Rabbi Avi Weinstein

Begging Forgiveness: Do It for Yourself

In Uncategorized on September 21, 2009 at 1:24 pm

Too often the perfunctory request for forgiveness is only offered to those of whom we are guaranteed a positive outcome, but, in fact, have not seriously wronged at all.

I offer the following story.  A close friend whom I wished to visit because my family was away had told me not to come because a mutual friend was visiting and basically two was company and three was a crowd.  It seems my observant lifestyle would have cramped whatever style he had envisioned for the weekend.  I immediately wrote a letter saying how upset, hurt I was that somehow our being together was less important than how we might have spent the time.  If this was an indication of our friendship, then there really wasn’t much friendship at all.

What did I want from that letter? I wanted a response, and as each year, each birthday went by and no response was forthcoming, I came to the realization that what I had written seemed to be true.  He didn’t really care, and that hurt worse that the previous rejection.

One day, five years later, a letter arrived in the mail (this was a long time ago!) from my friend who apologized not only for what had happened, but for why it had taken him so long to respond.  He had had a dream recently that included me, both of us looking for someone’s house that we couldn’t find.  The following day he picked up a random book at a new age book store and it happened to be my translation of Sharre Orah that had recently been published.  When he saw my name on the cover, the signs could not be ignored and, finally, he felt impelled to write a letter.

It was clear that I, too, had been waiting lo these many years for that letter.  I wrote him back immediately, and he came to visit me for a few days soon after. This is not the end of the story.  The visit was not a great one.  The memories of our friendship were not rekindled in the present. After the visit, we didn’t manage to keep in touch, and years have since gone by without us being in contact.

Once, I got a call from a mutual friend that David was having a special birthday and his girlfriend was organizing a special party and she had requested messages from people who were important to his past.  Without hesitation, I sent a message, happy to modestly contribute to this celebration. I received a response, but there was no subsequent correspondence.

David’s visit had filled a hole that was in my heart. His acknowledgement that he had been bothered by the way we left things allowed us to discover whether we should be friends based on who we were now and not on what we had done to each other.  The hurt went away and I can fondly remember the times we had together.

The point is that fixing what we have done wrong does not have to end in some kind of grand epiphany, but your last memory of someone who once mattered to you, should not be one of disappointment and hurt.  People should be able to reclaim the moments when they mattered to each other.  It is worth the risk of rejection to try and do this.

It was true that because I had already approached him and been open about how offended and disturbed I was that it was up to him to respond.  We don’t always get a nudge from a dream and a chance encounter with a book, and we shouldn’t need it.

How many Yom Kippurs need to elapse, before we free ourselves from the shackles of our own design.  The Mishnah says: Transgressions between people cannot be atoned until one has mollified the injured party. These pains last for years. They don’t go away until they are addressed, and even if the outcome isn’t dramatic, or even positive, knowing that an effort was put forth, takes the burden off you and places it on the injured party.

The Mishnah says once one has apologized three times, the injured party carries the sin–and carry it, he will.

Please, don’t let another Yom Kippur go by. Do yourself a favor.


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