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So, we’ve already covered some of the things that are required in order to be appeased by your fellow man. Now, we’re going to look at what’s required if you’re the one that needs to be doing the appeasing.

The Shulchan Aruch says like this:

The first time, you have to ask for forgiveness.

Remember, that the sins between adam le chavero aren’t atoned for on Yom Kippur until you first appease the person you hurt.

If the person isn’t appeased the first time you apologise, then according to the Shulchan Aruch, the second and third time you ask for forgiveness (ie, try to appease him) you should bring three additional people with you as witnesses. If the person is still not appeased after the third attempt, it’s their problem, not yours.

Why do we need to bring three people with us, in our efforts to appease the injured party? There are many explanations, but I have a feeling that it’s at least partially to help clarify what’s really going on, and where the problem lies. When other, more impartial, people are part of the ‘peace process’, it’s normally easier to see whether the appeasement being offered matches the hurt that was inflicted, and who needs to back down or be more flexible (clearly, what I just wrote doesn’t apply to Middle East politics J).

Again, there’s a few distinctions to be made here:

  1. If I REALLY want to appease the other person, because I want to continue to have a healthy, trusting relationship with them in the future, I will do whatever it takes to get them back on side.

That means:

  • Making a full and frank admission of what I did wrong;
  • Acknowledging specifically the hurt I caused to the other person (“I know I really embarrassed you in front of all your friends…I see I really let you down…I accept I’ve continually put my own interests ahead of yours…etc”)
  • Clearly setting out how this is going to change in the future, and what steps I’m taking to prevent it from happening again (“I’m going to start talking to God for 5 minutes every day about my anger problem; I’m going to lock myself in a room when I feel a rage fit coming on; If I do something wrong, I’m going to come and apologise for it as soon as I calm down, and not leave it months or pretend it was all your fault…”)

 

  1. If I’m interested in ‘doing the right thing’, but I don’t really care if I continue to have a relationship with the other person in the future, I will fulfill the letter of the law and do my best to apologise to them as per the Shulchan Aruch’s guidelines.

If they accept my apology – great! If not, after the third time I tried, I’ll feel like I’ve done my part, and there’s nothing else to do.

Now, let’s look at what happens when you try to apologise on multiple occasions, and the other person keeps you hanging.

There’s two main reasons for this. Either:

  • You’re going through the motions of apologizing but not really appeasing them (as set out above) which means that they don’t trust you enough to continue the relationship with you in the future.

If you want things to change, you’ll have to appease them. I should also say now that an emotionally healthy person will still accept your apology, even if it’s insincere, but that they will probably continue to keep their distance from you until you regain their trust. OR

  • You’re dealing with an emotionally unhealthy person.

When someone won’t give you a chance to apologise, refuses all your genuine attempts to appease them, and rebuffs your attempts to find out what you actually did wrong, then give it your best shot as per the Shulchan Aruch – and then walk away.

I’ve learned over time that the main reason people can’t forgive others – especially when the other person is going all-out to appease them, and not just going through the motions – it’s usually because on some level, they can’t forgive themselves.

More on this another time.

So there we have it: the pre-Yom Kippur guide to appeasing your fellow Jew.

Let me just state again that if I’ve hurt or upset anyone – please forgive me! If it’s something huge or specific – email me, and I’ll do my best to appease you (within the limits set by halacha…) And may God bless us all with a sweet, healthy, happy, holy, successful and peaceful year.

As orthodox Jews know, Yom Kippur, the day of atonement, only takes care of the sins done between man and God. You ate a pig sandwich, you drove to the beach or the mall on Shabbat, you didn’t give the 10% of your income you’re meant to give to charity  – that’s the sort of stuff that Yom Kippur takes care of, with a couple of provisos:

  • You’re genuinely sorry.
  • You genuinely intend to turn over a new leaf, and to stop doing the bad things (or start doing the good things you should be doing…) in the future.

If these two elements are missing, then it’s a real question how much benefit you’re actually going to get out of Yom Kippur, although there is an idea that just the act of fasting takes care of so much, because God knows how hard the human condition is, in 2015.

But the sins between man and man? Yom Kippur only cleans that stuff up IF YOU FIRST TRIED TO MAKE AMENDS TO THE PERSON YOU HURT OR DID SOMETHING NASTY TO.

