for not being ready — yet.

Give yourself the time and space
To go at your own pace,
To love yourself right where you are, as you are.

From that place of acceptance,
May you have faith that the path forward will open up.


Rabbi Jill Berkson Zimmerman is a rabbi-at-large who teaches and works with individuals in spiritual guidance. Learn more at her website.