Before leaving home for any extended period, I ease the stress by ironing the shirts I washed after my last trip. And today I listened to the beautiful music of Nava Tehila as I ironed, remembering the time Hanna and I spent with them now two full years ago. Given the combination of age and carbon footprint, I suspect that this was my last visit to Israel.
I think I’ve entered what Reb Zalman called the winter of life. While I don’t think I’ve quite reached December, life in the aftermath of a serious heart attack, even if more than 12 years ago, holds the awareness that my own could end suddenly. And so the talmudic teaching, “Return/repent one day before you die,” meaning treat each day as though it could be your last, tying loose ends together every day as best you can, is a constant presence and reminder.
These days we seem to have developed the practice of sending out emails to large distribution lists which say something like, “If I’ve done anything to hurt any of you over the course of this past year, please forgive me.” My sense is that this does not fulfill the mitzvah of seeking forgiveness from others and places responsibility on others to let you know if you have indeed hurt them and what might help them to forgive you.
I would like to suggest a question for each of us to ask ourselves: “How many Y’mai Kippur have gone by and I still haven’t let go of a grudge or forgiven someone who hurt me or acknowledged pain I think I may have caused a particular person?”
In the case of a grudge which I have held for more than one year, I suggest going to the person directly, admit that I have been holding something, and ask to clear. This is something I really did this year, not wanting Yom Kippur to pass while still holding on to a bit of hurt from last. And even more impressively, I listened as the rabbi at the shul where we were for Rosh HaShana apologized to the congregation for an indiscretion he committed in public and asked the community for its forgiveness.
In the case of a forgiveness long delayed, I again want to go to the person directly and admit that I have not truly forgiven him/her and then do so. In the booklet on beginning your new incarnation each year, Reb Zalman talked of three levels of forgiveness and I recommend reviewing that section and applying it to ourselves.
Finally, if I suspect that I might have hurt another, again I suggest contacting that person directly, explain what it is you think you might have done, and see if the other experienced the hurt or not.
Yet, there are people whom you cannot approach directly and forgiving them, letting go of the hurt they may have caused you, within yourself, might be the best approach. Or convene a little beit chesed and tell them of the hurt, of your inability to approach the other directly, and ask that this confession in public satisfy the requirement of t’shuvah.
Above all else, let these things go in whatever way is most appropriate and do so now, for one never knows from year to year “who shall live and who shall die, who in fullness of days and who prematurely.”
With my prayers and hope that we all live to the fullness of our days, that we tie our loose ends up as though we might not, and that our individual and collective releases help all humanity to release the grip of suspicion so that we can work together to save our species.