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"If I have in any way hurt or offended any of you, I offer my apologies and seek your forgiveness."
With the advent of e-mail, we see more of these types of pre-Yom Kippur messages than ever. Even though I am great advocate of the technology, there's a part of me that believes that such efforts seem impersonal, inadequate. Just a blanket just-in-case "I'm sorry."
Yet in our tradition, the ritual for Yom Kippur includes its own share of "blanket just-in-case" invocations, beginning with Kol Nidrei and including our ashamnus and al cheits and more. So are these e-mails all that different?
And consider that every time one of these apologetic e-mails is offered, the person sending the apology had to have put at least some thought and effort into the process. While I can imagine someone simply selecting every address in their address book and sending out such a message to all of those people, it's more likely that people are choosing which people should receive their messages. I would suggest that sending individual messages probably requires a little more thought, but even group messages require the selection of intended recipients.
I've seen plenty of "forgive me" messages on e-mail groups and lists. And while some skeptics might pooh-pooh this approach, given the nature of electronic online communities, it's quite likely that some subscriber to the list took offense or was hurt by something that other subscribers might have written. I don't find them inappropriate at all. I think the sentiment is right on the mark.
The success of the musical "Avenue Q" has given new life to the German word "schadenfreude" which, loosely, means happiness at the misfortune of others. I bring this concept up for several reasons. First, I think most of us engage in forms of schadenfreude, and in so doing, we have done something for which we ought to consider seeking forgiveness. However, I also bring it up because I wonder how many times each of us, in the busyness of our lives and daily activities, has inadvertently caused some misfortune to befall others. So maybe a blanket "I'm sorry, forgive me" ought to be generated by each of us to society, to humankind at large. And to our planet. I'm assuming that we'll all do as much for Gd.
So the next time you see in an e-mail something like this:
I offer to each and every one of you my humble apologies for anything I might have done or said (or written) which may have hurt or offended you, and for any promises I may have made to you and not fulfilled. I seek and ask for your forgiveness.
Don't be so quick to assign it to some arbitrary level of false sincerity or inadequate attempt to repent. The spirit in which such sentiments are offered ought not be something we question, lest we ourselves commit some hurt or sin in our process of assumption. For when we judge others, whether they know it or not, we must assume the responsibility of our judgments.
If you must judge, judge wisely. Pursue justice, but not at the expense of compassion. And, at this time of year, perhaps judging others is an activity in which we ought not to engage. This is a time for self-judgment. And remember to pursue justice, but be compassionate with yourself, for you are in the image of Gd.
Gmar chatimah tovah & Shabbat Shalom,
Adrian ©2004 by Adrian A. Durlester
Some previous musings on this parasha
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