Which is where things get kind of interesting, because according to the Shulchan Aruch, the halacha concerning forgiveness is worded like this:

Appease your fellow before Yom Kippur”.

And appeasement is a whole different ballgame from calling someone up 5 minutes before the fast and casually asking them ‘do you mochel me’.  According to dictionary.com, the definition of ‘to appease’ is as follows:

“To bring to a state of peace, quiet, ease, calm, or contentment; to pacify, soothe .”

Here’s the thing: when someone is genuinely sorry about the hurt they caused you, deliberately or otherwise, and genuinely wants to make amends, you can feel that a mile off. It almost doesn’t matter about the words they use to apologise, because you can feel the sincerity behind them, and that’s what appeases you.

And when they don’t?

Then the apology, even if carefully worded, doesn’t appease.

Let me state here that we’re not meant to stand on ceremony with these things and make it any harder for someone to apologise than it already is. Saying sorry is one of the most difficult things in the world, I know, and far too many people grind their axes for years, instead of accepting an apology and moving on.

So let’s try to unpick what’s going on here, a little, before Yom Kippur. This post, we’ll concentrate on being appeased, and tomorrow, we’ll look at doing the appeasing.

In order for me to be appeased, I need to feel that:

  • My feelings of hurt have been validated, and not ignored, mocked or down-graded
  • The other person genuinely feels remorse for what they did, and is not just doing apologising as a ‘box ticking’ exercise in order to restore the status quo
  • They are going to do their level best to avoid treating me that way again in the future (this one is probably the most important of the bunch).

Will I accept an apology if these conditions aren’t met? Absolutely! But I’ll continue to keep a polite distance from the person until they’ve got around to appeasing me.

This distinction is crucial, so I’m going to spell it out again:

If someone apologises without appeasing me, I don’t trust that they really got what they did, or have accepted that they need to change how they treat me in the future. Ergo, I can forgive them for what they’ve done to me in the past (usually, after a massive hitbodedut session…) but I’d have to be insane to enable them to hurt me again in the future.

By contrast, if someone appeases me, as set out above, then as well as forgiving them for the past, I’m also willing to have a relationship with them in the future. We all make mistakes, we all say and do hurtful, unkind things sometimes. The key is how we go about trying to fix the mess we made.

Do we go the superficial ‘mochel me’ route, or do we genuinely try to do everything in our power to appease the person we’ve hurt?

The last point for this post is that different hurts require different approaches. If I accidentally hurt the feelings of a distant colleague at work – once – then if they’re emotionally healthy, the amount of appeasing required should be minimal. But, if I’ve had a long history of psychologically, verbally or abusing someone, or I did something massive like jilting my fiancé under the chuppah, then the amount of appeasing required is going to be corresponding much greater – especially if I want that person to ever trust me again.

In the next post, we’ll look a bit more at this issue from the other side of the equation, and explore some of the rules of asking for forgiveness.

Why self-forgiveness is the key

So, this is what my correspondent from the last post replied:

“I knew you were going to say to apologize to my children.  And I know I need to do this.  But emotionally I can’t do it.  It will hurt me too much to bring up past experiences.  I don’t think I have the emotional strength to apologize to them, on my own.

“I know I need to nullify my own busha if I want to get peace with this, and the yetzer hara is having a field day with me.  For now, I will ask H-Shem for the strength to eventually do this, and ask H-Shem to allow my tefillot and teshuvot to be accepted, even though this situation with my children is hanging over me, especially since it is Elul.“

 

One brave lady

My correspondent is one brave lady, because if you asked any single one of us if we’d be happy to say sorry to our kids – particularly the kids we KNOW we haven’t done a great job of parenting, and who have suffered a great deal as a result – I guarantee that none of us would be running over eagerly to get the whole apology party on the road.

As we mentioned in previous posts, saying sorry is really, really hard. And it’s harder still when we know we really screwed up; and it’s harder still when we don’t even know if our apology is going to be accepted, or if it’s even going to ‘fix’ things they way we hope.

So then, what options are really left open to us, if we’re somehow stuck knowing we need to say sorry, but unable to do it?

You know what I’m going to say next, don’t you?

At that point, there is no other option on the table except to get God involved. And that’s exactly what my correspondent did. Here’s what she told me:

Get God involved, and see miracles

“I wanted to let you know the most amazing miracles happened to me today.

