May 18, 2024
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May 18, 2024
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During Aseret Yemei Teshuva, the Jewish People are in a very “sorry” state. Between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, they embark on a 10-day apology tour, seeking forgiveness (mechila) from those they have wronged. Some ask for mechila blatantly while others more subtly send out signals of apology via re”Morse” code.

What exactly are the rules of teshuva? Let’s review some of the basics.

You should ask another party for forgiveness by yourself. In other words, for the initial attempt, it should be a solo sorry search. If the request is not accepted, then your next attempts should be accompanied by a growing number of witnesses, adding one one with each attempt. Does that mean that if you say your sorry for a fifth time, then you may bring with you the Kansas City Chiefs offensive line? That certainly would help from an intimidation standpoint but if you have to buy them dinner afterwards, then once again, you’ll be sorry.

If you believe that asking for mechila through a third-party conduit would have a higher likelihood of success, you may do so. That said, choose your representative mouthpiece wisely. For example, you probably should not choose someone who by nature comes off as disingenuous. You also should not pick someone who flaunts their coprolalia.

Each time you ask someone for mechila, you should employ a different method to induce acceptance. For instance, first offer a heartfelt apology, then add a promise to avoid such behavior in the future and, if that does not work, just write a check. It will be money well spent.

When you ask for mechila, you are supposed to identify the infraction with particularity unless that will embarrass the aggrieved party and add insult to injury. So, if you are asking mechila from your rabbi for sleeping through his painfully boring sermon, perhaps do not mention the sermon. Just apologize for behaving like a typical congregant.

You must ask mechila specifically from the aggrieved party rather than from a group. For example, if you commit a wrongdoing against your lawyer, you cannot simply seek forgiveness from the bar. If you seek mechila from an acclaimed cellist, an apology to the New York Philharmonic simply won’t do.

You should ask for mechila from someone who claims to have been offended by your conduct even if the complaint seems invalid or they antagonized you. Err on the side of apologizing, swallow your pride and, going forward, avoid such a nudnik like the plague.

If you embarrass someone in public, then you must ask for mechila in public. So, if you insult someone on social media, then apologize on social media. Do not seek forgiveness via text.

For purposes of mechila, the term “in public” means ten or more people, regardless of whether they witnessed the infraction. Thus, apologizing in front of the United States Supreme Court will not suffice but apologizing in front of Israel’s national baseball team will.

The aggrieved party should not be obstinate in considering a request for mechila. They should be magnanimous in doling out mechila, like a marathon volunteer handing out water to runners.

If the aggrieved party is alive but completely incommunicado, then you can wait for the first available mechila-asking opportunity. For the record, however, you may not delay merely because the aggrieved party is on vacation or on the other line.

Even if you believe that the aggrieved party already has forgiven you without solicitation, you still should go through the mechila process to obtain an official pardon. Similarly, just because your spouse knows that you love him/her, you still should say “I love you” every now and then because they still would like to hear it. Your spouse also would like to hear things such as “You look great,” “I really appreciate you” and “My parents will not be staying with us for the next three months while they renovate their condo.”

If you are unreasonably rebuffed after four apology attempts, then you need not ask for mechila again. However, when the aggrieved party dies, you should ask for mechila at graveside. Of course, this applies only if you outlive them.

If you speak negatively about a dead person, a graveside apology is not necessary but you should ask for mechila at the “spot of the foul,” so to speak. So, if you are traveling to a remote and/or unpleasant location, do not insult the dead. If you absolutely must say something negative about them, wait until you get home.

Final thought: You should not forgo forgiveness even if the forgiver has forgotten.

By Jon Kranz


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