This week is Shabbat Shuvah. Shabbat Shuvah is the Shabbat that falls during the Aseret Y’mai Teshuva, or the Ten days of Repentance. During this time, we are pushed to ask others for forgiveness for how we have wronged them. However, we are taught that the first step in repenting is for us to look inwards and realize our wrongdoings. This idea comes from the root of the word teshuva, “la-shuv” or “to turn”, suggesting that we turn away from the outside chaos and look towards our inner workings.
The next step in repentance is seeking forgiveness from others. We are told to apologize to those we have hurt. However, this begs the question, “How are we supposed to apologize to everyone we know? Do we just talk to everyone individually, or can we just post something on social media and call it a day?” Although we are only required to apologize to those that we know that we have wronged or hurt, however it is possible that we have hurt others without even being aware that we have done so, therefore, the halacha suggests that we should apologize to everyone we know.
What does a meaningful apology look like? The first step is to be specific with what you are apologizing for. It is not enough to simply say, “I am sorry if I hurt you this year”. You must specify what you have done wrong. Next, you must allow the other person the space and liberty to think about your apology and decide whether to accept it. Without the choice to accept or reject one’s apology, we would never know if they truly accepted it or not. If the person rejects the apology, we must continue to ask for forgiveness two more times. If three apologies have been rejected, Jewish law teaches us that we have done all that we could and nothing more that we are no longer held accountable for their pain.
Perhaps, the requirement to apologize up to three times is because these three apologies are very different in their nature and scope. The first apology often occurs shortly after the event and although you may feel bad about what happened, you have not yet had time to process the pain and suffering that you may have caused. The second apology is after you have thought about and lived with this transgression long enough that you can fully acknowledge how you have wronged this person. This apology is often more sincere and heartfelt and helps the wronged individual feel that you are truly sorry for what you may have done. However, the third apology allows you to move on. It helps you relieve yourself and make yourself a better person. Each of these apologies plays a different role in how we must conduct ourselves after wronging another.
As we enter into this Shabat Shuvah, we try to gain forgiveness from those we have hurt in the past year. Whether you are on your first apology or if you are ready to give your third apology and receive forgiveness, think about the people around you. Think about the people you may have hurt and how you can work to make it right. You never know, someone could be ready to seek forgiveness from you and usher in the New Year with a clean and positive slate.
Shanah Tovah and Shabbat Shalom,
Eastern Region Moreh, David Sternfeld
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