Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

24 Elul 5765 - September 28, 2005 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










Produced and housed by
Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network











Home and Family

I'm Sorry
by S. Liecha

Much of the material in this short article is taken from various Shiurim given by Rabbi M. Miller in Gateshead Seminary.

Pangs of conscience, feelings of guilt, culpability . . . any normal human being suffers from all these, some more and some less. Especially at this time of year when our failings seem more glaring than usual and we try to improve ourselves.

When someone is riddled by guilt, it is frequently for something over which he had no control, which makes the guilt a negative feeling. It will not help him to repentance; on the contrary it may lead to clinical depression. For example, a teacher had occasion to reprimand an eleven-year-old girl one afternoon. The girl went home, and that evening she was riding her bike and was knocked over and killed: a terribly tragic story. But the teacher blamed herself constantly for perhaps being the cause of the child's carelessness. Nothing her husband could say or do made the slightest difference. After forty years, and psychiatric treatment, she is still blaming herself.

Regret for something we have said or done, does lead to repentance as long as we manage to admit the truth to ourselves, for the enormity of the crime. It is human to make excuses for ourselves and to push things into the subconscious. Rabbenu Yona in his Shaarei teshuvoh writes that even after many years have passed, and even after we have tried to make amends, we still have to regret our misdeeds. Rabbi Dessler writes that the more sincere the regret, the greater a person becomes. This is a far cry from our casual "Do you forgive me for anything I've done," before Rosh Hashonoh or Yom Kippur.

Most of us offend and transgress without premeditation. This being the case, we have to face up to our failings and work out how to deal with them and how to prevent a repetition of the sin next time we are in the same situation. Remorse is an emotion: it takes us a lifetime to refine our emotions. We are taught that if we recognize our true worth, the People chosen by Hashem to be His, we will automatically feel ashamed of our offense, that we have failed to obey Him fully.

We are encouraged to repent at any time of the year, yet the Aseres Yemei teshuvoh are particularly suited for repentance. The whole year round, every wrongdoing stains our soul. Once a year, before our destiny is sealed at neilah, we are given the opportunity to remove the stains we have acquired throughout the year. During these Days of Awe, we wear 'protective clothing' as it were, like an apron, to prevent ourselves from getting more stains. Thus we will impose chumros, stringencies, upon ourselves which we will not necessarily keep up throughout the year. It is frustrating to find ourselves in exactly the same position as we were the year before, in spite of last year's good resolutions. However, our Father and King knows that we are human and makes allowances for us, but not until we have appeased our fellow man!

A member of Alcoholics Anonymous was told that the only cure for him was not to enter a pub at all. He passed one public house and a second one. Later that day he passed a third and a fourth, using all his will power not to walk towards the door. By the fifth pub (yes, there are a good many pubs in England), he felt he needed a reward for his abstinence, and decided that he deserved a drink. We can only be sure that our remorse is complete, if we do not repeat the same misdemeanor the next time we are in a position to do so. That is not to say that we will not be tempted. We have said that we are sorry, and are determined not to 'open the fifth door.'

Do we get 'points' for good intentions? A bride and groom go under the chuppah with the best intentions, determined to be perfect. If they do not wholly succeed, they say that love is blind, and the young couple (on the whole) do not expect perfection from each other all the time. In the same way, the Jews accepted the Torah as a bride, with every intention of keeping it. Because of His love for us, Hakodosh Boruch Hu accepts our aim to be good, each year again.

Children sit and write New Year cards to parents, friends, classmates, older brothers and sisters, teachers: in fact anyone with whom they have been in fleeting contact. Whether they sport a picture of apples and honey, scales and a shofar or the head of a sheep or a fish, these cards all have one thing in common: the word 'sorry.' Most of us find it extremely difficult to apologize sincerely. The difficulty starts as soon as a child begins to think. When a mother or a teacher has successfully concluded an inquiry, and has discovered who the real culprit was, s/he might attempt to make the protagonists apologize to each other.

This is a difficult task even with four-year-olds. They do not like to eat humble pie. We too, are ashamed to admit that we have done something wrong, we do not like humiliating our ego, i.e. ourselves. There would be far fewer divorces if only the partners in a marriage had been educated from their childhood to apologize sincerely. If children see that their parents ask each other for forgiveness, they will probably emulate them. "I'm so sorry to have kept you waiting for dinner," or "You asked me to fetch your suit from the dry cleaners this morning, and warned me that they were closed in the afternoon. I thought that they were open and I was wrong. I'm sorry." A mother has to apologize to her child, or a teacher to his student. "I'm sorry I hurt your feelings, I did not mean to. Please forgive me." This will not detract from the older person's authority in the least. On the contrary, the child will feel that apologizing is part and parcel of life!

We ourselves have to know the significance of an apology, of saying 'forgive me,' and we have to teach our children that it is a serious matter. Youngsters make a joke out of stopping each passer by before Yom Kippur with a flippant 'f'give me, f'give me,' as they hurry past. Sincere forgiveness towards someone who has wronged us, is almost as difficult as asking for forgiveness. However, since we ask the One Above repeatedly, to forgive us, how dare we, however much we feel wronged, deny a supplicant the forgiveness he requests, as long as he is sincere.


All material on this site is copyrighted and its use is restricted.
Click here for conditions of use.