Troubled water and bridges
I was just reading "Destined by the future" (I don't know how to translate "Overgeleverd aan de toekomst") about Emmanuel Levinas and the Talmud, by Bas Baanders. One of Levninas' Talmud lectures is about forgiveness and reconciliation. I find it very beautiful.
The Talmud explains that when somebody misbehaved towards God, then this can be solved between this person and God. During Jom Kippur, the Atonement Day, God can offer forgiveness. But conflicts between two persons cannot be solved by God. It's not God who gives forgivesness when I did something wrong to another person. Then we have to solve it together.
The Atonement day can bring forgiveness, but to forgive is not something external, it's a process inside a person. Repentance / a change-over is needed. Levinas gives some examples in his lecture of the Talmud, and he discusses some questions of what to do when forgiveness is refused.
It's good to see how this topic is analysed with great attention. The rabbis are very much concerned with ethics, with how they should treat other people. It would be good if more people would deal with others with care like this, to make deliberate choices.
This is what touched me in the film "Troubled water", the goodness of the boy (Jan) who accidently killed a child. (By the way, the child is called Isaac, like the son of Abraham whom he was going to sacrifice because God told him to do so.) He is acting with great care for the people around him. He thinks about right and wrong and tries to do the right thing as much as he can. He has made a big mistake in his life, he did something very wrong. He feels quilty about it. But he tries to cope somehow with what has happened, and to try to make a new start. The priest Anna says that forgiveness is not the most important. The most important is to accept your life and yourself and to go on. Jan asks her if evil comes from God as well. She says yes. Everything that happens is meant to be. If you go through suffering it will make you stronger. She hopes that something good will come from that her child doesn't have a father (he left). Jan says that it's so naive to think that something good will come out of something bad. She says that she is naive, that's why she became a priest.
The film shows the process the offender (Jan) and the victim (the mother of the child that died) to deal with and accept what has happened. There's a strong tie between them, because of what has happened. They need each other. And they can't stand each other.
It's not easy for Jan to admit, first to himself, that he's responsible for the death of the child. It's not easy for the mother to meet / face the murderer of her child. Finally they meet each other and they talk. She says: “You must have killed my child, you have either beaten him to death or drown him. But why??? Why did you do that? I never understood.”
Forgiveness is a very important theme in the work of Levinas. And if I will ever write my dissertation / book, then it will be an important element there as well. Levinas talks about how to live with the other person, who is totally different, who makes me responsible. What can I do to be able to forgive? And will I be forgiven? What happens when forgiveness is not possible. With regard to intercultural contact the other person may be a stranger, an immigrant. And I will be the other person for him or her. If we want to learn how to live together with different cultures, I think it's important that we learn how to forgive, as one of the ways to improve our intercultural skills. Forgiveness helps to build a bridge between one person and the other, it makes it possible to let go of the past and to make a new start.