Every year around this time, I struggle with the same thing: huge feelings of anger and annoyance against people who have treated me really, really badly, yet never apologise for anything.
As a frum Jew, I’ve tried pretty hard to make amends, and I’ve eaten a lot of humble pie over the years, trying to make peace with people I’ve fallen out with because they’ve treated me so badly.
Last year, I had a huge test on this front as I finally got around to apologizing to someone who has made my life miserable for years’ already, solely to try to do the right thing, and to keep God happy.
Dear reader, I sent this person three fulsome apologies – and by the end, they still refused to forgive me! What makes it even harder to swallow is that this person is a really nasty, messed-up piece of work that thinks they are 100% justified in all the terrible, awful, horrible things they do and say, and that the problem is always everyone else’s.
Have they ever apologized even once for all the disgusting things they’ve said and done?
(To give you an idea of what I’m dealing with, they once told me that I was only apologizing because ‘the Torah’ told me I had to, which meant it couldn’t be sincere, so they didn’t have to accept it.)
I knew once I sent the third apology that I’d done my bit, and that now the problem was 100% back in their court, spiritually-speaking. Halachically, you’re only meant to try to apologise, and to try and appease the person three times, and then they’re considered to be officially ‘cruel’ (i.e., mentally ill) for not accepting your apology, and you don’t have to worry about them anymore.
Which is all well and good if they’re someone you never have to deal with, or see ever again, but occasionally God fixes it that you’re stuck with these really nasty people very close to home. Which is when the next part of the test kicks in, because even though you’ve gone all out to make peace with them, and even though the problem is them and their mentally-ill behavior and attitudes, you’re still stuck having to play the role of being the bad one that’s causing all the difficulties.
King David wrote about this, when he described how he was just for peace, yet his enemies were just for war.
Man, I can relate. And then I sometimes get boiling mad at all the unfairness and unjustice of it all. Until….
Until I remember that God is behind it all. God is the one who’s sending all these warped, mentally-ill, self-righteous, pretend ‘perfect’ people into my life. Why? Because they clearly have a spiritual job to do, and they are part of the spiritual tests I have to face and overcome.
Nothing but nothing challenges your emuna so much as trying to see God behind some mentally-ill person who’s raised the art of slandering you and abusing you while playing the poor victim into an art form.
But if (WHEN!) you pass that test, nothing but nothing compares to the spiritual rewards you get for standing up in it (so I’ve been told ?
Which is why this time of year can be so challenging. If I sit and wait for these people to apologise for anything, I’ll be here forever. If I don’t want to get stuck behind their mentally-ill bad middot that means I have to figure out how to neutralize my anger and rage without being appeased by them. That is serious spiritual work. That’s hours and hours of hitbodedut, and asking God for help.
And that’s the main Teshuva to make over these ten days of repentance, at least for me: to ask for God’s help to uproot my own anger and bad middot, to know that God is behind everything and everyone, and to trust that ultimately, it’s all just good.