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Forgiveness - is it a gift you even want to receive or give? (SMSC Topic: The day of Atonement)

I’ve always tried to believe that when exchanging gifts,

“the pleasure was in the giving and not the receiving'’.

Of course, this works best, if at all with tangible gifts. I throw in a caveat here as if the intended reaction is of gratitude and not greed is it best discerned with a tangible gift? I have personally always enjoyed thinking of and buying presents pertinent to the receiver and over the years have become more and more aware of the necessity of “conscious consumerism” in my purchase choices. For me, the most pleasure is resolutely found in handing over a gift, the immediate reaction gleaned, and clear feedback immediately found.

So, what about other gifts, the intangible gifts or those in the form of talents and abilities? Do they evoke the same reaction, and should we expect them to? What about gifts that are not gratefully received or wanted? A gift that is both intangible yet integral to Jewish theology is the concept of forgiveness and is acknowledged during Yom Kippur – the day of Atonement.

Yom Kippur - The Day of Atonement

Even the words “Day of Atonement” allude to how special this day is for Jews throughout the world. With a focus on the passage found in Leviticus 16:30-31, observants acknowledge that this time is reserved for their God forgiving all sins committed against him, providing of course that the follower repents sincerely. This special day is set aside for this act of penitence. This does not preclude the adherent from making peace with God at any other time, just that he has no excuse on this day. Its not all about the individual though as the follower can forgive anyone else for their transgression against him/her.

There is an expectation of abstinence on this day, and 24 hours of fasting will incur. This 24-hour period without food or drink starts at sundown on the ninth day and ends at sundown the following or tenth day, so for a number of those hours the follower is asleep. In ancient times, the High Priest symbolically placed his hands on the head of the goat to represent that the nations sins had been removed and transferred to the goat. More relatively modern times the practice was completed using a chicken and the bird was given to a poor family. This part of the tradition has certainly lapsed apart from the use of the word ‘scape-goat’ which is commonly used today to refer to one who innocently carries the blame for something. Today the responsibility is still on the individual at Yom Kippur to offer his or her own act of repentance and no need for a goat or any other animal to be involved.

This is partly why Jewish males are officially recognised as adults is 13, typically an age associated with emotional maturity and greater capacity to make and stand by decisions made. Boys at this age must also observe the fast which serves two purposes. First it is a symbol of sacrifice to underline the sense of remorse felt and secondly it is a show of self-discipline that we can control our appetite as a symbol of all things. Both serve to focus on the spiritual rather than the material and in turn is a stark reminder of a those that face hunger on a regular basis.

The capacity to forgive

The capacity to forgive is often met with resistance, quite simply we may not want to forgive someone for something that has happened. The consequences of this however is the realisation that is only us who continues to suffer by holding onto that resentment. The other person in this equation is not feeling those negative emotions and are quite possibly living their life none the wiser of how you feel. It could be that you are the only one who is affected by the forgiveness or lack of forgiveness. Perhaps to bridge the gap between the two you may choose to read this Hawaiian prayer which says

“I forgive people but that doesn’t mean I accept their behaviour or trust them. I forgive them for me so I can let go and move on with my life”

Forgiveness can have both micro and macro implications, and using the song lyric from Chesney Hawkes “I am the one and only” and taking inspiration from it thus a micro perspective, one might believe “ I only have one life”, I’m going to make the most of it, I’m

here for a good time , not a long time” and so on. However, contrast it with English poet and cleric, John Donne who stated “No man is an island” the macro factors of lifestyle choices and the consequences of our own behaviour especially on others mus

Eva Mozes Kor (1934- 2019) survivor of the Holocaust
Eva Mozes Kor

Forgiveness as a construct is therefore quite different to forgiveness as a reality. One example of forgiveness in the face of adversity is Eva Kor, Jewish survivor of Auschwitz who tells her story here and her response using the gift of forgiveness.

Personal Experience

My own personal journey with forgiveness is very real and immediate. Someone who’s behaviour had a destructive and devastating effect on a member of my family with repercussions that are far reaching and long-term fleetingly come to mind with a very deliberate choice of the word fleetingly. For these reasons forgiveness for me is not an option, what I have done however is forgive myself for having these feelings and have accepted them and I have made an overt decision not to think about this person or make them part of my life in any way.

Reflection Questions


What other practical ways are there to resolve conflict if forgiveness is not an option?


Do you think that any behaviour is forgivable?


What are your beliefs and experiences about forgiveness? Remember it is a personal relationship with the concept of forgiveness. Your ideas might share the doctrines of Judaism and Yom Kippur but they will still be personal to you because no one else will have the same experiences as you.


Do you think justice works well in the British Justice system? Do you feel the same about other justice systems around the world?

Discuss with your kids, comment below and feel free to suggest other topics to talk about.


The long-term benefits of dialogue are improved relations and cooperation in the community, often enabling further development through social and political action.

This greater understanding of our own thoughts coupled with the discovery of different or similar points of view enhance collaboration opportunities with all involved.

Dialogue brings slow and lasting results, change from within the community itself and works towards finding purposeful solutions.

Your collaboration and discussion prompts are found here.

I would love to hear your thoughts and ideas so reach out to me and share.



PD/SMSC Educational Consultant

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