“Every year, I struggle with this, when the Yomim Nora’im come around. I want G-d to forgive my misdeeds, so I need to forgive others. And I really try to. If someone owes me money or hurt my feelings, I can really let it go. I’m not a spiteful person; I don’t’ have enemies. But there’s this one thing. My daughter’s teacher in high school- a Rabbi, by title, said and did awful things- not just to her. We are still working through the emotional issues that resulted in both what he did and how the school mishandled it. We didn’t want to be public about it, mainly for the girls’ privacy. But we tried to confront him and the administration, and it was completely denied and stonewalled, even when proof was offered. Worse, any students or parents who spoke up were dismissed, shamed, marginalized, or threatened. We tried to protect our child and help her, but it had already happened, with serious repercussions, and all we can do is help her heal. To this day, there has been no acknowledgement, no apology, no attempt to make amends. Now, I don’t know how to forgive him; I guess I don’t really want to. I hate going into the new year with this on my head.”
A heart-breakingly common story, one that is hard to discuss openly.
How does one forgive someone who hurt a child? How does one forgive the impenitent? Should we even try?
I’m not here to pretend to have the answers to these difficult questions.
There are those who would say that forgiving is not for the benefit of the offender, but for the mental health of the wronged. I’m not so convinced that’s always true. Not everything is forgivable.
I do know that G-d has little tolerance for those who hurt the innocent without remorse.
I don’t know the Halachic ramifications; I’ll leave that to the Torah scholars to debate.
I don’t know if there is objectively sound psychological guidance; every situation has its own human variables. And every individual has her own inner compass.
But I do know that both parents and survivors of scholastic and religious abuse deserve to be acknowledged. That this isn’t a hush-hush rare and random occasional mistake, but a widespread institutional phenomenon that requires societal repair, beginning with the complicity administrations and bystanders who allow this to go on. And not penalizing those who try to speak up and advocate. We need to do better.
I don’t know if or how you forgive someone for hurting your child.
But I don’t believe that our merciful G-d would hold that against you in the meantime.
*This post is dedicated to the countless survivors of school-based abuse of all kinds, and their families, especially those who don't feel safe to say this themselves.
Wishing you healing, health, and happiness. *
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Elisheva Liss, LMFT is a psychotherapist in private practice. Her book, Find Your Horizon of Healthy Thinking, is available on Amazon.com. She can be reached for sessions or speaking engagements at firstname.lastname@example.org More of her content can be found at ElishevaLiss.com