I was putting the final touches on my first Yom Kippur sermon in my new synagogue. I wanted to begin with an acknowledgment that I hurt people even though I had only been there for a month or two, and I wanted people to learn to ask for forgiveness. I was writing, “Request for Mechilah – forgiveness – on my notes and the phone rang. |
A friend was calling: “Rabbi, it is the custom that the rabbi begin his Yom Kippur sermon by asking everyone in the congregation for forgiveness.” I thanked him and hung up. I stared at my sermon notes, wondering what to do. When I decided to ask for Mechilah it came from my heart. I wasn’t going to do it because it was the custom of my predecessors. My friend had put me in a difficult position. I did not want my congregation to think that a request for forgiveness was only pro-forma. I wanted them to believe it was real. What was I to do?
Eighteen years later, just one of many congregants, I privately corrected the rabbi for an Halachic error. He thanked me and easily acknowledged that he was unfamiliar with those laws. I was so impressed by his natural willingness to recognize the gaps in his knowledge that I told the story at my Shabbat table.
My intentions were to praise him, and yet, the story included that he did not know certain Halachot. I had spoken Avak Lishon Harah – the dust of Lishon Harah about him. I immediately went to his home to ask his forgiveness. “Rabbi, I came to ask for forgiveness for…” and before I could finish my sentence, he said, “I forgive you.”
It was a strange experience. I did not feel that I had successfully repaired anything. He responded before I could even generally describe my sin against him. It was my problem, not his. It was another experience that confused me about the process of asking for forgiveness before Yom Kippur. People treat it as pro forma that everyone will forgive them. I always wonder how seriously people desire forgiveness, meaning to repair their relationship with me and how much they simply want to assuage their own guilt.
Yesterday, one of my children, who has not spoken to me in more than two years, called to wish me a Shana Tova – a Good Year. “Thank you.” “You sound confused.” “I am happily surprised to hear from you.”
“I have nothing to explain to you.”
My child spoke and I appreciated the pre-Yom Kippur “Please forgive me” ceremony in a new way: When my child insisted that there was nothing to explain, the child was saying that there was nothing to fix. When we observe the pre-Yom Kippur “Please forgive me” ceremony we are acknowledging that there is something to repair.
Had my child made that simple acknowledgment, my child would have healed more than two years of torture and suffering. “I have nothing to explain to you”, only made it worse.
So, I openly acknowledge that I have much to repair in many relationships. There are the calls I haven’t returned in a timely fashion, if at all. There are times I am not available to help. I may speak sharply when teaching or answering a question. I am often impatient.
Please know that I understand that I have much to repair and I want to fix all I humanly can. So, please forgive me.
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