Dear friends, family, and readers,
Sunday evening we will be celebrating the Jewish New Year – the year 5779. Rose Hashana is a time of reflection. We are meant to ask forgiveness of those we have wronged, and forgive those who have sought our forgiveness. When these traditions were introduced, probably until the mid-nineteenth century, that was an easier concept to execute – forget email, most people had never left their shtetl… the circle of people they might have wronged was much smaller than in this day and age where communication with thousands of people on a daily basis is not unheard of.
Over the past decade I know I have wronged many people, and did not realize it at the time. Many of these are people I have lost contact with, and the prospect of seeking them out to apologize for a transgression they have long since likely forgot seems like an inefficient use of my time. If I were in a twelve-steps program I might have to do it, but fortunately I am not.
Forgiveness in one form or another is a component of most religions. The Catholics (the very name of which would offend some of my Anglican friends) have confession – they must confess their sins to G-d before their souls may be cleansed. Yes, I am likely over-simplifying the concept, but being Jewish I never studied catechism. It is likely this practice led over the millennia to to priests, who listen to the confessions on G-d’snbehalf, having tremendous power based on the information they were given. Imagine this fictional but possible interaction:
Henry VIII: Father, the Pope refuses to let me divorce my wife, and I rather like this one so I’d rather NOT behead her… forgive me, but I am thinking of leaving the Church and taking all of England with me.
Priest: Say five Hail Mary, go forth, and sin no more.
Priest (to Pope) Hey Pope, Henry VIII is going to leave the church… you might want to do something about that! Just don’t ask the French… they are not known for winning wars. The Saxons in what will one day be Germany are pretty fierce though…
The Catholic Church understood early on that knowledge is power, and they built in a sure-fire way to amass as much of it as they could.
The Jewish tradition of having to make good with the people you have wronged before G-d could forgive you is likely a better way to promote true forgiveness. While in both of our traditions G-d is all-powerful, it seems more productive to have to face the person you have wronged, rather than someone who likely has no skin in the game. Confession, to me, seems one step removed from walking up to a stranger and saying “Hey, I just pushed someone you’ve never met into the bushes. Will you forgive me?”
As I have spent much of the last decade trying to become a better person, I have given the concept of asking forgiveness a lot of thought. I have met with two friends from high school that I had mistreated and asked (and received) their forgiveness. I felt better for having received their forgiveness, but in order to ask it I had to humble myself, an important lesson in and of itself. Humility was never (until the past few years) one of my stronger traits.
So who have I wronged this year? I do not think I have wronged anyone intentionally. Unintentionally and without realizing I had done so? That is a harder question to answer… what we do without realizing we have done in ignorance. I try to be honest with the people I deal with, and that helps. I know I cheat at golf, but I am not cheating anyone but myself. Self, I apologize for cheating at golf. Forgiven? Ok.
How about the others? I am sure I have wronged others, but do not realize or remember it. If you feel I have wronged you please reach out (privately) and explain… I will be happy to ask forgiveness for actual (if not imagined) transgressions.
You may notice that I am intentionally using the word “wronged” and not “insulted” or “offended.” It is near impossible for someone who expresses an opinion to not offend. We live in a society where people are too easily offended – by religion, politics, pronouns, by the choice of hockey teams. If my opinions on any of these are offensive to you then perhaps it is not me who should be apologizing and trying to change. I know that my religion offends some people, as does my strong affiliation with the State of Israel. I know some are offended by my position on gun control in the US. I wore my Hans jersey to an Ottawa Senators game and heard about it from a number of people. Life happens. Move on. Life is too short for us to be offended by every little thing.
In short: on the precipice of the year 5779, if you feel that I have wronged you in the past, please know that I am sorry and ask your forgiveness. If you feel that what I did warrants an individual discussion then please reach out to me and we can have that.
And again, I would like to wish my family, friends, co-workers, and readers a very happy, healthy, and sweet New Year! לְשָׁנָה טוֹבָה תִכָּתֵבוּ וְתֵּחָתֵמוּ
Worms Shana Tova (Tapuach uDvash)
Fountainheads Rosh Hashana (Shana Tova)