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.

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