She stumbled out of the doctor’s office and into the hospital elevator. Her husband must have pressed the button for the ground floor, because she suddenly found herself there among the throngs of people pulsating with life in the lobby. Life! How much more did she have left of it? How much time?
“It will be all right, Chana” her husband attempted, the anguish burning in his eyes. “We’ll go to Gedolim for brachos. There must be something.”
In a trance Chana moved out of the main entrance and reached the sidewalk, gulping each blast of fresh air as if it was her last.
So they went. Though Chana was exhausted and sick from treatments, she and Shmuel made the rounds, visiting one Gadol after the other, gathering brachos in their desperate arms and lapping up sage advice. It was the last Rav they visited who ignited a spark in Chana’s mind.
“Think back to whether there was someone in your life you really hurt,” the Rav said. “If you think he or she still hasn’t forgiven you, go ask mechilah. Keep going, again and again, until you get it.”
The Rabbi’s words were like the button on a tape-recorder; Chana’s mind rewound fast, straight back to the incident. Even though it had happened many years ago, the memory was still fresh and easily retrievable. And it wasn’t pleasant.
Esti and Chana had been close childhood friends. But they were not friends anymore. Unfortunately, Esti’s marriage had ended in an ugly divorce, with her ex-husband taking her to court claiming she was an unfit mother, unable to care for her children. Esti was instructed to bring witnesses to court to vouch for her capability as a mother, and one of them was Chana. Standing before the judge in the courtroom was a nerve-wracking experience, and Chana found herself nervous and fumbling for words. Unconvinced by her statement, the judge drilled her with more and more questions that she stammered and stuttered over. Sadly, after reviewing all the witnesses’ statements, the court ruled that Esti’s children be taken away from her. Despite Chana’s attempts to explain to Esti that she’d tried her best to defend her and was on her side, her friend refused to listen, blaming Chana instead for ruining her life.
Clearly, this was the terrible event that the Rav was referring to.
Chana murmured a tefillah before ringing Esti’s doorbell. How would her old friend receive her? Would she even let her in? It had been years since a single word had passed between them.
She drew a deep breath and pressed her finger on the buzzer. Maybe Esti wasn’t home? That would be a relief. But after what felt like forever, the door finally opened and Esti stood there, the shock on her face immediately giving way to hardness.
“May I come in?” Chana asked tentatively.
Esti hesitated a moment then nodded, indicating with her head that Chana should follow her inside. They entered the living room, toys scattered across the floor, evidence of the children from her second marriage. Chana appraised Esti as she sat down at the table. She’d aged of course, they both had, but basically she looked the same, a little heavier but still elegant, a sheitel on her head even in the house. Chani twisted a stray lock of hair from her own sheitel. Since beginning her treatment her wig had become her trusted friend, replacing her usual headscarves.
“Why did you come?” Esti said bluntly, interrupting Chana’s thoughts.
“I…I…” Chana felt like the heavy end of a seesaw, thrown off guard to the ground. “I came to ask mechilah again…for what happened.”
Esti’s eyes narrowed. “Why now? After all this time?”
Chana swallowed. “Well, unfortunately I’ve been diagnosed with a serious illness…I went to see Gedolim, to get brachos…and one of them told me to ask forgiveness from…”
“Oh, I see,” Esti interrupted. “Now that you’re sick you need my help! But where were you when I needed your help?”
“I tried!” Chana cried, raising her hands in a helpless gesture. “You know that I feel bad about everything but I did my best!”
Esti shook her head. “No. You didn’t do enough. You caused me so much anguish, Chana. I never got my children back. You ruined my life!”
Chana’s eyes filled with tears. “I’m so, so sorry…I truly never meant for that to happen.”
“And I’m sorry too.“ Esti stood up abruptly and pushed her chair back. “But I can never forgive you.”
What was I thinking?” Chana lamented to her husband later. “Did I really expect her to forgive me just like that after all this time?”
“You should try again,” Shmuel said. “Keep going back to her like the Rav told you to.”
Chana lay on the couch and closed her eyes. The room was a mess; the children’s games all over the floor, schoolbooks strewn across the table. She was too tired to tidy it now, too emotionally and physically drained.
“Seriously, you should ask her again,” Shmuel insisted. “But first, listen to something beautiful I heard today. Maybe it will help you.”
Chana sighed wearily.
