Reader: In Catholic Christianity
the concept of forgiveness is imbedded into us at a young age and overseen
through the formal ritual of sacramental confession. We are taught that
forgiveness of others by ourselves in extremely important in order to be
My question: Does the Torah or any formal teaching of Judaism address this issue as an ideal for daily living? In other words, does the Hebrew tradition put such importance on “turning the other cheek”, and “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those...” as mine does?
I have a paper to write about the story “Sunflower” by Simon Wiesenthal and his doubts about giving a dying SS soldier forgiveness. I am trying to determine if there is any religious reason Wiesenthal would have felt compelled to forgive this man. This is for an ethics class.
Mesora: All human values, such as forgiveness, are modeled after G-d’s truths, not by our subjective feelings. Many people, following their subjective “feelings” were the causes of great tragedies. Abel killed his brother based on feelings; Hitler followed his feelings, as did many others.
But the question is, “How does G-d demand we feel and act?” This is one reason why G-d gave us His Torah, His Bible, that we may learn true values.
Judaism sees a proof for the Five Books of Moses, but not for the New Testament. (You made read the article “Torah from Sinai” on our site for this proof.) Therefore, we follow G-d’s system of justice contained exclusively in the Five Books, following and understanding all of His values, not our own. He knows what is best for us. We do not follow Christianity’s doctrines, as there is no proof for that religion, and it is in direct violation of G-d’s words in His Torah. That religion is false. G-d says the Torah will never be added to or deleted from, and that it is a Torah for all generations, for all peoples. All other religions are false, by definition.
In His Torah, forgiveness is definitely a good value. However, as is the case with all Jewish philosophy, reason and intelligence form the core of each and every one of our values. Using our minds, we arrive at an appreciation and a conviction in G-d’s system, and in His underlying reasoning. Thus, we don’t forgive a crook if he does not return the object. We don’t forgive someone who wrongs us if he stands firm in his evil against us, with no remorse. This is foolish. Forgiveness means we recognize the person has repented from his ways with 100% sincerity; he is no longer the same person who ascribed to corruption. Therefore, we no longer have any claim against him. We fully recognize and accept his remorse, and his new values. It is only this type of complete repentance that G-d forgives man. (See Maimonides’ Laws of Repentance; Law 2:2) Therefore, this is the only model of a true forgiveness. But if someone has not repented, for what reason shall we accept and forgive the person? He is violating G-d’s words! We cannot accept this, we do not “turn the other cheek”, as this is a dangerous, Christian ethic. It invites harm to one’s self, and ignores G-d’s model of forgiveness. Forgiving one who still sins is not someone who G-d forgives, and therefore, someone we cannot forgive, as we follow G-d.
Studying G-d’s Torah, one learns that repentance is a prerequisite for forgiveness. The Torah also teaches, “If one comes to kill you, arise early and kill him first.” This means that we do not offer the other cheek to be smitten, but we take just precaution, and even kill our adversary first, when necessary to preserve our lives.
Whether Wiesenthal forgave or not, should not be what is studied, if you desire to know what G-d desires in His Torah. I did not read Wiesenthal’s book, so I cannot answer your last question. I will say however, that there are crimes so great; that G-d commands the courts to kill the offender. Hence, repentance is sometimes available only through death, and sometimes, not at all.
If in some cases G-d does not forgive, we would be religiously corrupt, violating G-d’s word by ascribing to this Christian ethic of “turning the other cheek”.