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Betrayal and Forgiveness

Betrayal and Forgiveness

My best friend inexplicably severed our relationship. I was faced with the challenge of forgiving the unforgivable.


We were closer than brothers for over two decades.

Until he broke my heart.

I have never been so emotionally pained in my entire life.

David and I met when we were in our late teens. We immediately clicked. We shared interests, hobbies, and developed a deep trust and loyalty for one another.

I shared the most intimate thoughts and feelings with him and he did the same with me. We went places together. We hung out together. We enjoyed being around each other. It was the kind of close life-long friendship which is not too common to find.

The friendship survived the test of time, living in different locations, marriage, children, stress, pressures, the twenties, the thirties, and beyond.

Eventually, we were both living once again in the same city and the friendship continued to thrive for many more years.

The Betrayal

And then one fine day, without any warning whatsoever, David called me and said, “I do not want you to contact me for any reason for the foreseeable future. Nor will I contact you. Our friendship is over. Don’t worry. I’ll be okay. But we just can’t be friends anymore.”

I was stunned.

How could David betray our loyalty, friendship and trust that we had built for over two decades?

How could David betray our loyalty, friendship and trust that we had built for over two decades? I felt hurt like never before.

And I worried about David and his extremely strange behavior.

I thought that I must have severely upset or insulted David, though I couldn’t recall anything I may have done. I pressed him and David had insisted that wasn’t an issue. So, what was the issue?

I waited around two weeks, and numerous calls went unanswered, emails disregarded. He was totally ignoring me.

Finally, I left him a very clear voicemail saying that after all we had been through what he was doing to me was extremely unfair. I deserved the courtesy of a face to face conversation and a real explanation as to what was going on.

Later that day, David called me back and asked to come over. I thought I was finally going to get an understanding as to what in the world had overtaken my best friend. But I got nothing of the sort. Instead David yelled at me for, in his words, not being a true friend in just leaving him alone.

He left and I cried for a long time, mourning our longstanding friendship that died for no apparent reason.

It was a complete mystery to me. I racked my brains to try to figure it out but there was truly nothing I had done wrong to him and David refused to discuss it.

Our wives remained friends. Our kids went to the same school. We bumped into each other every so often. I felt extremely angry and hurt. It was as if I was experiencing the stages of grief over someone dying.

I needed to forgive, but I couldn’t. My hurt ran so deep.


How do you begin to forgive someone?

Maimonides encourages us to be very open:

If one is hurt by someone else. . .he must make his pain known to the person who wronged him. . . If he requests forgiveness, one has to forgive him. (De’ot 6:6)

So, I decided to try and explain to David what he had done that had wounded me so greatly. I wrote him something along these lines:

Dear David,

The fact that you ended our two decade friendship and especially the way you ended it was extremely hurtful. You never even expressed appreciation for the friendship or acknowledged having to sadly and tragically end it. Knowing you for as long as I do, it is very surprising to me that you don’t realize all this. Perhaps you want to discuss things. The door is always open.

David received this note and proceeded to tell me how insane I am and how I needed professional help. He adamantly refused to apologize. Any attempt on my part to make some level of peace between us was met with the same denial of doing anything wrong followed by blaming me for being the crazy one.

Months went by. On occasions we ran into each other, we just ignored each other in uncomfortable silence.

How do you forgive someone who has no remorse for the hurt they caused you?

The Breakthrough

That question haunted me for months. I knew our friendship wasn’t coming back, and I wasn’t really looking for it anymore. But I felt hurt. An apology would have done wonders but it wasn’t going to come.

Then, one day I was at a friend’s house and met their five year old daughter. She took one look at my tie and said, “Yuck. I hate your tie. It’s sooooo ugly!” and then proceeded to run away.

It was a bit embarrassing but I didn’t get angry with the girl.