“Do you know why we Yidden are called Yehudim?” Shmuel began, without waiting for an answer.“We’re named after Yehudah, from the root of hoda’ah, confession. Yehudah admitted he did something wrong even though he was publicly shamed by the confession. So when Hashem named us after him it means we all have this middah, the strength to be able to admit we’ve done something wrong. That’s the first step of teshuvah.”
Chana frowned. “But that’s just it. I don’t think I did something wrong. I don’t think what happened to Esti was my fault.”
“Think about it,” Shmuel persisted. “Maybe you can find a place…somewhere…to see things through Esti’s eyes.”
After her husband was asleep, Chana still lay awake in the darkness, contemplating his words. Scenes from the courtroom ran through her head and she remembered things she had said that might have inadvertently caused Esti pain and suffering. She hadn’t meant things to come across that way, but for the first time in all these years she could see how it must have looked to her friend. She choked back the lump in her throat. Shmuel was right. She should go back.
No.” Esti shook her head. “I can’t.”
“Please,” Chani pleaded. “I beg you to forgive me. I realize now that there were things I said wrong at the time. I didn’t mean for things to end up the way they did but still, I ruined your life. I’m so very sorry. Please, please forgive me.”
“No,” Esti said again. “I can’t forgive you for the anguish you caused me.” She began closing the door in Chani’s face. “Don’t come back.”
So that was it! Chana had tried but there was nothing more she could do. Her heart ached from the pain, knowing that Esti was still angry and hurting. But her hands were tied – she had no control. The months passed and Chana grew sicker as the savage disease attacked her mercilessly. About two years after her visit to Esti, Chana slipped into a coma. Her doctors expected her to pass away within a few days. But she didn’t. Chana hung on; first one week, then two. Her obvious suffering was unbearable for her family who, while appreciating Hashem’s will and the importance of life, wished her pain could be over. It was as if her neshamah was hovering in torment.. It needed to fly away, but it couldn’t.
“It seems like they don’t want her up in heaven at the moment,” a non-frum doctor observed. “Something is keeping her back.” How right he was!
Esti was rocketed out of her sleep, sweating and shaking with fright. That dream she just had was so vivid, so real–that she could remember every detail. Esti pulled on a robe and made her way to the living room, where she tried to calm her breathing and think clearly. Through the window the sky looked pitch black and she could see nothing. But there, inside her house, the images of the dream seemed visible. A message had been relayed to her from Shamayim. She needed to say out loud three times that she forgave Chana. Only then would Chana be able to release her neshamah and pass on to the next world. Esti was stunned!
Chana had been only a shaliach, the heavenly messenger was saying. It was Hashem who conducted the orchestra and controlled how the symphony played out. Chana had been just one part, a flute or a violin among the vast array of musical instruments. Esti began to shake again, her shoulders heaving. How blind she had been! Her anger and bitterness had caused her to block out the big picture,not to look beyond the first sketch. Her life had gone, and was going, exactly the way Hashem wanted it, but she hadn’t been able to see that. She stared out of the window as if looking for something in the depths of the night. Soon a new day would be dawning. She knew what she had to do and it couldn’t wait a minute longer. Chana’s neshamah was hanging in this world by a thread and could not let go until she received Esti’s forgiveness. Still trembling, her eyes wet, Esti opened her mouth and said the words.
“I forgive Chana for what she did. Everything that happened in my life came from Hashem.”
She said the words three times, just three short sentences that left her emotionally and physically drained. But it was a welcome exhaustion – because she had let go.
And a few hours later, on the other side of the city, a young woman named Chana let go too. Finally, she could return her neshamah to its Maker.
This story is true; only the names have been changed to ensure privacy. At first glance the narrative seems a sad tale, but if we look at it closely we can see the beauty in it. First, it was a great chessed that Chana received mechilah before she passed away. It appears that once she’d been able to admit to Esti that she’d wronged her (even if the wrongdoing was inadvertent), then Hashem made sure she got her mechilah.
Second, it was a huge accomplishment that Esti was able to forgive after so many years. By focusing on emunah and acknowledging that Hashem was the Conductor, she was reminded that one cannot raise a little finger without Him enabling it.
Third, we see that it’s never too late to make peace. When people make shalom it brings Hashem great nachas, because that’s exactly the way He wants us to live. And that’s why this story can be considered a success.
And yet… one cannot help but contemplate how much greater Hashem’s nachas and how much more glorious the story might have been if Chana and Esti had made shalom long before that fateful last day.