July 15, 2024
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July 15, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

“Some of us think holding on makes us strong, but sometimes it is letting go.”—Herman Hesse

Yom Kippur, the most serious day of the Jewish calendar, is now behind us. As in the past, we went to shul on Erev Yom Kippur to make our final preparations for the awesome day. Printed in the machzor is a tefillah that I must admit I haven’t recited as well as I should have over the years. It is called tefillah zaka (pure prayer) and it is a lengthy, penitential prayer. In tefillah zaka we speak in great detail about how we have sinned, including how different parts of our anatomy and mind were misused for illicit purposes. Later in the text we arrive at a paragraph that, though positioned towards the end, is really the essence of the prayer.

“But since I know that there is hardly a righteous person who never sins between man and his neighbor, Yom Kippur does not atone until one appeases his neighbor … behold, I extend complete forgiveness to anyone who has ever sinned against me … or injured me … and just as I forgive everyone, so may You grant me favor in every person’s eyes, so that they will grant me complete atonement.” (Due to this paragraph’s central importance and the fact that many people do not complete the entire prayer before Kol Nidrei, the Chofetz Chaim urged people to recite it at an earlier part of the prayer so as to ensure its recitation.)

When I say that I haven’t recited this prayer properly, I refer mainly to the above paragraph. After all, there have been people who have hurt me, sometimes in serious ways. They seemed very content with their behavior and most did not seek forgiveness. I recognize that if we all—myself included—willingly forgave one another, then we would all be able to approach Hashem for the atonement that we desperately seek. But still, it was so hard to forgive sometimes, especially if their behavior hurt my career and/or affected my family. I suspect that most of us have struggled with this point. We simply have a hard time letting go and are prepared to hold grudges indefinitely when we feel that we were right, even to our own detriment.

But on Yom Kippur, we need to be able to let go of grudges. Of course, there may be situations where you have no halachic obligation to forgive. But that should not stop you from trying to look past the pain and find room in your heart to move on.

I know that it’s not easy. I have struggled with these feelings plenty myself and sometimes still do. But I also know that it can and should be done, for you more than for them. Below are some strategies that can help.

Accept what is, then let go—The past is called that for a reason. We can’t change it, no matter how much we want to. So there’s no point in reliving it. The sooner that we recognize that, the faster we will come to a better place.

Recognize the Divine Element—Just because we don’t like what happened does not mean that it was not meant to be. We may not ever find out why losing that potential spouse, that job, that money or something else was in our best interest. But our belief in siyata dishmaya tells us that the outcome was nonetheless preordained.

Own your portion—While you may not have deserved the hurt you experienced, there may have been a part of the hurt that you are also partially responsible for. Ask yourself what you could have done differently and commit to that behavior moving forward.

Focus on the present—When you live in the here and now, you have less time to think about the past. When past memories creep into your consciousness (as they are bound to do from time to time), acknowledge them for a moment. And then bring yourself gently back into the present moment and focus instead on all of the present good in your life and all that you have achieved since this hurt occurred.

Forgive wholeheartedly—We all make mistakes and will do so every day of our lives. We may not have to forget another person’s bad behaviors, but virtually everybody deserves our forgiveness. Sometimes we get so stuck in our pain and our stubbornness, we can’t even imagine forgiveness. But forgiveness isn’t saying, “I agree with what you did.” Instead, it’s saying, “I don’t agree with what you did, but I forgive you anyway.”

Forgiveness isn’t a sign of weakness. Instead, it’s simply saying, “I’m a good person. You’re a good person. You did something that hurt me. But I want to move forward in my life and welcome joy back into it. I can’t do that fully until I let this go.”

One last point to consider: On Yom Kippur we do everything in our power to loosen ourselves from our physical, corporeal shackles and become spiritually elevated. We want to become pure like malachim, and in a sense, emulate Hashem as well. He describes himself as merciful and compassionate and our sages direct us to follow in His ways. “Just as He is merciful, you too shall be merciful. Just as He is compassionate, so too shall you demonstrate compassion.”

There is little that we can do to emulate our Maker more than to follow in His ways. Consider for a moment what it must “feel” like to be Him. Every day His Word is violated innumerable times. People know what’s right and yet fail to live up to that standard. Regularly and consciously. Does Hashem hold grudges? Does he block our attempts at repentance? Of course not. And while we recognize that Hashem is not trapped by the human limitations that often block us, we can still use His compassionate, merciful standard as inspiration for our own behavior.

Wishing us all a gmar chatima tova.


Naphtali Hoff, PsyD, is an executive coach who helps busy leaders be more productive so that they can scale profits with less stress and get home at a decent hour. Learn more about his business mastermind groups for business owners and execs who want to network, problem solve, and grow at ImpactfulCoaching.com/BLM.

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