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A Simchat Torah Forgiveness

By Shea Hecht

One Erev Yom Kippur I received a phone call from a man who was very upset, because someone called to ask him for forgiveness.

I said, "That's a good thing, why would such a request bother you?"

He replied, "Earlier in the year I was cut out of a business deal by my partners. When one of my partners called me today, I felt the phone call was made with an ulterior motive, because he wants to go into Yom Kippur with a clean slate. I feel that he waited until today to ask knowing I would feel compelled to forgive. But Rabbi, right now the hurt is still too deep, and I don't feel like forgiving. Must I forgive him? Do I have a right not to forgive?"

I responded, "It's certainly in your best interest to forgive someone asking for forgiveness. It's explained in the Code of Jewish Law that the Yom Kippur prayers of one who withholds forgiveness on Erev Yom Kippur will not be accepted. Also, forgiveness is liberating; it frees you from holding a grudge and hating. You will help yourself by forgiving him."

According to tradition the days before Yom Kippur are an auspicious time to ask for forgiveness - and many people use this time for genuine requests for pardon from their fellow man. Why, then, didn't my caller feel better and more forgiving from the phone call he received?

To me it would seem that the request for forgiveness was not done properly. Conciliation means that the asking for forgiveness must be genuine and the offended party must be appeased by the petition. True, The Code of Jewish Law gives us practical advice to ask for forgiveness so we can go into the new year with a clean slate, but in regard to the other person we are suspect. Since we stand to benefit from the request, we must extend a special effort to show that we are sincere.

Many years ago, when I was a teenager, I was standing in the synagogue on Simchat Torah morning, after a long night of dancing and L'Chaim's.

A Yeshiva student came over to me and asked, "Shea, will you forgive me?"

I looked at him wondering if he was crazy or drunk. We did spend the night drinking and dancing and the timing for the request was a little off. Most of these conversations take place around the Yomim Noraim - the High Holy Days. But the boy then went on to acknowledge exactly what he was asking forgiveness for, so I knew he was serious.

He then asked me, "Do you want to know why I didn't come to ask you before Rosh Hashana or Yom Kippur, or on the last day associated with the asking of forgiveness - Hoshana Rabbah? It's because I wanted you to know that I am genuinely sorry for what I did."

By timing his request for forgiveness when it wasn't necessarily to his advantage and stating that he understood what he did that would have hurt, the boy showed his honesty in remorse and regret. Had I been genuinely hurt, the way he asked and the timing of the asking would have made it easy to forgive him.

The timing and the manner of asking forgiveness make a difference. The correct time to ask for forgiveness, is either immediately after the damage is done or else when one can show that they have nothing to gain from the asking. The proper way to appease someone we are asking forgiveness from is to acknowledge the hurt that was done, the losses that were incurred and then - without excuses or justifications - ask the person for forgiveness.

Let us try not to cause offense to our brothers or sisters so we will not need to ask for forgiveness. Furthermore, we should pray that if we mistakenly do so, we ask for forgiveness properly so that we are given a 'Simchat Torah' forgiveness.


from the October 2005 Edition of the Jewish Magazine




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