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by Rabbi Yisrael Pesach Feinhandler
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Yom Kippur

Forgive Your Spouse and Your Sins will be Forgiven

For on that day will He forgive you, to cleanse you, that you may be clean from all your sins before G-d.(VAYIKRA 16:30)

A simple shoemaker once cursed and berated Rabbi Aharon Rotte, author of Shomer Emunim. Throughout this ordeal, Rabbi Rotte did not answer back.

Some time later on Yom Kippur, Rabbi Rotte, accompanied by a friend, went to the home of the shoemaker. The Rabbi said to him, "It has been a long time since I have seen you. I understand that you are probably angry with me. Therefore I have come on this day of Yom Kippur to pacify you and ask your forgiveness."

The shoemaker was impressed by Rabbi Rotte's tremendous modesty and capacity to forgive. Instead of his having to go to the Rabbi to ask forgiveness, the Rabbi had come to him. The shoemaker was greatly embarrassed and regretted his actions. He was full of admiration and love for the righteousness of Rabbi Rotte. From that time on, he became one of the Rabbi's most faithful students. (K'TZES HA-SHEMESH BI-GVURASO, p. 214)

Rabbi Rotte went well beyond what could be reasonablyexpected to forgive others. We should emulate his behavior in our dealings with our spouses.

Rabbi Levi said, "This [Ya'akov and Esav] is comparable to a hairy person and a bald person who walked into a silo of wheat. Straw blew onto the hairy one and it became entangled in his hair. Straw also came upon the bald person, but he put his hand on his head and brushed it off. The same applies here: Esav, the wicked, gets dirty with sins throughout the year, yet he does not have anything with which to be forgiven [in Hebrew the words forgiven and wiped off have the same letters]; but Ya'akov gets dirty with sins throughout the year, and when Yom Kippur arrives he has the wherewithal to be forgiven [wiped clean], as it is written: 'For on this day He will forgive ou.'"(MIDRASH RABBAH BERESHIS ch. 65 par. 15)

Why is Esav compared to a hairy person and Ya'akov compared to a bald person? The Torah says that Esav was hairy; does this fact have spiritual implications? Why is Esav not forgiven on Yom Kippur, while Ya'akov is?

The idea of Esav being hairy allegorically represents Esav's intimate involvement with sin. Just as a person's hair can become very tangled, so was Esav entangled in sin. Hence when Yom Kippur arrived it could have no positive influence upon him. He was not awed or frightened by the seriousness of the day and did not feel that he had to make a spiritual reckoning before G-d. Even if he had considered doing so, it would have been extremely difficult for him, since sin was deeply enmeshed in his nature.

Ya'akov, on the other hand, is compared to the bald person who walks into a silo. This signifies in allegorical terms that although Ya'akov lives in the materialistic world (symbolized by the grain silo) and therefore is automatically tempted to sin, nevertheless sin is not an essential part of him.

Sin is in the air in this world just as straw is in the air when you walk into a silo; you can simply not avoid it. Since Ya'akov has a body and a yetzer hara, some sin is bound to attach itself to him. This is reflected in the verse which says, "There is no righteous person in the world who does good and does not sin."

However, for Ya'akov, this sin is like straw on a bald person. It is there, but it is easily wiped off since he is not entangled with it. For Ya'akov it is only an external and temporary part of him. He can easily remove all transgressions through sincere repentance, since in his essence he really does not want to be attached to sin. He would rather live a purely spiritual existence, but this is not possible because he lives amidst a materialistic world. He must "walk into the silo," and as a consequence some sin will inevitably attach itself to him.

In his case, when Yom Kippur arrives, his fear of this awesome day makes him realize that he must wipe himself clean in order to be inscribed in the Book of Life. He does this gladly since he never really wanted to sin in the first place. He considers the opportunity to be free of sin as if he had found a spiritual gold mine. Therefore he quickly and thoroughly wipes away any traces of sin that cling to him.

Forgiving Your Spouse: a Golden Opportunity

This is also an important lesson when it comes to our relationship with our spouses. We should realize thateven though our spouses make mistakes, sin is not an integral part of them but is like the straw which the bald man can easily wipe off his head. It is only human to err, and so, when we realize that our spouses do not really mean to hurt us, it will be easier for us to forgive them. Normally, when we are insulted by our spouses, we tend to feel very hurt and to blow up the incident to gigantic proportions. We may even tell our parents, our siblings, and sometimes our neighbors what our spouse said or did. When other people get involved, this only adds fuel to the fire. Naturally, we can expect that the more we blow it up, the more damage it will do.

When you feel hurt by something your spouse has said or done, the first thing you should do, once you have calmed down, is to confront your spouse and tell him or her frankly how you feel. When you talk things out, each side can more readily understand the problem and do something to solve it.

The next thing you should do is work on your heart to forgive your spouse. The halachah states that a person is not allowed to be cruel, but must forgive those who ask for forgiveness. 3 In addition, another person's sin is not forgiven until the one he sinned against forgives him. 4. Therefore we have a great responsibility to forgive our spouses, so that we will not cause them any harm as a result of our stubborness.

The fact that our spouses are not perfect gives us a golden opportunity to grow in spiritual terms. Our Sages say, "One who passes over his middos has all his sins passed over." 5 To "pass over your middos" means that when another personharms you and causes you to suffer, even though you would love to react and teach the other person the lesson of a lifetime, instead you let it pass as if nothing had happened.

When a person does not react even though he is angered and wants to do so, his reward is great and all his sins are forgiven. This can be explained by the principle of middah keneged middah,6 which means "measure for measure," which is to say that, since he did not react harshly but instead was willing to forgive, so too G-d also does not react to his sins and instead forgives him. This is really a fitting reward, since if a person has such great self-restraint that he can overcome his natural inclination to react with anger, this shows that sin is not really a part of his character, and if he does sin it is only a temporary mistake and deserves to be forgiven.

Who would not desire this wonderful blessing of having all his sins passed over? Especially on Yom Kippur. Thus, not reacting angrily to our spouses when they make a mistake or hurt our feelings is a sure way of attaining our objective of atonement and forgiveness on that holy day.

This is also a good resolution to make for the coming yearto be tolerant and forgiving towards our spouses. When a person makes such a resolution, he is showing G-d that he wants to make a change in the right direction and improve his interpersonal relationships. This kind of resolution on Yom Kippur brings a person great merit.

There is always room for improvement in any relationship. Because you spend so much time with your spouse there are innumerable opportunities to make mistakes, but on the other hand, there are also innumerable opportunities to do things right. We should all inspect our actions and attitudes towards our spouses and try to improve wherever it's needed.

In addition we must not forget to ask forgiveness from our spouses, even when it is not Yom Kippur. This is importantbecause these offenses, like all those between human beings, are not forgiven by G-d until th e offended party forgives us first.

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