Saturday, April 01, 2023

This past Erev Yom Kippur a person reached out and asked to meet with me. He knew as I did that he had hurt me in a very personal way this past year. I was hesitant to meet with him but the atmosphere of the day pushed me to be forgiving and make the time to briefly get together. We all want Hashem to forgive us for our indiscretions, and thus we are encouraged to do the same with others.

When I met the person he apologized for his actions, but explained why he did what he did. I responded that I wholeheartedly forgave him but internally I didn’t believe him. I was bothered by what I saw as his lack of sincerity. On the one hand, I thought, if he wasn’t sincere he would have never reached out. On the other hand, by virtue of his effect and words, I thought that he was merely keeping within the spirit of the day and checking me on his to-do list. I didn’t feel that he acknowledged the pain he had caused me by his actions.

We have all faced a situation where we were hurt by someone, a very close family member, a friend, co-worker or acquaintance. We seem to be fortunate when those who have hurt us try to make amends with us. Yet, that process is often complicated for us internally. How do we know when someone is sincere? In her book “Why Won’t You Apologize,” Harriet Lerner suggests that when the word “but” is added to an apology it is a telltale sign that the person apologizing is insincere. Lerner explains that “sneaky little add-ons” also help us understand the nature of what we are hearing. A sincere apology is one when the person apologizing focuses on and takes responsibility for his/her own actions. The person is careful not to frame his offending actions in terms of response to the hurt person’s feelings. When it comes to interpersonal relationships, particularly in marriage, we are often positioning ourselves when we apologize by validating our actions instead of simply acknowledging our errors. If I am apologizing for raising my voice to my spouse, the reason for my behavior is not relevant to the actual apology. In order to be sincere, we have to focus on our actions without explaining or making excuses for them. Offering reasons for my misstep only causes others to question my sincerity when apologizing. While I may explain that I become frustrated or overwhelmed when I am in a particular situation, that fact should be saved for a separate conversation.

A considerable amount of Parshat Naso is spent repeating in detail the offerings that each nasi brought to the Mishkan. Almost all of these pesukim are repetitive, as the korbanot offered by each of the nesi’im were identical. The Torah never wastes words and we generally find a reason for why a given word is used. Why was each nasi’s korban described in detail if they were identical to that of his neighbor? Rav Baruch of Peshischa explains that the reason the Torah goes into detail about the korban brought by each nasi is because they brought from their own desire, with devotion, and not out of peer pressure. There are times in life when we may act based on an example set by someone else. From one perspective, the fact that we are motivated by others is praiseworthy. On the other hand, one may act in response to someone else out of jealousy or peer pressure, and not from their own sincere commitment. The nesi’im showed true sincerity when they each brought their offerings, and this is reflected by the fact that each one of their korbanot is detailed by the Torah, despite their being identical. May we continue to be motivated to live Torah lives out of personal commitment, desire and honesty. May our words be valued and accepted by those we care about for the true, sincere feelings they represent.

By Rabbi Eliezer Zwickler

 Rabbi Eliezer Zwickler is rabbi of Congregation AABJ&D in West Orange, New Jersey, and is a licensed clinical social worker in private practice. Rabbi Zwickler can be reached at [email protected]


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