As we are in the Ten Days of Repentance here, I thought I would comment on some apologies I have received of late. As a brief commentary on our wonderful modern lives, I should note one of the apologies I will discuss here came to me through Facebook, the other through email. The apologizers will remain anonymous.

I received one, which reads like this:

“Dear friends,L’shanah tovah u’m’tukah l’chol! A very happy and sweet new year to everyone! To those of you who are in their first year of college like me, I wish you a wonderful start to this new stage in your lives, and an even better future. To those of you who are beyond the college experience, I wish you lives full of happiness and love. To those of you who are yet to reach this point in life, I wish you the success and fulfillment you need and deserve on your way!
As the new year 5768 begins, let us all start with a clean slate, a happy heart, and an open mind.

At this time of the Days of Awe between Rosh Hashanah (the new year) and Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement), I would like to take this opportunity to apologize to you personally. If, during this past year, I have said or done anything that hurt you, offended you, or wronged you in any way, shape, or form, I am sincerely sorry. Please forgive me, so that I may repent on Yom Kippur and be forgiven, that I may have “at one-ment,” atonement.
Thank you, and may you have an easy fast next Saturday, if you are participating.

With much love and affection,
Jane Anonymoustien”

The other, the one from Facebook, reads like this:

“Hey David,
I just want to say sorry for anything I did this year that hurt you.
-Plona Bat Almoni”

The first seems to be a general “Happy New Year!” letter. It was sent to many people all at the same time. As a New Year letter life-update sort of thing, it is fine. My question is, then, is this still the appropriate place for atonement? To be clear, this person has never done anything to hurt me. I think I have only even seen them once in the last year. What if she had wronged me in some way? I do not know that I could forgive for such an apology. What if I wrote back to accept he apology for a wrong she had not perceived as a wrong? Specificity, I get a sense, must be included in the initial appeal for forgiveness.

As for the second one, this apology was sent only to me. It may seem vague on the surface, but I will note that we both knew exactly what she was referring to and there was thus no need to be more explicit. This attempt at atonement, in my eyes, is the superior one because it was person-specific and event-specific.



8 responses to “Tshuvot!

  1. Making a generalization as an apology is, at least in any understanding of teshuva that I’ve ever seen or studied (see Rambam’s Hilchot Teshuva), meaningless. Unless you’re apologizing directly and specifically for an action you regret, you are merely taking the easy way out of an otherwise difficult process.

    Shanah tovah! Sorry if I hurt you this year.

  2. Thanks, David.

  3. I think that making a general apology can be appropriate if you don’t have any specific offense in mind. In a way, you are saying, I may not be aware that I’ve offended you in some way, but if I have, I’m sorry for it. If you *are* aware of how you’ve offended someone, then a general apology would be inappropriate. Suppose Anonymoustien had offended you in some way but she didn’t know it. This would be an opportunity to open up the dialogue and reach for true t’shuvah. Plona and you, on the other hand, knew exactly what she was apologizing for and a general apology would have been insufficient.
    g’mar tov

  4. Hmmmm. I haven’t really thought about coming up with a way for other people to apologize to me at this time of year. Probably because at the only time I had a significant number of Jewish friends who were aware of it, we were all too young to be anything but entirely self-involved. I became disenchanted with conservative Judaism’s ritual dictates by the time I was in high school — but I retained the distrust of Reform that it instilled in me until I moved to Temple, TX. There, (despite the name) I didn’t know any Jews well enough to expect any kind of t’shuva toward me.

    For myself, I have made a conscious decision not to issue any apologies specifically because of the season/holiday/commandment. (Which means that if I find myself offering a sincere apology at this season, I have double-checked it a number of times with my internal moral editor.) If I truly regret something I have done, I regard it as my duty to make it right with the person I have wronged as soon as possible. Thus, if I haven’t apologized already (and, as I say to my kids, am not doing my very best not to repeat the “bad behavior”), then I haven’t truly repented. And nothing I do at this time of year will change that.

    I look at the Mitzvah from the other direction. It is a chance for me to forgive anyone for hurting me — whether or not they apologize. My T’shuva, then, lies in trying my very hardest to avoid putting myself in a similar situation in the future. This is much more consistent with one of the roles I see for religion in modern life; that is, providing a paradigm for addressing mental (aka spiritual) health among the members of a community. I can make myself forgive someone else whenever I am so moved. However, all of the apologies in the world are not going to change someone else’s emotions (i.e. inspire their ‘t’shuva’ by turning hurt into forgiveness). I guess this would be Ben’s point: if Anonymoustein’s apology stimulated you to open a more effective ‘pre-t’shuva’ dialogue.

    Nonetheless, I thoroughly agree with you about the absence of heart/soul/meaning/Mitzvah in such general apologies. I also agree that Plona’s words are more meaningful, but only because they offer you a way to reaffirm your own t’shuva. I guess I feel that an ideology in favor of forgiving is more Jewish than one seeking forgiveness.

    Imperfect but forgiving,

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