Washington, DC (March 30, 2023)—The U.S. Army Medical Command hosted one of its Resilient Leader Webinars to promote resilience and readiness. Rabbi Bonnie Koppell serves as an Associate Rabbi to the Temple Chai Community in Phoenix, Arizona. Rabbi Koppell’s topic was “forgiveness.” She is a graduate of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College where she received a Doctor of Divinity degree. She also has a Master of Strategic Studies degree from the Army War College and was the first ordained women rabbi to serve as a US military chaplain. Her last assignment in the Army was at the 807th Medical Command and is described as a “Friend of the Army Medical World.”
Why consider forgiveness? Rabbi Koppell asked, because “forgiveness is the greatest spiritual challenge that we might face.”
Many people are reluctant to be forgiving. One reason, Rabbi Koppel said, is that we use the word “forgive” much too broadly.
Forgiveness may best be defined by what it is not. Forgiveness does not mean that we accept wrongdoing. We can choose to forgive and still understand that somebody did something that was unacceptable. Forgiveness does not necessarily mean reconciliation. There are small things that people do that we can forgive more easily.
There are also big hurts that cause us to say, “I want to let go of this pain for my own health and wellbeing and not open myself up to more pain,” an important reason for forgiveness.
Forgiveness does not mean the pain goes away, she said. You can forgive, and the hurt is still there.
In addition, Rabbi Koppell said, forgiveness does not mean there are no consequences. Depending on the nature of the wrong, changes may need to be made to restore the relationship. The trust that has been breached may have to earned once more.
We need to think about forgiveness as “letting go,” Rabbi Koppell said.
Rabbi Koppell recapped the story of Joseph. Joseph had every reason to hate his brothers, she said. They were jealous of him, they sold him into slavery, they imprisoned him in Egypt. Eventually Joseph rises to be second in command and his brothers ultimately came to him looking for food during a time of famine. The brothers did not recognize Joseph, although Joseph recognized the brothers. When he revealed himself, they were fearful they would hold a righteous anger against them and refuse to help them. Joseph was able to let go of that anger and act for good, not in anger.
Rabbi Koppell also provided thoughts from other scholars on forgiveness; how to handle forgiveness has been considered for a long time by teachers and scholars of religion.
Dr. Fred Luskin, in his book, “Forgive for Good,” describes this phenomenon as the “unenforceable rules.” These rules attempt to force your rule onto someone or something you have no control over. When your wishes turn into demands, you have created unenforceable rules.
“When you're frustrated about any situation or relationship that you have no control over, you are wasting your time and destroying your quality of life.” Luskin says. He also says that it is not that we shouldn’t be angry, we are allowed that, but he has a phrase to remember: “why do we feel this hurt.” An analogy of an unenforceable rule is this. We are like a policeman writing traffic tickets that he has no way to deliver because his police car is broken down by the side of the road. You cannot force your rules onto others’ behaviors.
In “Forgiveness and Its Limits,” Jeffrie Murphy advocates for what he calls “an appropriate level of revenge.” He says, “even as we preach the virtues of forgiveness, we should recognize that the victims deserve to have their vindictive passions respected and to some degree validated. Even if these passions should not be the last word, they have a legitimate claim to be the first word. They should be listened to with respect stead of with pious service and sentimental dismissive clichés.”
That is important guidance for ourselves as well, Rabbi Koppel said.
Another scholar, Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, says when you are entering into that moment when you are offering someone criticism, you should ask three questions:
-- How do I feel about offering this criticism?
-- Am I offering specific ways to change?
-- Are my words threatening or reassuring?
What happens when we are on the giving end of wrongdoing? How do we go about apologizing? Jewish tradition says that if you hurt someone, you have to verbally recognize the wrong, and you need to request forgiveness a minimum of three times. That way the offended has the opportunity to hold on to their hurt for a reasonable amount of time. After three apologies, you have fulfilled your obligation to request forgiveness. There is one exception to that if you person you have hurt is your teacher you may have to ask up to 100 times to forgive you (speaking to the Jewish value of respect for teachers).
It does no good to stay angry.
Another book by Gary Chapman and Jennifer Thomas is “The 5 Languages of Apology.” The five languages are as follows:
-- Expression of regret — which must include the words “I’m sorry” and also a specific acknowledgement what was done wrong.
-- Accepting responsibility — “I may be wrong” is an important statement.
-- Restitution — what can you do to make it better.
-- Genuine repentance.
-- Asking for forgiveness.
Chapman and Thomas say, when you request to be forgiven, you are making a huge request. When the injured party forgives you, they must give up their desire for justice, relinquish their hurt and anger, their feeling of embarrassment or humiliation, their feelings of rejection or betrayal, and sometimes they must live with the consequences of wrong behavior.
There are other ideas regarding forgiveness and how to accomplish it.
Professor Robert Enright, who is working on a forgiveness therapy process model, says, “Giving up the resentment to which you are entitled and offering friendlier attitudes to which they are not entitled” is his definition of forgiveness.
Rabbi Nancy Fuchs Kreimer, Ph.D., associate professor emeritus of religious studies and the founding director of the Department of Multifaith Studies and Initiatives at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, said, “Forgiveness is not something you do for the people you are mad at; it is a gift you give to yourself.”
Although there is a range of thought on how to handle forgiveness, Rabbi Korrell closed with these thoughts:
-- Forgiveness frees you from carrying around the hurt any longer and from being the victim.
-- A person who can forgive easily finds life less painful.
-- Parents teach their children to be forgiving people, not only because it is a virtue but because parents want their children to enjoy their lives.