Sweet Forgiveness| October 6, 2022
I was sure now that Chaim was exaggerating some minor slight
Chaim called, emailed, and left a note on my office door requesting to see me before Yom Kippur.
“What going on, Chaim?” I asked when he came to see me in my office.
“Rabbi, I know we’re expected to forgive everyone before Yom Kippur. However, I must confess. No matter how hard I try, there’s one person in the world I cannot yet forgive.”
“Do you want to tell me about it?”
Chaim whispered, “It has to do with something that, if I remember correctly, you taught us in shiur — that I’m not obligated to forgive for such an offense. Didn’t you once say that if someone embarrasses you in public, you don’t have to forgive them, because they can never really do teshuvah?”
“Chaim, you have a good memory. I assume someone embarrassed you in public, correct?”
Chaim nodded as his face reddened.
“And I imagine you can’t find it in your heart to forgive that person?”
Once again, Chaim silently nodded.
I sat back in my seat. It was Erev Yom Kippur, there were derashos to be written and questions to be answered. I’d already been sitting for 30 minutes with Chaim, and he couldn’t tell me who had hurt him so deeply. I was starting to get somewhat annoyed. How badly could Chaim have been embarrassed? I pondered. Chaim must be making a mountain out of a molehill.
Then he spoke up: “Rabbi, didn’t you mention that the shame a person feels is compounded by the importance of the person doing the shaming?
“Yes, Chaim, you are correct.”
Chaim again fell silent.
I was sure now that Chaim was exaggerating some minor slight, and probably no one else had even picked up on it.
“Chaim, can I help you get over this?”
Chaim nodded. “Yes, you can help me.”
I leaned in toward Chaim.
“Rabbi, the important person I am having trouble forgiving is sitting across from me right now.”
His words exploded with the intensity of an atomic bomb.
I had humiliated or embarrassed Chaim? What was he talking about?
“Chaim, how did I embarrass you?”
“Do you remember when we were learning the halachos of what constitutes a seudah for one to fulfill their obligation of Kiddush b’makom seudah?”
“Rabbi, you said, ‘You can eat a piece of cake, a cracker, or even lokshen kugel.’
“I asked, ‘What’s lokshen kugel?’
“And you smiled and said, ‘You don’t know what lokshen kugel is?’
“I was humiliated, Rabbi. Everyone in the room now knew I was a fool, an ignoramus, an ‘amhaetz,’ or however you pronounce it. Rabbi, it is you whom I cannot find it in my heart to forgive. If the rabbi of the shul mocks you for not knowing what lokshen kugel is, then the entire shul knows you are nothing.”
I stared at Chaim as my entire world came crashing down.
There were no derashos to write and no questions to be answered.
There was one and only thing that mattered, and that was that I had publicly shamed another Yid.
I looked at Chaim, and he looked at me.
Tears began to run down both our cheeks.
I stood up, walked over to his seat, pulled him to his feet, and hugged him. I then did the only other thing I could do.
“Chaim, tonight we will walk into shul together, and you will hold the sefer Torah with me at Kol Nidre.”
That night Chaim and I held the Torah together.
On Erev Succos, less than an hour before candlelighting, I noticed a bag on my door. When I opened the bag, I saw an aluminum pan. It was still warm. A note was taped to the lid: “Rabbi, please accept this gift from me for Succos. I made the lokshen kugel myself. Your friend, Chaim.”
Until Mashiach comes, there will never be a more Heavenly tasting lokshen kugel than the one I ate that Succos night. —
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 931)
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