In Parashas Vayechi we find that Yosef is asked by his brothers to forgive them for the offenses they committed against him.
The Torah writes (Bereishis 50:15-18): When Yosef’s brothers saw that their father had died, they said, “What if Yosef holds a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrongs we did to him?” So they sent word to Yosef, saying, “Your father left these instructions before he died… I ask you to forgive your brothers the sins and the wrongs they committed in treating you badly.”
The Torah says that Yosef wept upon hearing the words, and then replied: “Do not be afraid – for am I in place of G-d? You intended to harm me, but G-d intended it for the good, to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”
What remains unclear from the verses is the question of Yosef’s forgiveness: Did he actually forgive his brothers, or not?
Rabbeinu Bachya (50:17) gives the following answer: “Whoever has hurt another is not forgiven until the victim is appeased, even though he has repented. Now, even though the verses mention that Yosef comforted them and spoke to their hearts, which gives the appearance that Yosef forgave them, we nevertheless do not observe anywhere that in fact he did forgive them and put aside the wrong they had done to him. They thus died with their sin, without Yosef’s forgiveness. It is for this reason that their sin required some type of release, which occurred with the [death of the] Ten Martyrs.”
The passage teaches us the importance of procuring forgiveness from one’s fellow after harming him or causing him hurt, and in the present article we will focus of the halachic aspects pertaining to requesting forgiveness.
For which sins is there an obligation to ask forgiveness from one’s fellow? Is there a concurrent obligation to confess and to repent before Heaven? What is the nature of the request for forgiveness, and is there a need to detail the sins? These questions, among others, are discussed below