April 14, 2024
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April 14, 2024
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Part II

In Part I of this series we came to understand that the ability to “forgive, even when one can’t forget,” continues to be one the greatest relational challenges we face, one that occupies a large percentage of the caseloads in the practices of relational therapists. We also considered the debate among the commentators regarding the origins of forgiveness in the Torah and concluded that it was the dramatic encounters of Yaakov and Eisav and Yosef and his siblings that go a long way in helping us identify the essential elements of forgiveness; they also offer us a toolbox of strategies in achieving this daunting goal. In this article, we will focus on an analysis of the text in two pesukim at the end of Parshat Toldot, and we will find that the sage advice of Rivkah to Yaakov, when she encouraged him to flee from his brother, that helps to plant the seed that must be sown before the entire process of forgiveness can begin. We read: “So now, my son, my voice, arise; flee to my brother Lavan…and dwell with him for a few days until your brother’s wrath subsides. Until your brother’s anger against you subsides and he forgets what you have done to him (Bereishit: 27: 44-45).”

The commentators question the seeming redundancy in these two verses. Indeed, on a superficial level, the two pesukim do appear repetitive. Numerous commentators weigh in on this question and delve more deeply into the text, revealing subtle differences in the wording, and demonstrating that two different messages are imparted in these verses. The V’luzhina Rebbe offers an explanation, which resonates most strongly for me. Let us imagine the dialogue between mother and son, when Yaakov tearfully asks his mother how long he was expected to stay away. She responds: “Yamim achadim”; and we can actually feel his pain, when he begins to realize that those “few” days in fact turn into many years. Moreover, according to the Rebbe, the wording in the pesukim intimate that it was Yaakov who would determine the length of his stay. Rivkah advised Yaakov: “You will know [it is time to come home not only] when your brother’s wrath subsides against you,” as is stated in the second pasuk, but also “when your brother’s wrath subsides [from within you],” interpreted by the Rebbe as when your anger against your brother subsides, as is suggested in the first pasuk.

With these words, Rivkah was communicating a very important life lesson that is relevant to every one of us. Indeed, the true litmus test for knowing that a rift can be healed is when one is ready to let go of one’s own anger against the other to the point that he can put himself in the shoes of the other and feel the part he played and the pain he may have caused. Rivkah taught us that being right has no value in the process of forgiving; instead, we need to shift our focus on crossing the bridge and feeling the other’s pain, as well as recognizing our own part in the rift. Rivkah related the message that it was only when Yaakov assessed the full measure of his ability to forgive and once more feel love where hate once stood, that he would be assured that Eisav would respond in kind. Indeed, forgiving others is nothing less than the “mirror image” of forgiving oneself. Rivkah understood the important truth that in the relational dyad and the grudges each partner shares, there is rarely a clear victim, even though each party claims this starring role as his own. Yet, it is exactly the experience of being the victim and holding onto one’s anger and resentment that is the seductive and powerful force that continues to feed and sustain the rift. Rivkah also knew that it was Yaakov who had to take the high road, that first step, in tapping into the reservoir of his deep inner love for his twin; given what we know of Eisav, it is hard to imagine that a love once existed between the two; but it was there and it allowed Yaakov to let go and recognize his own part in the deep hurt felt by Eisav when he cried out; “Tati (Yitzchak), don’t you have a bracha left for me?”

What a beautiful lesson we can take away, apply and use to enrich our own lives. If Yaakov, who had every legitimate reason to hold onto his anger, was able to let go, so can we; in doing so we will discover that it is in the capacity to forgive, even those with whom we bear the greatest anger, that we reveal the courage we possess and experience the joy of recovering a love we believed was possibly lost to us forever.

Dr. Renee Nussbaum is a practicing psychoanalyst, with special training in Imago Relational Therapy. She can be reached at: doctorrenee nussbaum @gmail.com.

By Dr. Renee Nussbaum

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