The Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, begins this Wednesday night. We call the time from then to the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, the “ten days of repentance” and they are the supreme moments of holiness of Jewish time. The theme of these days is apology and forgiveness. We confess our sins, ask to be forgiven, and pray that we may be given another year of life to try again and do better next time.
Of all virtues, forgiveness is among the most important, and its absence the most destructive. I have known marriages fail, families divided and communities split apart simply because the two sides could not bring themselves to forgive and ask to be forgiven. Why should they? After all, they were in the right and the others in the wrong. That is how self-righteousness wrecks lives.
All the more so on a larger scale, within or between nations. In the run-up to the conflict in Bosnia, Slobodan Milosevic and Franjo Tudjman manipulated the stories that Serbs and Croats told about themselves, each portraying his group as heroic victims. Milosevic in particular played on the theme of the Battle of Kosovo in 1389.
Unforgiveness has a long memory. As Ogden Nash said, nobody forgets where he buried the hatchet.