Forgiveness is not age-restrictive

The month of Elul has begun and with it, we prepare for the holidays. “Preparing for the holidays” means so many different things to different people. However, beyond the new clothes, and who is coming for dinner, and what will the rabbi talk about, is the inside work that we must begin. We begin the process of forgiveness which is so much more than “saying sorry.”
As we prepared for preschool at the J, we reflected on this concept for young children. Together we read and discussed a wonderful article by Michelle Woo titled “What to Say to Little Kids Instead of ‘Say Sorry.’”
Here are the steps
1) Bring the kids together.
2) Tell the child who caused the accident what happened and be specific.
3) Describe what you see; model empathy for the hurt child.
4) Take action, and make a guarantee.
For children, we must model and talk through each of these steps, but how does it work with teens, young adults, older adults and even those who think they are too old to change? The hardest part is coming to the person to start the apology. We must come together to understand what we have done that is hurtful, to see the impact of our action or words. We must be empathetic, working to feel what the other feels.
What about actions to make things better? What if there is no “thing” that we can do? The final step is the hardest — commit to not doing it again, and finding a way to remind ourselves not to do so.
Of course, there are all sorts of hurts we feel sorry we have inflicted, or that have been done to us. In an article from the Sefaria website, Sara Wolkenfeld shares a story from an Auschwitz survivor:
“On Jan. 27, 1995, at the 50th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, I stood by the ruins of the gas chambers with my children…while I read my document of forgiveness and signed it. As I did that I felt a burden of pain was lifted from me. I was no longer in the grip of pain and hate; I was finally free. The day I forgave the Nazis, privately I forgave my parents, whom I hated all my life for not having saved me from Auschwitz. Children expect their parents to protect them; mine couldn’t. And then I forgave myself for hating my parents. Forgiveness is really nothing more than an act of self-healing and self-empowerment. I call it a miracle medicine. It is free; it works and has no side effects.”
While most of us do not have to carry such a burden of hate, we can understand what this woman is saying, on many levels. Asking for forgiveness is important, not just at Yom Kippur, but whenever we have hurt another. Yet, the process helps both sides of the hurt and possibly the hardest act of forgiveness comes in forgiving yourself.
May this month of Elul bring plenty of reflection, forgiveness and change.

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