A man complained to a tzaddik that he had not been able to find peace of mind. Many years earlier, he had committed a sin, and although he had fasted and prayed for forgiveness and several Yom Kippurs had passed, he could not accept that he was completely forgiven and continues to harbor some guilt.
The tzaddik asked, “Have you forgiven others who offended you?”
“Of course,” the man answered.
“And your forgiveness was so complete that not a speck of resentment remains with you?” the tzaddik asked.
The man’s eyes turned downward, and in a soft undertone he said, “I cannot truthfully say that.”
“That is where the problem lies, my son,” the tzaddik said. “You must have a personal experience of total forgiveness to be able to accept the concept and feel that you have been totally forgiven. If you have not been able to feel total forgiveness toward others, you cannot relate it toward yourself either. You must devote yourself to perfecting your forgiveness of others.
“The Talmud quotes G-d as saying, ‘Bring a sin offering for Me, for My having reduced the size of the moon’ (Chullin 60b).
(This refers to the statement in Genesis (1:16) ‘G-d made the two great luminaries, the greater luminary to dominate the day and the lesser luminary to dominate the night.’ At first they are both referred to as great, but then one is lesser. The moon said, ‘Two kings cannot share the same crown,’ i.e. there cannot be two great luminaries. G-d then said to the moon, “Then you must become lesser, Rashi). G-d asks that a sin offering be brought for His having reduced the brightness of the moon.
“How are we to understand this?” the tzaddik said. “G-d can do no wrong, and He cannot possibly sin. In what way could G-d need forgiveness?
“But we frequently find that the Torah refers to G-d in anthropomorphic terms that help us understand His relationship to us, as when it speaks about the ‘mercy’ of G-d or His ‘compassion.’ Clearly, we cannot ascribe emotions to G-d, but these terms are used so that we can have some notion of how He relates to us.
“So it is with the concept of G-d asking for forgiveness. Forgiveness is a two-way affair. One can only feel totally forgiven if one totally forgives others, and conversely, one can only forgive others if one can thoroughly forgive oneself. Inasmuch as G-d wishes us to know that He forgives us when we have done proper teshuva (repentance), He tells us that He has experienced forgiveness Himself, so that we can feel assured of His forgiveness of our transgressions.”
This is an important thought as we approach Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. We must work on developing total forgiveness of others, so that we can accept and feel that G-d has totally forgiven us.