Meir Shalev, in his brilliant book Beginnings: The First Love, the First Hate, the First Dream… Reflections on the Bible’s Intriguing Firsts suggests that self forgiveness is perhaps even more difficult than forgiveness by the injured party. Commenting on the biblical tale of Esau and Jacob he writes, “The two stories prove that someone who has injured his fellow man with brutality or deception thinks that everyone acts that way. Thus Esau… returned from his meeting with his brother with his heart pure and whole, whereas Jacob continued to suffer fear and suspicion.”
And of Joseph he writes, “Joseph cried and got emotional and even claimed that the evil perpetrated by his brothers was planned from above to lead to a happy ending. But the brothers remained the same violent and hateful shepherds who threw him in the pit, and they never stopped being afraid.”
Shalev thus raises the bar for the challenge our approaching holy days bring to each of us. We are commanded to seek forgiveness and we are commanded to forgive. There are steps we follow to make our apologies to others—acknowledging our actions, acknowledging the pain we wrought, trying to make restitution, seeking forgiveness etc.
This question is how do we make it right with ourselves? This is more than not committing the same offense again. How do we make ourselves whole after causing hurt to others? Perhaps this is one reason that these days of soul searching come annually. It is an ongoing process—part of the cycle of growth—forgetting, forgiving and renewal.