“I was in the middle of my Hitbodedut, when I started thinking that the same way that my children’s situation, which is painful for me as a mother, is getting me closer to H-Shem, the situation is also there to get them closer to H-Shem, too.

“Don’t get me wrong I’m not excusing myself for how I treated them strictly and harshly. But I’m starting to understand that, for whatever reason, I was the messenger for their test – but the tribulations they had to had, and it was much better that it came via me, who really does love them, then via some other route.

“This idea gave me permission to forgive myself, and took a huge load off my shoulders, I physically felt lighter, and more at peace with myself. Everything comes from H-Shem, and everything H-Shem does is good and for our own good.

‘I know that I still need to apologize to them, but H-Shem will give me the strength to do so, at the right time.

 “Later on, I was talking to my daughter when all of a sudden she started thanking me, telling me what a great mom I was to her growing up.  I tried to apologize to her, but she said that there’s nothing to apologize for.  My husband was also there, and tried to say  that we’d all made mistakes during those hard times, but she shushed him, and said ‘:lets just say I’m sorry to each other and start new.’

 WOW! 

“I’m still in amazing shock.  THANK YOU H-SHEM, 1 MILLION TIMES OVER!  If you think this story will bring chizuk to others, please publicize this amazing miracle.”

 Her story certainly gave ME a lot of chizuk, so I was more than happy to share it further afield.

In the next post, we’re going to pull all this stuff together into a practical ‘Elul Forgiveness Exercise’ that will hopefully help you to kick-start your teshuva process.

Learning the lessons of forgiveness

 

There are so many things we could learn about true forgiveness from the last few posts, and I’m sure that each of us will have our own insights. When I was trying to pull it together into a coherent ‘strategy of forgiveness’, the following elements jumped out at me:

In order to really forgive, and in order to really apologise, we need the following things:

  • Honesty

Namely, to admit that we genuinely have done things wrong, and that we aren’t perfect, even when that’s very painful.

  • Remorse

To feel bad about our negative actions, and the consequences they had for the people in our lives, and to want to avoid repeating the same mistakes again in the future.

  • Hitbodedut

Talking to God about what we actually need to do, in order to fix the mess we made,  as well as asking Him to give us the enormous emotional and spiritual strength required in order for us to own up to our faults.

  • Emuna – ie, Ein Od Milvado, God set the whole situation up, and He had His reasons for doing that

This is where we start to see that we’re not in control of our lives, and that often, we kind of get stuck playing a part that we don’t want or like. It also means that we see that the OTHER people in our life, who may have hurt us, are also just God’s ‘puppets’, in a manner of speaking, and just coming to teach us some sort of lesson, or to right some sort of spiritual wrong that may not even be from this lifetime (just like what happened in the Baal Shem Tov story).

  • Self-forgiveness

All of these things are key, and all of them are part of the secret of true forgiveness. But if I had to pick one thing out of this list to emphasise, then self-forgiveness would be it.

Because:

If we can’t forgive ourselves, we also can’t sincerely forgive others. And if we can’t forgive ourselves, we won’t have the emotional strength required to fix what we broke, and to ask others for forgiveness.

The Elul Forgiveness Exercise 

OK, let’s see if we turn everything we’ve learned into something practical that will directly help US to practise more forgiveness in our own lives. Ready?

Take a piece of paper and a pen.

Answer the following questions (these aren’t for sharing, so go ahead and be honest):

  • Who do you still need to forgive?
  • What do you still need to forgive yourself about?
  • Who do you need to ask forgiveness from? (Clue: kids and spouses nearly always make it onto this list)
  • What’s stopping you from doing it?

If you get stuck answering any of these questions, schedule in some quiet time and ask God for some help and guidance.

Kick-starting the forgiveness process

Remember, God treats us the way we treat others, midda kneged midda. So let’s kick-start the forgiveness process right now. Turn your piece of paper of, and write the following statement:

“I, NAME, unconditionally forgive anyone who has ever hurt me or upset me, under any circumstances, at any time.”

You can add anything you want to this statement, and yes, it’s very similar to what we say before we go to sleep. But a few months’ ago, my rabbi Rav Arush gave a shiur where he stressed the importance of actually writing this statement down, and signing it.

Actions carry a lot of weight in yiddishkeit, so please sign it and then breathe out!

