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On Yom Kippur, we ask forgiveness for hardening our hearts. This seems to refer to the sin of ignoring the suffering of others. It is reminiscent of phrases in the Bible describing Pharaoh’s indifference to the suffering of the Hebrews (see, e.g., Exodus 7:3).

However, just as the phrase “hardening our hearts” (imutz halev) is reminiscent of phrases describing indifference, so too is it reminiscent of phrases describing courage (ometz lev) (see, e.g., Amos 2:16). It is not just that the words are similar (imutz and ometz). As many have noted, from Ben Zoma (Avot 4:1) to Nelson Mandela, courage is not the absence of fear, but the overcoming of it. In other words, one can not be courageous without hardening one's heart.

So where are we to draw the line? When is hardening one’s heart a virtue and when is it a vice?

I think the answer lies in the target. When we harden our hearts to our own suffering, look our fears and vulnerabilities in the eye, and do what's right even though it's scary, that's courage. When we harden our hearts to the suffering of others, and ignore their fear and pain because they’re uncomfortable to behold, that's the opposite.

From those whose suffering I ignored his year, I ask forgiveness. And to those who put their own suffering aside to see mine, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

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