The forgiveness I seek indicates how I view my wrongdoing. Let me give you an example. My wife asks me to pick up some ice cream for her when I go to the store. I forget and come home empty-handed.
I say, “I’m sorry.” What I mean is, “I had no malicious intent, I just forgot. I don’t feel a need to ask for forgiveness. I didn’t intend to hurt you.”
I say, “Forgive me.” What I mean is, “I promised to bring you ice cream and I didn’t keep my word. I acted dishonorably and I request your forgiveness.”
I say, “I apologize; how can I atone?” What I mean is, “I was totally insensitive to your needs. Forgetting the ice cream indicates a fundamental breach in our relationship. I want to repair that breach, which will require an act of atonement toward you, whom I value.”
The difference between the first two and the third is that the first two are about me. I am forgetful or I didn’t live up to my word. You, and our relationship, are not very important. The third, however, is about us. If I had been sensitive to your needs, I would never have come home empty-handed. You mean too much to me. The fact that you didn’t get what you wanted leaves me feeling empty. I need to atone.
Yom Kippur is not the Day of Regret or the Day of Forgiveness, it is the Day of Atonement. When two parties have a relationship, and one lets down the other, there must be atonement. The existence of a Day of Atonement means there is a relationship that is need of repair. What I seek on Yom Kippur defines my sense of myself vis-a-vis G-d.
Now the truth is that my wife doesn’t need the ice cream, but she would certainly like it. Perhaps more than enjoying the ice cream, she would like me to do something for her, which will elicit a sense of gratitude and closeness between us. Her needs are not my burden, but my opportunity.
So it is, too, with our loving Creator. Although G-d doesn’t need me, in His kindness, He has created a relationship that looks like He does. He makes demands of me that show that I am important to Him. On top of it all, He has presented me with a special opportunity. Not a day to say, “I’m sorry,” or a day of forgiveness, but a day to atone and to repair our relationship.
May this season of forgiveness bring us repaired relationships on earth and in Heaven.