You just forgave a whole bunch of people unconditionally, (or at least, took the first massive step towards doing that) – and for sure, God will return the favour, come Rosh Hashana.

While we’re on the subject of forgiveness, I just wanted to ask you, my readers to please forgive me for anything I’ve written over the past 12 months that may have touched a nerve, or upset you in any way.  That is never my intention, but I do make mistakes and I sometimes misjudge things. So please forgive me!!

And may we all be blessed with the most amazingly sweet, forgiving, kind and delicious year possible, Amen.

Learning how to forgive: The famous story from the Baal Shem Tov

One of the Baal Shem Tov’s students once asked him the seminal question: ‘Why do bad things happen to good people?’ In response, the Baal Shem Tov sent him to a well in a nearby forest, and told him to go and climb a tree there, and keep his eyes peeled.

The student was a little confused, but hey, it’s the Baal Shem Tov! And he knew that his holy teacher certainly had good reasons for giving him these strange instructions. The student got there, climbed the tree, and waited.

The first person came along, stopped at the well, took a big shluck of water, then walked off – but the student saw that he’d left his fat purse of money behind him, at the well.

Next, a young lad came along, saw the purse full of money, and happily took it away with him.

The last person came along, stopped at the well for a drink – and got beaten up by the first person who’d discovered his lost purse, and had come back to claim it. When he couldn’t find it, he was convinced the last person there had stolen it, and started raining punches down on him, so that he’d confess where he’d hidden it.

When all this was over, the bemused student climbed down the tree, and came back to the BESHT for an explanation.

The Baal Shem Tov told him:

“In a previous life, the first person who lost the purse was a litigant in a trial where he should have lost and been liable to pay a lot of money – except that he bribed the judge to decide in his favour.

The second person who found the purse was the other litigant, who was dishonestly swindled out of his money. Now, the account was settled.

And the third person who got beaten up, was the bent judge.”

 

The secret of forgiveness

It’s a simple story, but it teaches us a profound lesson about we can start to forgive, namely:

God did, does and will do everything in the world. EinOdMilvado. Hashem is all there is.

That’s the first of the Rambam’s 13 Principles of Faith, and it’s a fundamental tenet of Judaism.

But how does knowing that God is doing everything in the world, which you can sum up in the phrase: ‘having emuna’ going to help us to ask for forgiveness, and to forgive others? Let’s find out.

Let’s start by seeing how this idea changes the whole picture when we need to ask for forgiveness.

 

Asking our kids for forgiveness

A little while back, I got an email from a lady who was having some ongoing, chronic health issues that no medicine or antibiotics could touch with a barge pole. My correspondent started talking to God about her health issues, and BH, they started to improve.

A little later, she sent me a heart-wrenching email asking for advice on how she could make teshuva for messing up her grown-up kids, who were depressed, angry and struggling emotionally and relationship-wise. My correspondent had had a very stormy relationship with her spouse, and there was a lot of anger, yelling and tension in the house, which spilled-over into her parenting. She was blaming herself mercilessly for all her kids’ problems, and didn’t know what to do next.

Before I continue, you should know that the situation my correspondent described is unfolding itself in most homes today, even orthodox Jewish homes. Spiritually and emotionally, Am Yisrael is in a huge mess, and part of the reason I wanted to refer to this particular bit of correspondence is because I know it resonates with that secret part of every parent, every mother, who secretly fears that she’s messing her kids up.

And we probably all really are!

So anyway, the main gist of what I suggested she should try to do to get things moving, forgiveness and teshuva-wise was as follows:

1) Apologise to the children themselves for her parenting shortcomings, and validate their experiences and reactions.

This cannot be overstated,in terms of setting things right with the people we’ve hurt, especially when those people are our children. But it’s so hard to do, I know!

And

2) STOP BEATING HERSELF UP!!

I explained to my respondent that she’d only parented the same way she’d been parented herself, and that I could guarantee it hadn’t been anything like ideal. The key to getting things to move was to practise as much self-compassion as possible.

So what happened next?

You’ll find out in the next post…

Why is it so hard to accept someone else’s apology?

 

OK, in the last post we were thinking about why it’s so hard to apologise. Now let’s switch sides and ask ourselves another question:

Q: When someone asks us to forgive them, why is it often so hard to do it?

