Hard To Say I'm Sorry - September 30, 2022

Hurricane Ian had a devastating impact on the Gulf Coast and Central Florida (where much of my family lives). And last week Hurricane Fiona ravaged Puerto Rico. People are in need and the damage will be long lasting. Please help provide financial assistance -- 100% of all donations go to the relief effort. Donate here.  


Very proud of my second cousin, Lieutenant Michael Blattner (in helmet) of the Orlando Fire Department, who is a first responder and spent yesterday performing multiple water rescues of stranded citizens. Photo is from the New York Times.


Happy, healthy, and sweet New Year to you and your family! I hope you had a meaningful Rosh Hashanah holiday.


On Tuesday evening we begin the observance of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. The holiday is our chance to say we are sorry to those we may have hurt. It seems simple. But there is more to apologizing than just saying “sorry.” (Reminds me that as children my sister and I seemed to fight and hit each other more often in between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Why? Because each time we would do it we would just say “sorry” as if all would be forgiven on Yom Kippur.)

Yom Kippur reinforces our need to work on our character and behavior. As Rabbi Yisrael Salanter said, "It is easier to master the entire Talmud, than to change just one aspect of your character." Anyone who has studied even one page of Talmud knows the enormity of that statement.


How do we make those changes to our lives? There is a prayer we say during the High Holidays called Unetanah Tokef, which mentions three tools we can use to accomplish this: teshuvah (often translated as repentance, but actually means “to return”), tefillah (prayer) and tzedakah (justice).


Let us focus on teshuvahMaimonides says this requires “the 3 R’s”: recognition (recognize and admit to the wrongdoing), remorse (must actually feel badly about the wrongdoing) and resolve (vow not to repeat the misdeed). The person true to their teshuvah, Maimonides says, “is the one who finds himself with the opportunity to commit the same sin again yet declines to do so.” (I think my sister and I failed miserably at this.)


Jewish tradition requires us to ask for forgiveness from those whom you know you have hurt. Rabbi Elazar ben Azaryah says that “for transgressions between one person and another, Yom Kippur does not cleanse a person until they appease the other person.” (Mishnah Yoma 8:9) This is easier said than done. Some rabbinic authorities recommend that you apologize to all your friends before Yom Kippur, just in case you hurt someone unknowingly. Doing this in person, via email, social media, or even telegram is permissible according to Jewish law – as long as it is personal.


Apologizing does not come easily or naturally for most people. We often get too wrapped up in our own lives and needs to consider how we might be hurting others, whether intentionally or unintentionally. In many of these instances, a genuine apology is not only necessary, but perhaps the only thing that can repair an otherwise broken relationship.


To be better at saying "I'm sorry," here is some advice I have heard through the years:


  • Acknowledge what you did wrong and demonstrate understanding of how you hurt the other person.



  • Be sincere. Do not offer any kind of excuse by adding the word “but.”


  • Accept that your actions were hurtful.


  • Ask for forgivenessGive the other person time to react and respond.


  • Do not think of an apology as winning or losing. The relationship is more important than your pride.


  • Do not blame them. Take responsibility – because blaming the other person invalidates your apology.


  • Be ready to apologize multiple times. Sometimes one sorry just isn't enough.


  • Ask how you can make it up to the person. Ask directly, "Can you forgive me?"


  • Tell them how you will change.  


Basically, you have to take ownership of the offense, even if it makes you uncomfortable. And when you have said your piece, let the wronged party have their say. If they need to process -- let them process. If they accept your apology -- acknowledge it. If they remain mad -- well, you will have to sit with that for a while. Maimonides said that if your first apology is not accepted, you have to try twice more. If the victim will not forgive you after three tries, then you are considered to have atoned, even if you have not been granted forgiveness.


Most of us can agree that an apology is meaningless if nothing changes afterward. This is why it is so important to follow up with "how you plan to change your behavior to avoid this problem in the future.” Most important, you must follow through with the change. It is the only way that the other person will know that you are truly sorry.


According to Jewish tradition, the essence of forgiveness is that the forgiver allows for his/her relationship with the forgiven to be healed. It is a way of saying,“You have hurt, you have injured, you have wronged, and you will suffer the consequences – but despite all that, I accept you, and I can still have a relationship with you.” The ability to sincerely ask for and receive forgiveness is an essential hallmark of human relationships.


Shabbat shalom, g’mar chatima tova (may you be sealed in the Book of Life), and tzom kal (easy fast). 

Shabbat shalom.

P.S. The Jewish Federation has this resource page providing current information about holiday services in our community. I also encourage you to click here for special High Holy Day reflections on forgiveness. We hope you are able to find opportunities for you during this time of reflection and teshuvah.


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