The Sunflower: On the Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness

The Sunflower: On the Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness

by

Simon Wiesenthal

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The Sunflower: On the Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness: Deborah E. Lipstadt Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Listadt’s argument centers on the Jewish concept of teshuvah, or repentance. In Judaism, teshuvah repairs one’s relationship with God and fellow humans. What makes humans Godlike is that they have this ability to distinguish right from wrong, and to understand when they have sinned.
In contrast to the Christian respondents who argue that forgiveness is Godlike, Lipstadt argues that the acknowledgement of one’s sins is actually what distinguishes humans from other creatures. Simon, therefore, does not have an obligation to forgive.
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Lipstadt notes, like others have, that in Judaism one must first ask forgiveness from the wronged party before asking forgiveness of God. She puts this in contrast to Chuck Colson (who was involved in Watergate), who said he did not need to go to the people whose lives he had disrupted to ask forgiveness because he had made peace with God.
Lipstadt here gets at the heart of the largest difference between Christian understandings of forgiveness and Jewish understandings of forgiveness: in Judaism, crimes against people can only be forgiven by those people; to Christians, all crimes can be forgiven by God.
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Lipstadt also explains the difference between teshuvah (or repentance, which occurs most completely when someone encounters the same situation and chooses not to sin) and kaparah (atonement). Atonement, she says, only comes after one bears the consequences of one’s actions. She states that the reader does not know whether Karl actually performed teshuvah, and he did not perform kaparah. Thus, he could not be forgiven.
Lipstadt uses concepts from Judaism to argue that Karl may or may not have repented for his crimes (for he was never presented with the same situation again), and did not atone for them. Simon therefore had no basis on which to forgive him.
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