I’m a big fan of apologizing. In my experience, it’s one of life’s great pleasures.
The Rabbis tell us that whilst Yom Kippur atones for mistakes between a person and God, it does not atone for mistakes we have made with our fellow human beings, unless we first apologise.
And so, you will find in religious communities at this time of year people going around to each other seeking forgiveness. On the one hand, it’s a great thing that people look to correct their mistakes, but on the other hand, I worry that it is self-serving. The request is not usually that ‘I’m sorry for any hurt that I might have caused you’, rather ‘please forgive me’. The former is about the other person, the latter is about me. I need your forgiveness in order for God to forgive me, so please give it to me, so I can be forgiven. Me, me, me and nothing to do with you. If you plan on seeking forgiveness at this time of year, I think this is something worth considering.
I thought I’d talk about what looks to me as ‘best practice’ in apologising.
Firstly, I would say, try to remember that apologising is a great pleasure. You get to be an adult and take responsibility for your mistake. You get to be humble. You get to mend a wrong that you have done. And you get to fix a relationship. Tell me something else in life that brings more blessings than that. If you can learn to enjoy and even love apologising, it will get you a long way – most especially with a spouse. In my experience, spouses don’t apologise to each other anything like enough. On average, I find myself apologising a few times a week to my wife. I don’t think it’s that I’m a bad husband – although I’m always open to possibilities. I think it’s that we are all human and when our humanness comes out harshly with others, apologising is the cure.
Secondly, I have a son and daughter who used to fight like cats and dogs. When my son (the elder) would hurt his sister, I would often ask him to apologise (something I would not necessarily do nowadays). He would look her in the eye with his deepest scowl and in a spiteful and resentful voice spit out the words, ‘I’m sorry’. And so, I say, it’s important to remember that apology is a feeling, not words. Words might articulate the feeling (or they might not), but what matters is that you feel in your heart that you have wronged someone and have a sincere desire to fix it.
I’ll say one final point and that is, the purpose of an apology is to mend ill-will; it is not just a traditional ritual. Your goal is to make the other person feel better and forgive you in their heart – if they can bring themselves to doing so. As such, it might take a little work. I recall once accidentally parking over someone’s drive for an entire day. When I went to apologise the following day, I was met with a torrent of abuse. But I was relentless. I kept on saying I was sorry, trying to express it more sincerely, feel more contrition. After six or seven apologies, each followed by screaming and shouting, the lady finally softened. She suddenly got it that I was genuinely contrite for what had been an honest mistake. She smiled, softened and was so grateful that I had been brave enough to knock on her door. We parted best of friends. For me, that was apology at its sweetest.
So next time you come to apologise – and I hope that it’s soon – remember that it’s a pleasure and a privilege to do so, that it’s the feeling that matters and that your goal is to fix a relationship. And you might have to be patient with a person. Because when you’ve hurt someone, you can’t always fix it in your own timescale – but do know that they will come around in the end if you keep trying.
Shabbat Shalom and well over the fast.
Parsha in a Nutshell
Moses hands the mantle of leadership to Joshua and tells him to, ‘be strong and brave’. After all, Jews are not an easy lot to lead. Moses hands the Torah over to the elders and priests and commands his final command – that once every seven years the entire nation should gather to hear the king read to them the Torah in the Temple.