Indulgences are quite hard to understand and I would normally not talk about them at all. They were, after all, one of the bones of contention that brought about the Reformation. I was brought up on the definition that indulgences are about doing away with what was called the temporal punishment due to sin after the sin itself has been forgiven. The term temporal punishment is an unfortunate one as it suggests punishment for what has already been forgiven. Perhaps karma can shed some light on it. Karma teaches that bad deeds have consequences for the individual committing them and for others who are affected by them. Recently two people were condemned to death for the murder of Akong Rinpoche, the former abbot of Samye Ling Tibetan Monastery. Both the family of Akong Rinpoche and monks in Samye Ling have appealed against the death sentence. One of the reasons was that dying did not give the murderers the opportunity of working out their karma and building up good karma for themselves and those they have offended. This makes sense to me. To do harm to another does affect ourselves and those whom we have offended. It changes the energy in our relationship. Because all things are connected and all beings are interrelated any action good or bad affects others. It seems to me that this could well be what temporal punishment is and that prayers and rituals are ways in which we can restore the balance. Perhaps too this is the meaning behind the verses in Exodus when it says that forgiveness does not clear the guilty but can visit iniquity or the consequences of the action on others. This does not contradict the idea of God being all forgiving. I often think that religions have deep and genuine intuitions about reality but express them in different ways, some of which are unfortunate and not easily understood if taken at face value. As always the important thing is to look behind the words to find the deeper meaning that relates to our human condition.
Another interesting thought was about forgiveness - sometimes suggested as a difficulty for Jews, especially in the light of Christian teaching on forgiving our enemies. Forgiveness is part of Judaism. Each year at Yom Kippur Jews are told to approach those whom they have offended through the year and ask forgiveness of them. Forgiveness is a relational exercise and should be offered and accepted face to face. This apology is to be offered three times and, if it is not accepted by then, the person apologising can let it go as it then becomes the problem of the other person. For those who have been offended and offered no apology it's important to forgive the perpetrator in the heart and to pray for mercy for them. Forgiveness becomes more difficult in events such as the Holocaust. Rabbi Solomon believed it was not possible to offer a blanket forgiveness and though some people have heroically forgiven those who made them suffer great indignities and abuse, it's not something that can be asked of everyone. Forgiveness, however, does not do away with the need for a reckoning of the evils committed.
What I appreciated was Rabbi Solomon's inclusive and welcoming approach to other faiths. He suggested that in the past it was perhaps important for faiths to grow and develop in their own patch but that times had now changed. Religions have to justify their existence in the face of aggressive secularism. To do this we need to recognise the depth of spirituality in other faiths and to show the world the gentleness of mercy especially when facing the pressing problems of our time. What a witness this would be.