The month of Elul is a time for reflection, and then we celebrate Rosh Hashanah joyously. Then the Ten Days of Repentance are upon us, and we must think about the challenges of forgiveness.
Often, we make a blanket apology such as, “If I have done anything to hurt you in the past year, please forgive me.” For those “sins/hurts” that we did not knowing, this works, but what if we have hurt someone? Apologies are hard.
I found an article on www.myjewishlearning.com with advice from Everett L. Worthington Jr. of Virginia Commonwealth University. He gives this handy acronym to remember the steps of a request for forgiveness:
C — Confess without excuse. Be specific about what you’re sorry for (“I’m sorry I forgot our anniversary”). Do not offer any kind of excuse. Do not let the word “but” come out of your mouth.
O — Offer an apology that gets across the idea that you’re sorry, and that you don’t want to do it again. Be sincere and articulate.
N — Note the other person’s pain. Acknowledge that your actions were hurtful.
F — Forever value. Explain that you value your relationship and you want to restore it more than you want to hang on to your pride.
E — Equalize. Offer retribution. Ask how you can make it up to the person.
S — Say “never again.” Promise that you won’t do it again (and mean it).
S — Seek forgiveness. Ask the other person directly, “Can you forgive me?”
This is a great model. Worthington goes on to say how people might respond to requests for forgiveness:
1. Yes, I forgive you.
2. I need more time.
3. I can make a decision to forgive you, but I’m still very hurt.
4. No, there’s nothing you can do to ever make it right. I don’t forgive you.
This is a challenging thing to do, but the steps are clear-cut. Maimonides goes further, saying that if someone turns you down, you should go back a second and third time. However, if they are still unwilling to forgive, you are considered to have atoned, even if forgiveness hasn’t been granted.
Remember also, if you are on the other side — being asked to forgive — often forgiving is as important to you as to the one who hurt you. We need to let the pain go for our own healing. Ideally, we should not be hurtful but that is not always in our control. However, it would be best not to wait for Yom Kippur to apologize.
Shalom from the Shabbat Lady.
Laura Seymour is director of camping services at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center.
A guide to High Holiday apologies and forgiveness