Wednesday, August 7, 2013

"I Forgive You" vs. "I Am Sorry"

IKAR is a wonderful organization that inspires Jews to reach further towards their own Jewish identity; IKAR encourages us to think of our tradition as a holistic expression of all that we are and can be; oh, and IKAR pushes Jews to make the world a better place.

This may sound like I am just trying to butter the folks at IKAR up (and maybe I am a wee bit!) but in fact I am about to rail against their most recent thoughts on the meaning of the High Holy Days and I just wanted everyone to know that as a community and an idea, I truly appreciate what they are doing - hey, some of my favorite people are from IKAR!

IKAR LA on Forgiveness


According to IKAR's most recent post saying "I forgive you" is harder than saying "I am sorry." 

I disagree.

Please do not misunderstand me, letting go of the hurt and resentment we have towards others is outstandingly difficult.  When we have been wronged by someone, the emotional damage is only magnified by our inability to move forward, or through the pain.  But letting go is not the same thing as forgiving.  Letting go is something I do for my health and well being.  It's about finally coming to terms with the fact that I do not have to live with someone else's opinion of me in the foreground.  Letting go means recognizing that another person's action does not have to define me anymore. 

Letting go is one of the most difficult things a person can do. 

Saying "I forgive you," however, is not the same thing as letting go.  Sometimes "I forgive you" is merely a way to make nice on someone - no matter the resentment still welling up inside.  Sometimes "I forgive you" is so filled with self righteousness.  And sometimes "I forgive you" is merely a passive aggressive way of telling someone that they have been sucky.

Which is why, I believe, Jewish tradition has not made a big to-do about forgiveness.  Rather, Judaism teaches something which is so much more important:


"I am sorry" may not be the hardest words to say however tack on a "that" or a "for" and then do the real hard work of being a thoughtful person who takes responsibility for his or her actions and explain why you are sorry and those will really be the hardest words you have to say.  Hard - but not impossible.  For this is the beginning of repentance and this is what each and every Jew is tasked to do every year in preparation for that moment when we stand before God and asked to be written in the Book of Life for good. 

Saying "I am sorry" means having to confront the wrongs that I have perpetrated.  Saying "I am sorry" means owning my crap and speaking it aloud.  Saying "I am sorry" means having to look someone in the face and admit that I have broken their spirit, heart, or self-image.  Saying "I am sorry" means having to accept the fact that I am all too often disconnected to the ru'ach Elohim - spirit of God - within me and that I am all too often blind to the tzelem Elohim  - image of God - within you.  To get to the point of saying "I am sorry" I need to confront my own fear, shame, and disappointment with myself - this is hard.

But this is what we are asked to do every year, every Elul, in preparation for the High Holy Days;  we are asked to look inward for the wrongs that we are responsible for.  My goodness, I have more than enough wrongs that I have committed in my lifetime to make up for; do I really need to carry the burden of the wrongs others have committed towards me?

And so I encourage everyone:

LET GO of what other people did and said and didn't do and didn't say - if you can.  But more importantly, think about all of the things that you did and said and didn't do and didn't say that have hurt others.  Do this so you can reconnect with the spirit of God with you.  Do this so that you can, again, see the image of God within everyone around you.  And then, do this:
  • Choose 1 person this year to call, write, email, text, pm, meet for coffee that you have wronged
  • Tell them "I am sorry that..."
Maybe, just maybe, that person will forgive you.

1 comment:

  1. I couldn't agree more with this. For some reason, people find it incredibly challenging to apologize or to make amends as though it will make them "less than" the person they were. I created a site called where anyone in the world can write an apology to anyone else on earth. We've gotten some mind-blowing apologies and expect them to ramp up during the high holidays. This one from a mistress to a rabbi's wife came in this evening: Please feel free to share or even write your own. God bless!