IF

There’s one practice that many engage in prior to Yom Kippur, that causes me to lose my appetite. Well-meaning individuals approach others and parrot the following meaningless phrase:

“If I have offended you in any way over this past year, I ask your forgiveness.”

The word “if”, suggests uncertainty. Not only does “if”  indicate that such an offense may or may not have occurred, “if” indicates that the one asking for forgiveness is clueless as far as having committed  the offense, whatever it may have been in the first place. I’m not aware of anyone ever having questioned the aphorism “everybody loves somebody sometime”. Shouldn’t the converse to that aphorism also hold true, namely “everybody hurts somebody sometime”? And if the likelihood exists that we have hurt somebody sometime, especially those with whom we have frequent contact, then surely there are better ways of wiping the slate clean.

If one truly wishes to make amends, one must learn to live by the following truism: “We just don’t realize the impact that we have on others…good and especially bad”. As long as we interact with others, chances are good that we will hurt the feelings of others. Most of the time, we won’t even realize it. And quite often, when a third- party points this out to us, that we have in fact hurt the feelings of another person, up go our defenses and we suddenly become a babe in the woods. “What did I say” we ask in all innocence. Short of being a saint, as long as we are alive and healthy, as long as we possess the power of speech, we will offend. The are no “ifs” about it.

The most meaningless, vacuous phrase, I’ve ever heard is: “I know how you must feel”. I have heard fellow rabbis use it. The perfect response to such inanity would be “You couldn’t possibly know how I feel”. We are individuals. We are unique. No two people respond to the same situation in the exact same way. Each person responds to hurt (or joy) in his or her very own way.

A close runner up to the most meaningless, vacuous phrase, but one that in all probability pours salt on the wounds is “I don’t understand why you are so upset”. Anyone obtuse enough to add this hurtful phrase is partially correct. Such a person does not understand. Such a person does not understand that he or she has hurt someone’s feelings; such a person does not understand how to ameliorate the situation, when told that feelings have been hurt.

If one is truly sincere as far as apologizing,  then rather than offer the meaningless “if I have offended you in any way”  it behooves that person to approach the one to whom an apology is being offered with the following: “in all likelihood, I’ve said or have done something hurtful or embarrassing to you since last Yom Kippur. Could you please point it out to me, because I’m going to make every effort not to do it again. Had I taken the time to realize the implications of my word or deed, I’d like to believe that I would have stopped myself in my tracks” Alternately, one could set things right by approaching another person with whom there has been much contact and  sharing the following: “as a far from perfect human being, I need your help speaking to HaShem on Yom Kippur. If you could just point out how I have wronged you since last Yom Kippur and allow me to properly apologize for it, you will be enabling me to present myself before my Maker as one who is sincerely looking to improve my ways”.

With Yom Kippur behind us, let’s leave the “if’s” to HaShem. Let uncertainties be left to our Maker. We so much as said so in the powerful magnum opus prayer U’NeTaneh Tokef. With an entire year ahead of us, let there be no if’s in our interpersonal relations. Chances are that we will hurt or wrong those with whom we have frequent contact. Let’s ask those who seem to be so much of our lives to point out where we went wrong so that we can make it right.

No if’s, ands or buts!

MEA CULPA and #METOO

Although some six and a half centuries have separated the Latin phrase “Mea Culpa” and the nascent #MeToo movement, the two share more in common than one might realize. With Pope Francis pontificating contrition for the irreparable damage priests have inflicted on minors, and innumerable females revealing the unconscionable shameful acts that they claim have been perpetrated against them by disgusting and reprehensible males, perhaps it’s time to look at meaningful remorse and genuine contrition.

At the risk of being struck by a bolt of lightning, I have come to the conclusion that our sages were dead wrong as far as what they had to say about atonement and Yom Kippur. How dare they differentiate between sins against HaShem and sins against another human! Either way, HaShem was wronged!

Immediately prior to the litany of “Baruch Atah’s” that introduce the Shacharit morning service, there is a 5 ½ line prayer beginning with the words: “My G-d! The soul You have given me is pure.” As one who takes this prayer so very seriously, I maintain that prior to any apology to victims, the “despicables” – those who have violated minors in the case of clergy and those who have violated women in the case of any number of males – ought to be asking “mechilah and selichah (forgiveness and purgation) from HaShem for having sullied the pure neshomeh (soul) that HaShem entrusted to them. Clergy who cause irreparable damage on minors and males who behave in unacceptable ways with females are an affront to their creator!

A pox on Freud with his farshtinkeneh “pleasure principle.” How very pathetic is the idea that pain and pleasure are the sum total of our existence! All too often throughout the ages, pain and pleasure have played themselves out in pathetic individuals who lamely resort to the excuse, “I can’t help myself.” A beheimah (animal) can’t help itself. Humans are expected to help themselves. Violators of minors and women have sunk to levels lower than any beheimah, in that a beheimeh acts out of instinct. Violators of minors and women act out machinations. Rather than being guided by any pleasure principle, a human being, or rather a humane being, ought to be guided by the “right and wrong” principle. There are certain things that are plain wrong, shameful and detestable. And no, when it comes to male-female relationships, men do not have a monopoly on that which is wrong, shameful and detestable. Such behavior pervades females as well.

Last, but not least, despite all the marvelous inventions that continue to flood the market, no one has yet to come up with a device that measures sincerity. Religion has taught us to show remorse and contrition; society has conditioned us to apologize to those whom we have wronged. Yet, apologies are often vacuous and meaningless, especially when the apology comes from the Pope and not the priest who committed the dastardly act. Apologies are often hollow and worthless, especially when they come from the violator’s lawyer, or from a family spokesman, instead of from the violator. Sad to say, there have been more than a few occasions when apologies have benefited the perpetrator more than the victim, for it is perpetrator who has gained expiation while the victim continues to live with the scars.

Only when the violator shows contrition and remorse before G-d for sullying the pure soul given to him… Only when the violator dedicates time and resources to either help  victims or to work with other violators to get them to understand how low they have fallen… Only then will any strides be made toward hopefully seeing much less need for  Mea Culpa and #MeToo.