Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Who asks for forgiveness

The Elul season is one time of year I try to do a serious cheshbon hanefesh (self appraisal).  I think about the big personal events I had this year, how I acted during them and how I wish I had acted.   Then I review my relationships with my close friends and determine who I owe apologies to and for what.  Since I view the purpose of doing teshuvah as self-improvement, I don't regard blanket statements to people of "If I did anything that wronged you this year I'm sorry." as having any value at all.  Instead I try to think hard about what specifically I did that I need to apologize for, and then make my apology to that person directly for that behavior.

I'm finding this was easier to do when I lived in a nonobservant and nonJewish community.  The coworkers and friends I approached started by getting weirded out, but afterwards they said they actually appreciated the discussion.  Sometimes I learned that what seemed a big deal to me wasn't anything they even remembered, but something I had forgotten seemed like a big deal to them.

Here in my frum community I'm finding this exercise somewhat harder.  The one person I approached this year didn't let me finish speaking, but since told me I was forgiven (for what he had no idea) and asked that I forgive him for whatever (unspecified) wrongs he had done me.  It was formulaic and very offputting.

I'd be interested in the opinions of my readership (all 5 of you :>).  Do you do detailed apologies?  Do people stop to listen to them?  Do they serve a purpose in your eyes?


Pragmatician said...

Commenting to prove that you may have a lot more readers than you think (we just don't comment a lot)

Personally I prefre the short (and perhaps less meaningful) version .
Sometimes we feel we have aggravated or hurt someone while in fact the 'victim" barely remembers the incident, so overly discussing it might actually make things worse.
True, the opposite could also be true, but it's easier like that.

Leora said...

Good post.

In your situation, it sounds like you *felt* like there was a problem, but he didn't. This in itself can be awkward.

In my situation, I think the two people that depend on me the most are the ones I would most likely need to ask forgiveness. With my father, it's more guilt about being irritating with requests than needing to ask for an apology. With my daughter(who's 6), with whom I too often lose my temper when I've had a bad day and she makes her sixtieth request, maybe I will try the apology route. Might be educational for both of us.

Larry Lennhoff said...

Pragmatician - interesting that you find the risks outweigh the potential benefits. My experience is the opposite, but I suspect that it depends on both people involved.

Leora - Actually, the person in question and I both knew we were talking about a particular incident. The thing is we've never really discussed it, and this attempt makes it clear he'd rather avoid doing so and move on. Too bad, I think it would be good for me to have the discussion.

Anonymous said...

I believe that the Chofetz Chaim says that since teshuvah in general requires specification of the particulars of one's wrong doing, that also goes for ben Adam l'Chavero when asking forgiveness.

Of course, that's often a double-edged sword when the offense was committed in secret and the victim may not even have known that it occurred, such as with loshon hara. In such cases, you may cause more harm by mentioning the incident. Then again, the Chofetz Chaim was not always the most practical when it came to Hilchos Loshon Hara.

Anonymous said...

"Chofetz Chaim was not always the most practical when it came to Hilchos Loshon Hara" that got me baffled

hi everyone - I'm kind of new to this blogging world - and do wonder how anyone gets anythng else done in life once you start reading blogs?? :>)

I'm in total agreement, sorry Leora (who brought me here) that a blanket sorry folks on the computer just kind of lacks much thought which is exactly what is needed at this time of the year. How can we do teshuvah if we don't first recognize what we've done wrong? Also off putting those who respond with "nothing to forgive" - here I am baring my soul and they just give it a shallow once over. But then who ever said we all need to be on the same page at the same time - all we could do is just work on our own progress.

But interesting point about asking forgiveness when the person may not even realize what was done - especially about the loshon hara - I fear to generalize if that area is huge in our society, but it very much is in my life and even if I don't ask for forgiveness, at least I can be more aware and try to work harder on it. So if the Chofetz Chaim wasn't so practical, where on earth can you turn to for help on that??