Those are not always easy words to utter, whether in person or in today’s digitally minded world, via text, Twitter, Facebook or email. When I think of forgiveness, I am led to how Judaism regards תשובה / teshuvah / repentance. Teshuvah is comprised of three components: regret of misdeed, verbal expression of one’s sin(s) and the decision to change. The actual apology is only one of those pieces – and in my mind, only the beginning of the process.
Maimonides in his Laws of Repentance, Chapter 2, poses the question of what constitutes repentance. When the transgressor not only abandons his sin but removes it from his thoughts and resolves firmly to never do it again – that is truly תשובה.
Along with being a father of three, I spend my days working with children of various ages. Between both children and adults, I hear the words “no offense, but…” on a regular basis. In my eyes, offering an apology and then continuing to do something that is knowingly hurtful to another is a veiled apology or rationalization. I offer that we try to think before we act and take into account who we are speaking to in order to avoid the need to apologize in advance.
As we enter the season of the Yamim Noraim (High Holidays), we are offered many opportunities to not only apologize, but also to consider how we will change as people, parents, partners, friends and community members. These chances to repent are at our fingertips – we simply need to take notice of them.
The 13 Attributes of Mercy have been known to bring salvation and forgiveness to the Jewish people throughout the generations. It is meaningful how these attributes form the essence of Selichot (prayers of Repentance) as we work our way to the crescendo of Yom Kippur. We are trying to garner the attributes of G-d – to be truthful, show compassion, be slow to anger – to ultimately strive to be more empathetic as we change our ways.
The 13 Attributes of Mercy (Middot Harachamim):
- י-ה-ו-ה / compassion before a person sins
- י-ה-ו-ה / compassion after a person has sinned
- א-ל / mighty in compassion, to give all creatures according to their need
- רַחוּם / merciful, that humankind may not be distressed
- וְחַנּוּן / gracious if humankind is already in distress
- אֶרֶךְ אַפַּיִם / slow to anger
- וְרַב-חֶסֶד / plenteous in kindness
- וֶאֱמֶת / truth
- נֹצֵר חֶסֶד לָאֲלָפִים / keeping kindness unto thousands
- נֹשֵׂא עָוֹן / forgiving iniquity
- וָפֶשַׁע / transgression
- וְחַטָּאָה / sin
- וְנַקֵּה / pardoning
As I enter the Yamim Noraim (High Holy Days), I realize that there will be plenty of time for deliberation. I plan to think carefully about who I have not apologized to. It is also important to me to reflect on how I can improve and maximize my own potential to be more aligned with the 13 Attributes as a husband, father, educator, friend and Jew. My true joy will be to leave these holidays as a better version of myself than the person who entered the doors before Rosh Hashanah.
I wish you each a L’shanah tovah with time to reflect.