For the week ending 1 May 2010 / 16 Iyyar 5770

Wheel of Fortune

by Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman -
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From: Shira

Dear Rabbi,

In high school there was a girl who was not particularly popular or successful who tried to become friendly with me but I pushed her off. Now, some years later, without going into too much detail, it turns out that we both have similar positions but she is much more “popular” and “successful” than me. I have tried to forge a working relationship with her, but, at most, she directs inferior, second-best material my way. I can’t help but think this is because she holds a grudge against me from our high school days – but if vengeance is forbidden, why is she having such a blessing whereas I am not? Can you help me see this in another light that might help me make sense of the situation?

Dear Shira,

I understand your frustration and also admire your willingness to see things from a different perspective. Of course, I can’t possibly know everything that’s going on behind the scenes here, but let’s give it a try.

The vengeance explanation is clearly the most obvious. However, since bearing a grudge, as you note, is forbidden and since you also have a Torah obligation to judge her favorably, let’s look for an explanation that leaves you both free of transgression – her because she harbors no grudge and you because you give her the benefit of the doubt.

It seems you’d admit that your treatment of her in high school was in fact wrong. Presumably, you were in a position to help her when she was behind, but you chose, as many people would, particularly at that age, to ignore her need. In essence, this behavior stems from selfish self-interest.

Now, certainly she sees it that way. But rather than assume she bears a grudge, perhaps she feels your behavior at that time reveals something about your personality or character which makes her wary of you as a team player or partner. In which case, it’s not that she wouldn’t want a more beneficial relationship, but she may be justifiably concerned that she can’t rely on you to act in her interest as well.

And I must admit that your interest in her for a “working” relationship as opposed to a personal one, as well as your remarks about her having more than you does ring of self-interest, and she may also perceive that through your interaction.

I suggest you make an effort to show a genuine interest in her as a person, independent of position. Invite her for lunch or some other casual setting. Talk about old times, finding a way to bring up what transpired between you in high school. Sincerely apologize, explain that you were young and lacking sensitivity and tell her you feel bad about the possibility that it damaged your relationship. Let her see that you’ve changed since then, and that in fact you are someone who can be trusted and relied upon.

If you are sincere with this approach you can’t lose. If she really does bear some resentment, your apology will almost certainly appease her and your relationship will improve over time. If she is not being vengeful, but rather protecting herself by preventing you from being in a position to “hurt” her again, your honest confession will almost certainly assuage her fears and concerns.

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