Thoughts on Forgiveness

When it comes to Yom Kippur, we discuss the theme of the day by using terms like atonement. ‘Atonement’, and even ‘forgiveness’ to a degree, is not used meaningfully in our society. There are other words – like clemency, pardon, reprieve, excuse, and amnesty – which have much greater cultural currency. Three of these terms form a juridical progression. Clemency is a reduction of a sentence without minimizing the gravity of the crime. A pardon is when the crime is forgiven but where the guilt of the pardoned is implicitly recognized. Amnesty happens when an offender or group of offenders is treated as though the crime never took place at all.

And for all of them, O clement God, grant us clemency, pardon us, grant us amnesty

The term ‘forgive’ is more often used in the context of individuals, free agents. If I owe you money, you have the option of forgiving that debt. That idea can be transposed to insult and injury as well. I feel it is important to clarify terminology because otherwise we’re simply playing word games – with our selves, with our friends, and with God. Thus, I would like to take this opportunity to ask my readers to forgive any offense I may have committed against you this year.

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