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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.