Thursday, September 3, 2020
Fourteenth Day of Elul 5780
Asking forgiveness from people we have hurt is a central part of t’shuvah. It’s a hard thing to do, but it is not an optional activity in preparing for the High Holy Days. Let’s get started.
In our society, we often see people making apologies that aren’t real apologies. You’ve probably experienced a non-apology or fake apology when someone says, “I’m sorry if you think I did something wrong,” or, “I’m sorry for what I did, but what you did was worse.” We need to do better than that. A real apology, from a Jewish perspective, is a sacred act. It repairs our relationship with someone we have hurt and it repairs our relationship with God.
The first step to a real apology is simply stating clearly and specifically what you did that was wrong. Here are some examples:
• “Yesterday when we were talking with other people, I told a story about you that I should have known would be embarrassing for you. That was wrong of me.”
• “I promised you that I would call you when I know I’ll be home late, but tonight I forgot and didn’t call. I should have called you. It was wrong of me not to.”
• “I owe you an apology because you asked me to turn in my work by Friday and I agreed that I would. Not only did I not give it to you, I didn’t even tell you that I would be late. I should have turned it in on time, or at least explained to you why it would be late.”
Why is it so hard to clearly state what we have done wrong when we apologize? Very simply, because we are embarrassed and we don’t want to take responsibility for our actions. Our instinct is often to deny or deflect blame when we know we have done something wrong rather than take responsibility. Jewish ethics insist that we do the opposite; it insists that we own our behavior and admit it.
Practice for this day:
Think of a mistake or hurt that you have committed that you want to apologize for. (It’s good to choose a small one. This isn’t the time to confront a big, life-altering issue.) It should be something specific that you did and the apology should be directed to a specific person. Write down the words that you want to say to that person that express what you did wrong. Be as specific as possible.
Try practicing saying it out loud.