I’m not talking about the small ‘nothings’ that most of us find it all too easy to apologise for, like ‘only’ putting out three salads for Shabbat lunch instead of the usual 6, because we’ve had a tough week. Or apologising because it took us a few hours longer to return the other person’s phone call.

I’m talking about the big stuff here.

The horrible comment someone made that devastated us. The completely thoughtless behaviour that ruined our wedding / bris / bar mitzvah. The decision or action that changed the whole course of our life, and caused us a lot of suffering and heartache.

Big stuff.

So now, that person finds out it’s Elul, and that they need to make amends to the people they’ve hurt, and they phone you up to apologise. If you’re like most people, you’re not going to immediately drop your guard and gushingly accept. Sincerely accepting apologies from people who have really hurt us is actually really hard!

Why is this?

Again, each of us will have our own particular reasons, but when I was musing about why it can be so hard to accept apologies, the following things came up:

  • We don’t trust it’s a sincere apology
  • We’re scared if we let our guard down, they might hurt us again
  • We want them to suffer EVEN MORE!! (ie, vengeance)
  • We still have a lot of feelings of hatred against them (not politically correct to say, I know, but true nevertheless)
  • If they person who’s doing the apologising has caused us a huge loss or damage, we can’t forgive them because we’re still blaming them for the horrible situation we still find ourselves in
  • It’s not fair!! Just saying sorry after the terrible thing they did to us is NEVER going to be enough…

Anything else you want to add to this list?

Genuine forgiveness is actually pretty hard

As you’re hopefully starting to see for yourself, sincerely asking for forgiveness when you know you’ve done something bad, and sincerely forgiving someone else who really hurt you in some way, is actually really, really difficult to do in practise.

(SO STOP BEATING YOURSELF UP IF ALL THE FORGIVENESS STUFF IS NOT COMING EASY! IT TAKES 120 YEARS TO PERFECT ALL THESE NEGATIVE MIDDOT!!!)

But Hashem still wants us to do all the ‘forgiveness’ stuff, and He’s particularly keen that we do it in Elul, so that we go into Rosh Hashana, the yom haDin, with as clean a slate as possible.

God relates to us midda kneged midda¸ which means ‘a measure for measure.’

If we forgive others, He’ll forgive us. If we ask forgiveness for others, He’ll forgive us. And this is a deal that has some eternal ramifications for us, because Gehinnom doesn’t atone for sins between man and man; it only takes care of the sins we did – and didn’t make teshuva for – between man and God.

If we stole something and didn’t give it back and ask for forgiveness – we’ll have to come back again to fix it.

If we hurt someone with harsh words and we didn’t sincerely make amends – we’ll get sent back here, and this time it could well be that WE’LL be the ones getting the verbal abuse, as spiritual payback.

If we didn’t somehow fix the fallout from that juicy piece of gossip we shared with 50 of our closest friends on Facebook, then guess what? God is going to send us back to rectify the blemish we caused to our soul.

So forgiveness, as well as being really, really hard, is also really, really crucial for our spiritual rectification process. So how exactly are we meant to do it (especially when the person who’s hurt us the most is still trying to pretend they’re perfect, and didn’t do anything wrong?) Stay tuned…

The secret of forgiveness – Part 1

With Rosh Hashana around the corner, I thought I’d treat you (and myself…) to a series of posts over the next couple of weeks, exploring the secret of forgiveness, and then the secret of teshuva – because as you’ll discover, we can’t really have one without the other.

Today, we’re going to kick-off the discussion by exploring:

Why is it so incredibly difficult to say sorry?

Before you read on, you might want to take a minute or two and think about what’s stopping you from making that much-needed apology to the person or people in your own life. When I started pondering this, the following things popped-up in my head as possible reasons why it’s so hard to ask for forgiveness sometimes:

Maybe it’s so hard to ask for forgiveness because it’s:

  • Embarrassing
  • Demeaning
  • Unpleasant
  • Makes us feel like we want to throw up
  • We actually don’t feel like we did anything wrong
  • We’re still far too upset at the other person to say sorry
  • Let THEM come to ME and say ‘sorry’ first!!
  • Going to cause me to lose my power or influence in some way – they won’t respect me anymore
  • Going to make me feel even more terrible about myself, if I actually admit to doing something wrong
  • Too painful

Anything else? Did I miss anything out? If yes, please fill in the blank in the comments section, and we’ll come back to this when we continue our discussion in the next post.