Learning to Let Go

Earlier this year, I read a review in The New York Times of a book titled “How to Hold a Grudge”, surprisingly portraying the practice in a rather positive light. I acknowledge that at times holding a grudge may fill us with temporary satisfaction and even a sense of moral superiority; nevertheless, for my own benefit, I try to adhere to the commandment “Thou shalt not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge” (Leviticus 19:18). 

In one of the most insightful books about the Days of Awe, “This Is Real and You Are Completely Unprepared”, the late Rabbi Alan Lew wrote the following about grudges: 

“I wonder how many of us are holding on very hard to some piece of personal history that is preventing us from moving on with our lives, and keeping us from those we love. I wonder how many of us cling so tenaciously to a version of the story of our lives in which we appear to be utterly blameless and innocent, that we become oblivious to the pain we have inflicted on others, no matter how unconsciously or inevitably or innocently we may have inflicted it. I wonder how many of us are terrified of acknowledging the truth of our lives because we think it will expose us. How many of us stand paralyzed between the moon and the sun; frozen—unable to act in the moment—because of our terror of the past and because of the intractability of the present circumstances that past has wrought? Forgiveness, it has been said, means giving up our hopes for a better past. This may sound like a joke, but how many of us refuse to give up our version of the past, and so find it impossible to forgive ourselves or others, impossible to act in the present?”

Pay attention to the language: we hold grudge, carry grudge, bear grudge. It is easy to hold a light object for a short time, but the longer we hold it the heavier it feels. The longer we carry the grudge, the more stress it puts on us. When we let go of it, we do it for ourselves, not the offender. As the adage puts it, “holding a grudge is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.”

It is not to say that we had no right or reason to be angry when we were originally offended. Our feelings were valid for the situation at the time, but since then our mental and spiritual growth along with our life experiences should allow us to reshape our thinking and attitude. Dr. Luskin from Stanford University dedicated his professional career for the study of the physiological and mental benefits of forgiveness and letting go of grudges.

I particularly recommend his
9 Steps for Forgiveness: (https://learningtoforgive.com/9-steps/).

We often want to take on some personal improvement projects like exercising, meditating, and uncluttering our homes, but since they are not easy, we keep putting them off. It helps to put a day on the calendar to mark the beginning of such project. The first day of Elul, a month before Rosh Hashanah, is the traditional time for Jews to embark on our self-improvement projects. This year, it falls on Sunday, September 1. You are welcome to join us on the beach at 6:45am for a short Sunrise Service and a shofar blowing. And after breakfast, you may want to start the liberating process of letting go of your grudges. 

When Rabbi Carlebach was asked after the Holocaust why he doesn’t hate the Germans he answered, “I only have one soul. If I had two souls, I would gladly devote one of them to hating the Germans full-time. But I don’t. I only have one soul, and I’m not going to waste it on hating.”

My family wishes you and yours Shanah Tovah.