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  • Torah Reading: Tzav
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Nitzavim(Deuteronomy 29:9-30:20)

Asking Forgiveness

Some years ago, an organization asked me to collect stories for a book they hoped to publish. After putting the collection together and giving it to the administrators, they in turn handed it over for perusal to one of their supporters, a freelance journalist who had written many cover stories for national magazines. He responded by calling me up and telling me how awful he thought the work was, and also in informing me that I was in the wrong business. I was hurt by the verbal thrashing.

Several months passed, and one day I received an overseas phone call. It was this same journalist. Grudgingly, I took the call, unsure of what to expect. As it turns out, it was the day before Yom Kippur, and he had called to apologize for his behavior.Needless to say, I was very impressed and was able to put the whole incident behind me.

Various sources discuss the importance of asking forgiveness from others before Yom Kippur. Jewish tradition points out that it does little good to ask forgiveness from G-d when one has harmed one's fellow man. Because it is not G-d Who must extend forgiveness; rather, forgiveness must come from the individual who has been wronged!

According to many commentaries, the Biblical source for the mitzvah of Teshuva is found in this week's Torah portion, Nitzavim. The Torah instructs someone who has transgressed to "return to the L-rd your G-d." This understanding of Teshuva as a process of "return" is embedded in the word itself which (though commonly mistranslated as "repentance") actually means "return." Teshuva is the process by which we reestablish our connection to the Almighty and return to the basic goodness that is human nature.

Judaism, being a religion of action, says it is not enough to "mentally" regret one's misdeeds. On this week's verse that "very close is this (matter of Teshuva) to your mouth," Nachmanides takes this passage literally; he understands that Teshuva requires verbal articulation of our misdeeds.

In instances where someone else was wronged, an apology must be made directly to that person. In instances where we transgressed the Almighty's will, we must privately, with no one listening, confess to our Creator.

If the Rosh Hashana holiday is to accomplish true change - and not just another series of broken new year's resolutions - we must make proper preparations. Thus, there arose a custom during Elul (the month before Rosh Hashana) for individuals to undertake to correct one key aspect of their behavior. The action should be something that, with a bit of serious effort, could realistically be accomplished.

By making a permanent change (even a minor one) in one's behavior, a momentum is created for the New Year. Combined with the special "Slichos" prayers, the recitation of the "Vidui" (the verbal confession before G-d), and the giving of Tzedakah (since the Jewish fiscal year ends the day before Rosh Hashana), one can go into the holidays with a sense of elevation and connectedness.

May it be a good, sweet year for all!

January 16, 2000

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Visitor Comments: 6

(5) Anonymous, September 27, 2016 12:55 PM

Excellent article and very well written! Thanks for posting!

(4) Leah, September 7, 2012 12:15 PM

What if the person ignores your calls and letters?

A good friend recently just broke off the friendship. I do not know why. Clearly she must feel that I did something to hurt or wrong her. I wrote to her to ask what I did and to have an opportunity to fix it. I got no response. Do I call now or go to her home?

Charla, September 12, 2012 2:52 AM

going through something similar.....

Something I said without malice....taken an email that said, do not contact me or any of my family members. Emailed back, sent a Rosh Hashana card, and sent separate private message via FB. No response. At this point I have done what I can do...tried to make it is her choice...I have told her the door is still open here. It is easy to not answer a phone call/hang up. A bit more difficult to close a door on you...I did not try that because I truly thought the door would slam on me....might be different in your case.

(3) Scott Granowski, September 11, 2009 11:04 PM

Being Real

It seems to me that teshuva is about being real, that is being the person that we were created as, rather than the person I try to create myself as - thus, the importance of an honest owning of my wrongs. Thanks for your column!

(2) Shira Levin, September 10, 2001 12:00 AM

The real meaning of Teshuva

Teshuva is about makeing a 180 degree turn to be the person G-d wants us to be. To truly change in order to be a better person in relation to G-d and our fellow human beings.

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