Two days later, I was walking in the street among a crowd of people when a clearly insane, homeless man came up to me and starting shouting profanities, accusing me of heinous crimes that I supposedly did to him. Once again, it was somewhat embarrassing, but I simply walked away without feeling any hurt or insult.

I wondered: why was I able to look past these insults without needing any apology whatsoever, yet I continued to yearn for an apology from David?

The answer became very clear. When a young child or an insane person insults you, you know they are not really in control of what they’re saying. Their mind is not really ‘all there,’ so their insults therefore don’t come off as real insults.

When a person can’t think straight, how can you be hurt, angry, or insulted with what they do? You feel pity, not anger.

I began to internalize that whatever my former friend David was going through, when it came to his abrupt breakoff of our friendship, he was temporarily ‘insane.’ He wasn’t ‘really all there.’

If I could begin to look at David as someone full of pain and confusion, I could forgive him.

I conjectured that maybe he was jealous of what he perceived was a better life he thought I was having. Maybe he was frustrated with his lack of fulfillment and suffered from a lack of self-worth. Maybe he had thought that, at his age, he would have been further along in life than he was. Maybe being around me just reminded him of his perceived inadequacies. Maybe he was experiencing a mid-life crisis, had lost his equilibrium, and forgot that I could have been there for him as a non-judgmental, loyal friend. Instead, I became the tragic casualty. The old trusted, loyal David that I knew and loved wouldn’t even recognize, let alone approve, of the way that the new David had mistreated me.

If I could begin to look at David as someone full of pain and confusion, full of a lack of clear thinking, at least in this particular area of his life, I could forgive him.

Instead of the hurt, I began to feel compassion and pity. Then one day I sent him a note saying that I forgive him. Period. I even started saying a casual hello whenever we’d see each other. This was the extent of the relationship for which he was agreeable.

Am I really comfortable when I see him? No. But at least I have pretty much let go of the anger and hurt.

After this painful learning experience, I finally began to comprehend a passage of Maimonides that I had never quite understood:

If one was hurt by someone else but did not want to rebuke him or speak about it with him because the sin was very small or because the offender’s senses are flawed, but one forgave him in his heart. . .then one has acted with piety. (De’ot 6:9)

I know I am not alone. Too many others have lived through similar pain and there aren’t always apologies offered. I think a good part of the issue, for one reason or another, is due to the offender being truly incapable of thinking clearly.

I didn’t want to be ‘that guy’ who wasn’t on speaking terms with someone for years. Thank God, I was able to forgive the unforgivable.

Yom Kippur, the Day of Forgiveness, is coming. We all have to learn how to forgive and to try to make peace with people of whom we are not on good terms.

We all know people, sometimes even family members, who are not on speaking terms. The actions, hurts and the insults have wounded both sides and they feel incapable of ever dealing with each other again. Given the circumstances, this behavior may make sense for a period of time, but at a certain point, if only for our own mental health, we should find a path toward peace and cordiality. The relationship may never return to what it once was, but we will have let go of the pain and negativity. And there’s nothing more vital to a healthy state of mind than that.

Do you have someone you need to forgive who has never apologized and may never apologize? This Yom Kippur can you find a way to have compassion for their inadequacies instead of anger? If you do, it will certainly be a great merit for God to grant you and all of us a wonderful, sweet new year.

The author is using a pseudonym.

