We are striving to love our fellow Jews by improving
the way we interact with others.
Last week’s Stretch of the Week: Give someone feedback based on how they will receive your words as opposed to how you feel like saying them.
Please allow ONE person to share her experience with this exercise for ONE minute.
Laws of Asking Forgiveness
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Yom Kippur does not atone for one’s sins against other people until we appease the victim and ask his forgiveness. Similarly, if we owe someone money, sincere regret and heartfelt resolve to improve will not clear our slate until we have repaid our debt.
For some people, repaying a debt is relatively easy; it is apologizing that they find difficult. Nevertheless, when we have committed a transgression, such as stealing or injuring another person, even if we have already paid for any physical or monetary damage, we are still obligated to ask for forgiveness. Certainly, in a case of cursing or verbally offending another person, the sin is not removed from our record until we have reconciled with the victim. (Mishp'tai HaShalom 3:21-22).
Ideally, the offender should appease the victim and personally ask his forgiveness. However, if this is difficult or we know that our efforts are likely to be more successful if they are carried out by an intermediary, then we may do so through a third party.
We should not give up if our apology does not elicit immediate results. We are obligated to make three separate attempts to appease the other person, we should be accompanied by three people and we should use a different approach each time. If we have done this, and if we have paid the victim any monetary compensation we owe him (according to Jewish law) and the person still refuses to forgive us, we are not obligated to press the matter any further. At that point, we should declare in the presence of ten Jews that we have asked the person for forgiveness, making it clear that we have done our part.
(Excerpts from The Code of Jewish Conduct by Rabbi Yitzchok Silver)
Please allow me to share my embarrassing story with you in the hopes that you gain from my mistake and not need to learn the lesson personally.
For many years, I have worked with single women seeking their marriage partners. While advising these women I often hear the advice given to them by other mentors, teachers and rabbis. Sometimes I agree with other people’s advice and sometimes I don’t. In one particular case I had a visceral reaction to a piece of advice given by a prestigious rabbi from Jerusalem. The direction was given to a young woman who has a great deal of trouble making decisions and I believed that the advice given to this woman was absolutely wrong. Let me be clear, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having different opinions. The mistake I made was making the arrogant assumption that my suggestion was the only way to proceed.
“I wish this rabbi would be more careful with what he says! Doesn’t he realize your nature and know that you will take what he said and will twist it into something he didn’t mean?” I had forgotten for a moment who I was speaking about. This was a rabbi with an international reputation who was well into his 80’s, widely respected and my experience paled in comparison.
As soon as I spoke, I felt dizzy. I finished the conversation with the young woman and contemplated the impulsiveness of my remarks. After giving the situation some thought, it became very obvious (from my inner dialogue) that the correct course of action was to apologize for my response and commit to speaking with (and about) respected rabbis in a more respectful way.
I realized that I needed to apologize for more than just this conversation with the young woman. My general speech and attitude needed an overhaul. After saying a heartfelt prayer for the strength to be honest and not leave out any details for fear of embarrassment, I picked up the phone and dialed the number of the rabbi. I proceeded to tell him what happened, explain how I should have reacted and asked him to forgive me.
Of course, he did and I thanked him profusely, assuring him that I was sincerely working on this issue in my life and wished him well. Relieved, elated, and invigorated, I proceeded with my day feeling like a tremendous weight had been lifted from my shoulders.
Discussion Question Options:
- What makes it so difficult to apologize?
- What are our inner dialogues through which we rationalize postponing or neglecting making an apology?
- While it is a mitzvah to ask for forgiveness, what are the consequences both for ourselves and our relationships if we choose not to ask?
Stretch of the Week:
Have the courage to apologize to someone you have wronged in any way.