On Yom Kippur (The Jewish Day of Atonement) we ask The Lord’s forgiveness for all of our transgressions against him over the past year. However in the ten days leading up to it (The Days of Awe) are a time when we ask forgiveness of our fellow man (and woman) for all of our transgressions against them (again, over the past year).
In March I had an epiphany. It was the greatest realization, and the most horrible, that I have ever come to. I discovered that most of what I had previously thought was right and acceptable – mostly with regard to behaviours and attitudes – were actually not. I had been brought up a certain way, so how can that be wrong? How can what I learned at my mother’s knee really be so completely anathema to acceptable behaviour? After all, it had worked for her, hadn’t it?
I remember in Torah class, a hundred years ago, learning the Ten Commandments. If you look at the Ten Commandments in any artistic rendering (and as they are described in the Torah) there are two tablets with five commandments each. The first tablet lists our duties toward G-d, and the second tablet lists our duties to people. So why is it that the Fifth Commandment (Honour thy father and thy mother) falls to the first tablet? It is because our parents gave us life; they created us in G-d’s image, and so we must honour them as we honour our Lord.
It will come as no surprise to anyone who met me later in life that as a youngster I was argumentative and questioned everything. Our teachers drilled into us that these Ten Commandments were never to be broken, and to do so would be a terrible sin. So I remember asking one of my Torah teachers at the time ‘what if your parent asks you to do something that breaks one of the other commandments? How can we honour them (and respect that commandment) while violating another of the commandments?’
Ahhh, my teacher said. ‘There is a difference between honour and obey. If your parent tells you to do something wrong, you are actually honouring them by disobeying them. By being right in G-d’s eyes you are bringing honour to them because they raised a good person.’
I don’t know why of all of the Torah lessons I slept through I remembered that one, but it stuck with me.
Of the myriad times I dishonoured and disrespected and disobeyed my parents over the years, this year I did so in a way that was in keeping with the Fifth Commandment. I realized that so many of the things I have done over the years, all of the ways I have mistreated people (family, friends, colleagues, and strangers), all of terrible things I have said to so many were just wrong. All of the people over the years who I have wronged and it never occurred to me until the last few months that I owed them an apology. I needed to ask they forgiveness before I could ask G-d for his… and I never did, unless it was clear to me at the time to be in my best interests.
The list is daunting; I cannot even begin to think of how many people there have been. Of course, it is also clear to me that in not changing my behaviour twenty years ago I hurt many people a little, but the person I damaged the most was myself. I do not know if I can or will ever forgive myself, but as with all of the others I have hurt, I do ask forgiveness of myself.
Of course, there are a few people that have come to mind over the past few months, and I have reached out to some of them and asked their forgiveness. I will not name anyone here, but there are some people I wish I could reach out to, and some people I have probably forgotten, but would still apologize to given the opportunity. I wish I could apologize to everyone personally, face to face. I wish I could tell them all – no, show them all – that I have changed. Even though it would be too late in many cases to repair the relationships, I wish I could show those people that I have changed, and am working at making even more positive changes.
On this, the eve of Yom Kippur 5776, I would like to ask everyone their forgiveness if I have wronged them. For those who think that this is a half-hearted attempt – doing it in a blog – I will point out that I am opening myself up emotionally to tens of thousands of people, many of whom I have never slighted. I do so because I am truly sorry for who I used to be, and how I used to behave.
לשנה טובה, וגמרו חתימה טובה
Happy New Year to you; may you be inscribed in the Book of Life!