Rabbi Wolpe - ADL Impressions

Kedoshim – Forgiveness and Self-Love

Rabbi Akiva identifies a problematic verse as the most important one in the Torah: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18).

Parashat Kedoshim contains a number of laws, but it is revealing to note what immediately precedes the admonition, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The beginning of the verse is, “Lo tikom v’lo titur” (Do not take vengeance or hold a grudge against others).

If you are not to hold a grudge, what ought one to do? When someone commits an offense against you, the alternative to holding a grudge is forgiveness. We are all aware that forgiveness is, to say the least, a difficult task. The advice of the Talmud is not easy to follow: “Be of those who take an insult but do not give it. Hear their reproach but do not reply” (Gittin 36b). There may be offenses for which forgiveness is not possible. Yet, we live increasingly in a society where forgiveness is not given for almost any offense, and words that one speaks can result in being publicly reviled or “canceled” with no apparent path to restoration.

This is not only ungenerous but a narrow view of the purposes of forgiveness. We do not forgive other people only for their sake. As has been said–to hold a grudge against another is to swallow poison planning for it to kill the persons next to you.

The verse that precedes loving your neighbor tells us, “Do not hate your kinsman in your heart.” It is one of the very few places where the Torah commands emotion. But we can now understand that it does so for our own good, because hatred not only imperils community, but it embitters the life of the hater. One way of understanding the famous verse that follows is – love your neighbor, forgive your neighbor, for that is one way of learning to love yourself.

It is lesson our society needs to learn.