Rav Hirsch writes in "Horeb":
"Leave no room in your memory for wrong or insult which you may have suffered, even though you may not have desired to act in that spirit immediately. Quickly replace in your heart the love which your brother himself may have frightened away from it. However he may have behaved towards you, retain for him the love which God requires of you as for His child, and which you owe to your brother not merely as repayment for life."
This past Shabbos, Shabbos Shuvah, I attended a drasha by Rabbi Yitzchok Eisenman. He spoke about the importance, not of asking for forgiveness, but of actually forgiving others. He stressed how important it is to forgive your friends, family, colleagues and those who you feel have wronged you. It is important not only for them, but for yourself as well.
Rav Hirsch continues:
"Your forgiveness must be real and complete, so that no trace of rancour remains in you. It must be a genuine restoration of the old brotherly love; what has happened must be really obliterated. Do not deceive yourself. It is so easy not to perform this duty. If left to itself the mind long remembers insults and injuries, even after forgiveness has been asked, even after reparation has been made."
Rabbi Eisenman also touched on this. It is very easy to hold a grudge, to not really completely forgive someone, to continue on with a relationship, but still holding back a bit, because there is still that shred of hurt deep inside your heart that hasn't gotten over whatever injury was done.
I know this feeling. Several years ago, I had a falling-out with a friend. When Yom Kippur was approaching, I sent her a letter apologizing and asking for forgiveness and attempting to reconcile the situation. I hate leaving loose ends and hurt feelings hanging in the balance, and this particular situation had been bothering me for several months.
This person called me on Erev Yom Kippur. We had a tearful conversation, where it was clear that there had been huge misunderstandings and miscommunication of the situation that had been the impetus for the falling out. The conversation was not smooth and reconciliatory; unfortunately, the tears were from frustration and hurt. Before the call was over, I was asked for forgiveness, to which I of course acquiesced. And I asked for the same.
Throughout Yom Kippur and the following few days, I was very worried. The truth was, even though I had accepted this person's apology, I was still upset and hurt. I was worried about the fact that I had said I forgave her even though, in my heart, I didn't feel as if I really had.
I went to the rabbi of the shul I attended at that point and spoke with him about the situation. He asked me whether I held such a grudge that I would want her to be punished by Hashem for the situation. Of course not, I didn't hate her; I was just hurt by her. He told me, in that case, that my forgiveness was acceptable.
It took me quite a while to really forget the incident, and the truth is, our friendship was never the same after that. We did manage, at a future point, to move on with our friendship, and at this point, I can say that I have forgiven her.
The truth is, I think that forgiveness benefits the person forgiving even more than the one who is asking for forgiveness. I know I feel lighter when I know I can move on without that pain in my heart. I also think that the act of forgiving is a conscious act, that we must work on. I benefits everyone involved.
As I think back on the year, to those whom I feel I owe forgiveness and to those who I owe an apology, I am glad to know that I have this opportunity, this dictum, to focus on forgiveness every year. I guess it doesn't have to wait until Yom Kippur every year, but I know that the impending day at least gives me that push to face my past year and move on from those incidents that have pained me. I actually feel a bit lighter just writing this. I hope it works for everyone else as well.