Rabbis Without Borders
Rabbis Without Borders is a dynamic forum for exploring contemporary issues in the Jewish world and beyond. Written by rabbis of different denominations, viewpoints, and parts of the country, Rabbis Without Borders is a project of Clal – The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership.
I have seen all too many blanket apologies posted on social media- “If I have hurt you, knowingly or unknowingly, intentionally or otherwise, please accept my apology.” Guess what? If this is your attempt at an apology, you’ve missed the mark. You haven’t actually acknowledged who you have hurt or how you have hurt them. This is like throwing up a Hail Mary pass in a football game, hoping someone will catch it. There is no real intended receiver.
If I have hurt you, I hope you’ve told me. I hope I acknowledged it. I hope we’ve had a conversation. I hope I have said to you, directly, “I’m sorry for what I did or said.” That’s an apology.
Judaism requires that we seek out each person we have wronged or hurt in some way to seek their forgiveness. We learn, “One who says, ‘I will sin, and then repent, I will sin [again], and then repent,’ will not receive an opportunity to repent; [for one who says] ‘I will sin, and Yom Kippur will atone,’ Yom Kippur will not atone. Yom Kippur atones for transgressions between a person and God, but for a transgression against one’s neighbor, Yom Kippur cannot atone, until he appeases his neighbor (Mishnah Yoma 8:9).”
We must acknowledge the people we have hurt. We must acknowledge their feelings and their pain. We must take ownership of our mistakes. Then, we can say I’m sorry. Once we have shown true remorse, the real work begins. The High Holy Days are a time for self-growth. Evaluating our words and actions and recognizing our failings allows us to right our paths. Once we apologize, we need to change our habits so that we don’t make the same mistakes again. Only then, can we truly be forgiven. This is how we transform ourselves and do the work for which the High Holy Days were intended. This is how we become better versions of ourselves. And, once we have made our amends with others, God, too, will grant us forgiveness.
The real work of teshuva (repentance) is hard. But, we prove that we truly value another person when we focus our attention on them and validate their feelings and needs. If you have hurt someone and you haven’t taken these steps, your work is not yet finished, but there is still time.
Before the gates close, offer a real apology. Mend your ways. And, just as you seek forgiveness, may you find it in your heart to return that gift to those who seek the same from you.