I received two phone calls this past year that shook me to the core.

The first came in one beautiful spring morning as I was leaving for work. The voice was high pitched and frail. It was a man I had known in high school who was sick with an aggressive form of cancer. We hadn’t spoken in many years. What did he want from me?

He explained that since he was all alone in the hospital, with no family around him to keep him company, he had started looking back on his life. He intimated that this year was likely to be his last. It had occurred to him that he had caused me much pain and heartache throughout our high-school years together. He was calling to ask me for forgiveness.

The second call I received just a few days ago. It was from a childhood friend. He was calling to ask me forgiveness for a note he had stuck inside my desk in 5th grade. It had said that he hated me and wanted nothing to do with me. I asked him why he was calling me now. He replied that it was because he was getting older and was struggling to find a wife. He started looking back on his life to see if there was anything that might be hindering him from starting a family.

I assured both of them that I forgave them and wished them health and success in all of their endeavors.

What gripped me most about these calls was that while it was relatively easy for me to say the words “I forgive you” it was so much harder to internally forgive and let go.

Did I really let go of the pain and suffering they had caused me?

What is the secret to forgiveness?

The key to forgiveness lies in the ability to identify people with their inner beauty and virtue.

It lies in understanding that people hurt because they are hurting.

It lies in recognizing that although actions can be terrible and inexcusable, the perpetrators of such actions are not to be forever defined by their mistakes.

Instead they are to be appreciated for who they really are: a beautiful human being created in the image of God with unique virtues and qualities.

Of course this does not mean that all actions are excusable! God forbid.

But it does mean that, save for few exceptions, a place of understanding and forgiveness can almost certainly be found.

We need to start looking past actions and instead, into the essence of people.

We need to ask ourselves: what can I see in this person that is beautiful?

What can I see in this person that is pure?

What can I see in this person that is Godly?

How can I perceive that what this person did to me was not necessarily a reflection of who he really is?

It is only when we explore and seek out answers to these questions that we will have truly begun walking down the path of forgiveness.

As we come closer to Yom Kippur, a time when we seek forgiveness from God, we should remember that the surest way to securing that forgiveness is by sincerely letting go and forgiving others.

If we look past their outer deficiencies and wrongdoings, instead focusing on the inner beauty and qualities of our brothers and sisters, God will surely do the same for us.

May we have the wisdom and courage to sincerely forgive and may we be forgiven by God in return.