You Don’t Really Mean It 5778

How many of you have hurt someone so profoundly that, when you realize what you had done, and said, “I’m sorry,” the response was, “You don’t really mean it.”

I remember when, as a child, I did something wrong, and said, “I’m sorry,” my mother would say, “No, you’re not. You don’t mean it.”

She was so dismissive in her reaction, that I felt an immediate sense of pain and loss. I remember feeling that I had shattered our mother-daughter relationship so deeply that we could never again be close.

I was an only child, and I had no exposure to how another family might express disappointment in a child. My parents were my entire world – extended family did not live close enough for me to experience how family dynamics worked, and so when I knew that I had messed up, I needed to know that our family was not destroyed because of me.

Of course, as I grew up, eventually I came to realize that mistakes happen with children, and I also came to realize that parents mess up too.

A few years ago, as a rabbi, I inadvertently caused someone to be hurt. I had no idea that I had caused hurt feelings at the time it happened and the result was that the person never expressed to me that I had done harm and then had become so embittered that the person went out of the way to cause problems for me.

A few years later, when I finally heard the reason, I immediately apologized and explained that I had not been aware of the harm I had done.

The person did not forgive me.

The Talmud speaks very clearly about the “apology/forgiveness” issue. It gives very specific rules to follow concerning how to ask for forgiveness. One must be deeply sincere when he or she apologizes.

When the one who has been harmed does not accept the apology, the person asking for forgiveness must ask again and yet again.

Then, the Talmud tells us, after the third attempt, the person who was hurt still does not forgive, the person asking is – well, off the hook, so to speak. He or she has literally fulfilled the obligation to fully apologize.

The one who is hurt is then obligated to forgive.

For the person who does not forgive, it is because the hurt still lives inside. That pain is continuing to poison the soul. One does not need to “excuse” the hurt or say it is “acceptable;” but one should not allow that hurt to become a part of the nefesh, the soul. In other words, when someone holds a grudge, that person is hurting himself or herself.

According to Rabbi Harold Kushner, and I am paraphrasing: when we forgive someone, no matter how badly we are hurt, we are not bestowing a favor to the one who hurt us. We are doing ourselves a favor by cleansing our minds of the memories that are causing us to feel like a victim and causing us to live a life that is less than joyful.

We have no choice in how others behave towards us. But we do have a choice in how we respond to others.

We can respond by poisoning our souls with bitterness, or we can release all that bitterness and poison and enter the New Year clean and fresh.

As for the person I hurt, I asked three times. Now it is their turn.

G’mar Chatimah Tovah.

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