Parashat Acharei Mot-Kedoshim (Vayikrah 16:1-20:27)
Following these dictates, when we offend our neighbor, we could say that we are violating morals or ethics, and if what we transgressed was a law or other norm, it would be a misdemeanor or a crime; but if what we failed is God and our relationship with the Creator, then the offense becomes a transgression. And it is both in this and in the first case where there is room for forgiveness as a reaction on the other side, where it makes perfect sense. Following this line of reasoning, in these Parashiot the most fundamental bases of Judaism are laid down, which is to love God and our fellow man. Thus, when the Parashah Achareh Mot narrates in detail the sacrifices to be offered in the Temple on the holiest day of the year, Yom Kippur or Day of Divine Forgiveness towards the People of Israel, the Torah elevates forgiveness to something sacred, something that cannot be taken lightly. And when in the Parashah Kedoshim the Mitzvot of “you shall love your neighbor as yourself” and “you shall not hate your brother in your heart and you shall not take vengeance and you shall not bear a grudge” are solemnly established, a great revelation is made, which is that the one who truly forgives, in a certain way, is doing something sacred.
It is essential to love in order to be loved, to forgive in order to be forgiven. In this sense, it seems to me key that it is established in the ritual of Yom Kippur, that the one who was charged with going out of the camp to get rid of the scapegoat, should wash his clothes and his flesh before entering the camp, the same as the Kohen Gadol before and after the sacrifices of that day. The conclusion is clear: the forgiveness offered by God to his people is total, sincere and complete, or it would not be such forgiveness. All the past is erased, all traces of the offense or transgression are cleansed and purified. It is no longer spoken of again because it is as if it had not happened, and it no longer remains on any account to complain or recriminate the offender. And if the Eternal gives us this gift every Yom Kippur, His sacred forgiveness, and if the Creator also wants us to “be holy as the Creator is holy”, why are we not able to forgive our neighbor at all? Why do we not love our neighbor as ourselves, why do we hate and hold grudges? In short: why do we take the act of forgiveness lightly?
Each night when we declare “Ribono shel olam…” before God, to forgive and excuse whoever has offended us, even if it was unintentionally, is there really a sincere intention in our words? Yet, reality speaks for us. We do not forgive anything, we do not keep silent about anything, we do not let anything alter the citadel in which we have established for ourselves so that no one hurts us. It is not necessary to understand the other, nor to ask him what the circumstances were that led him to be the way he is, it does not matter, what’s the use? We do not usually give many opportunities. Oh how we need to wash our clothes and purify our body and soul before returning to the camp, free of that burden. That is not what the Eternal wants from us; He wants total forgiveness, but also sincere repentance on the other side. In short, the Torah wants us to be truly free.
Let us truly learn to turn the page and move closer rather than move away; it is not easy, but we must try with all our heart. And let us not be afraid to change our opinion, our attitude, our way of seeing and treating others, especially when they fail, when they are wrong, because maybe we are wrong too. As the writer Fernando Pessoa said,
“there comes a time when it is necessary to abandon the used clothes that already have the shape of our body and forget the paths that always lead us to the same places. It is the moment of the journey. And if we do not dare to undertake it, we will have remained forever on the fringes of ourselves”.
I think that we will never be so enslaved by our actions that we cannot make amends, especially if it is a matter of forgiveness, and this is in the essence of the Torah itself, and if we decide to forgive the other, it must be with all the consequences. Let us tear down those ephemeral walls that we have erected before others, let us pave the way for our hearts and let us acquire the freedom that comes from living, at last, in peace with others and, above all, with ourselves.
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Study session topic for this week
Parashat Acharei Mot-Kedoshim and the concept of forgiveness in Judaism
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Header: Artwork by Bogie, detail of the Menorah