Monday, August 31, 2020
Eleventh Day of Elul 5780
The Talmud states, “For transgressions between a person and God, Yom Kippur atones; but for transgressions between one person and another, Yom Kippur does not atone until the person appeases the other” (B. Yoma 85a).
This teaching means that no amount of praying and appealing to God will help you be forgiven for the harm you have done to another person until you approach that person with a sincere apology and ask that person to forgive you. For many people, this is the hardest part of t’shuvah. We are genuinely frightened of what will happen if we confess our mistakes and hurtful actions to the people they hurt. We are terrified of the response we may get if we ask to be forgiven.
This is why it is so important to accept apologies. If a person offers a sincere apology for a specific hurt to you, you should accept it. It can be difficult, but it is the right thing to do.
People often ask: What if the person I hurt refuses to accept my apology? What if the person also hurt me and doesn’t admit it? What if it was so long ago that they have forgotten? What if my confession will only reignite old hurts and bad feelings? What if the person I hurt has died?
The answers to all these questions are the same. You do the best you can. Tell the person what you did, accept responsibility, say you will not do it again, apologize and ask forgiveness. Express your feelings the best way you can in a way that does the least harm. You can even talk to dead people. Most people do at some point in their lives, even if they don’t expect an answer.
There is one important exception. You do not have to ask forgiveness of someone who abused you physically or emotionally. Seeking face-to-face forgiveness from a past or present abuser is not safe and will not be successful. If you have had such an experience, consider seeking the help of a professional.
Practice for this day:
To begin this difficult process, think of one to three times you hurt someone and wish to be forgiven. (It does not matter if it was recent or a long time ago; it does not matter if the person you hurt knows about it or not). At this point, you are just naming the hurt you did. That, by itself is a big positive step. Later, you will create a plan to apologize and ask forgiveness.
Write down the hurt you caused. Say it out loud.
Take note of how it feels to say this.