A child needs to understand one of the basic truths about forgiveness: When we forgive, we are doing it first and foremost for ourselves.    

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach 

In appreciation of our being in the midst of the Ten Days of Awe, I would like to share with you some of Rabbi Boteach’s recommended conversations to have with our children, it seems especially fitting to begin with forgiveness. Part of forgiveness is about helping the forgiven person to feel better, about re-establishing the connection between two people. However, the main reason for us to forgive others is for ourselves –“so that we don’t let [anger] poison our hearts and turn them to stone. The reason that forgiveness is so important, and the reason it is such a central theme of Judaism, is because we believe that you can’t be fully human if you don’t forgive.” 

Rabbi Boteach, in his chapter on forgiveness, acknowledged several errors that he had made  in the family home he was working so hard to make better and more kind than the one in which he grew up. He and his family were traveling across the southern part of the US on a radio tour. One Shabbat evening, after a wonderful meal out in the woods (the family was traveling in their RV – nine family members and two friends), Rabbi Boteach sat the family down around the campfire, telling them he had some important thoughts to share and would take 20 minutes and then would give them 40 minutes to respond. He talked with them about his imperfection, despite his strongest desires not to make the errors he acknowledged. He reflected his awareness that his errors had caused the children to distance themselves from him. He asked forgiveness and promised to work even harder. During the time his children responded, Rabbi Boteach learned a great deal. He not only received validation about how much his shouting and volatile temper had hurt them, but he also learned that he didn’t listen as well as he would have liked, that they didn’t want him to smoke cigars, even occasionally, and most devastating of all to him, he learned that not only had he been disrespectful to his wife, but also that his children had witnessed his actions. Then the family indicated that they didn’t want him to apologize while continuing the same behaviors; they simply wanted him to cease his hurtful actions.  He promised to do so and experienced far greater success than he had in the past. At the end of the discussion, Rabbi Boteach offered this comment to his children and wife: An unforgiving heart is a heavy heart. When you don’t forgive someone, you become bitter, and that feeling festers, affecting you more than it affects them. When you forgive, the one you are truly freeing is yourself.  

Now, at this very important and holy time of our year, may we gain wisdom, courage and strength from Rabbi Boteach. May we follow his path toward finding our own humanity, our own gentleness, and our own sense of forgiveness toward those who have wronged us. May we, as parents, always remember that our “children will seldom talk to [us] about the [big] things that hurt them, and as human beings, may we always remember that “one mustn’t always judge people by what they do, but by how far they’ve come. Not by the destination, but by the journey.”