September 8, 2013

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Visitor Comments: 27

(17) Anonymous, November 18, 2015 4:35 PM

Being that I am the one that was on the other side of the scene, let me give you a little insight on the stance of your close friend.
Maybe, just maybe, your friend felt chocked by this close relationship? Maybe, there was a lack of boundaries? Come to think of it, why would a relationship still be in such a close state when you both are raising families of your own already? Does this make sense to you?
To say that your friend has poor communication skills would be naive. Maybe, he hinted to you with thinner and less open hints that you should please bug off, but you refused to get the hint? Therefore, he was forced, by you, his dear friend, to act in a way that is so unlikely of him?
Again, I am just suggesting, but, if you really think that the whole thing that he is going through is just a stage of insanity, then, again, where are you as a dear friend? A person that is insane might need help. Help costs a fortune. Did it dawn upon you to send him over a $25,000 check? Of course in a discreet fashion?
So many relationships are based on: "Only if I know everything about you then I am here to help you..." Maybe this is what he felt. And this time around he was not interested in telling you everything. So what? This does not exempt you of helping him! Needless to say, in a way that he will feel comfortable, not in a way that will blow your ego; "look what I am doing for him"!
You think that he might have low self esteem issues next to you. Why would you think that anyone feels inferior of you? How do you handle your successes? Please, dont take this as an insult.
And he suggested that you see a therapist. Look, he was such a good, smart, true friend to you for twenty years. He definitely doesnt want to destroy you. Maybe, just maybe, he can at least be trusted that he is giving you good advice? You say that its a pity that he did this now, when he can use you the most. You could've given him advice. How about, you take his advice?

(16) Rachelle, October 10, 2013 8:33 AM

It was actually unbelievable hearing your story. I just had the same thing. My closest friend from one day to the next shut me out of her life. She has ignored me ever since. I shared everything with her and helped her so much when she was going through her hard times. I advised her and gave her much time and money. She was a sweetheart and a really nice person. Honestly, I don't know what happened to her and I still can't figure it out. I knew her so well and didn't see any possibility for this kind of cruel behavior. She must be effected by something that happened to her. Seems like you should never get attached or share everything with anyone other then your spouse.

Anonymous, June 23, 2016 12:01 PM

How tofirgive?

I thought I was the only person to have experienced such. But unjust described exactly what i just went through over the past year. It's frustrating and hurtful and confusing to say the least. Now my friend is suddenly, ' sorry'. And wants my forgiveness. I can say sorry. But that loss is still there. It changes a part of you forever. I couldn't even respond to her text saying sorry. I didn't Kno what to say.

(15) jay, September 15, 2013 7:47 PM

I'm going through it

Thank you for bringing this issue up. My brother is an adult and all he thinks about is himself. Without going into the issue, he had demanded something of me that is not rightfully his but he appears to not be able to help himself. He contacted me and said that if he did not get what he wants then our relationship, such as it is, was over. He also said some extremely cruel things about me. He said that if I did not do what he wanted he did not want me to contact him. Well I did not contact him. But on Yom Kippur, I felt compelled to e mail him and apologize for hanging up on him a month before. He responded by saying that it was good timing for me to apologize because it was Yom Kippur (he does not practice Judiasim) Then he went on to say that I was almost there now all I had to do was give him what he unjustly wants. This is a greedy man, he is my brother however, but it would be foolish to give him his prize when he simply uses everything at his disposal to attempt to manipulate me. I guess I shouldn't have apologized and should have realized the rewsponse I would get. It is very sad. At this point I feel sorry for him. But I will not be bullied into doing what is not right. It looks like this is the end of our relationship and as someone said above it is time to move on.

(14) Anonymous, September 14, 2013 6:59 PM

This might sound extreme...

This might sound extreme... but i have everyday someone to forgive and everday someone to forgive me.... i'm a sensitive guy...well actually to the point of social anxiety... it causes me to always walk on the furthest side of the street from ppl... having to change sides many times... i live in a religious community that is not used to things like that... so everyday someone angers me by staring... or i hurt someone by pushing them away (sometimes literally- physically, and sometimes with angry looks...) i'm not going to let anyone make me leave a religious place, especially a religioun that i believe in... ofcourse its not Everyone or even the majority that do that but there r enough to be atleast one everyday... its also the structure of the religious jewish communities... they r used to being close to one another and familiar with Everyone i guess... its a thing of mentality i have yet to get used to... but i will... and i will not let the evil inclination win... and it IS getting better with time... they r learning to respect me and the contrary too... so with G-d's help may the we all be happy and live a happy life and learn to accept those who r different than us... :)

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