Prepent 5774: Day 15, Asking for Forgiveness
It’s one of the central tasks of the High Holidays—but why is it so hard?
Journey into the High Holidays with Amichai Lau-Lavie, founder of Storahtelling and the spiritual leader of Lab/Shul. It’s a daily dose of inspiration to get you focused and ready for the new year, featuring daily intentions, simple tasks, and tools for living better.
You hurt my feelings.
This morning, over coffee, a friend did something beautiful and brave. She told me how hurt she was by something I said to her a few months ago. She’d been carrying it with her, waiting for the chance to tell me in person before the new year begins.
I didn’t know she felt that way, and I apologized with all my heart. We hugged, and will move on.
I’m grateful to her for showing me what I’ve done wrong, for allowing me to fix the hurt, and to say I’m sorry. I’m also grateful for the reminder of how important it is to recognize and try to heal hurt feelings always, but especially during these days of Elul, the days of forgiveness.
Forgiveness is a big component of this season of repentance and return. It takes honesty to face the hurt in our heart, courage to ask for forgiveness from the people we’ve hurt, and compassion to seek forgiveness from ourselves. Humility will enable us to forgive those who’ve hurt us, whether they ask for it or not.
In Hebrew ‘forgiveness’ is slicha, and the liturgy of these days of Prepenting is enhanced by poems and prayers known as slichot. Asking forgiveness from God is an important part of the prayer, but it cannot be completed earnestly if one has not asked for forgiveness from the people in one’s life. That is the real work, some would argue, of repentance; this thing we do each year to get us back on track.
It’s serious stuff, but it’s not joyless. The traditional hymns of forgiveness, especially in the North African Jewish traditions, are accompanied by very upbeat music. The chanting of forgiveness becomes a song of release, not the brunt of burden. Here’s a gorgeous version of one such hymn—and just in case, the dance remix.
Rabbi Kook, a poetic mystic, wrote about the diligence of this process, and how to take it on with excitement and patience:
There is a gradual process of repentance. No sudden flash of illumination dawns upon the person to make one change from the depth of wicked ways to the good, but one feels that one must mend one’s way of life, one’s will, one’s pattern of thought. By heeding this impulse one gradually acquires the ways of equity, one corrects one’s morals, improves one’s actions, and conditions oneself increasingly to becoming a good person, until one reaches higher levels of purity and perfection.
Thanks to my wise friend, I sit down today to make a list of the hurts, and the unfinished business: Who did I hurt this year? Who do I need to ask for forgiveness? Who am I mad at for hurting me, and do they know so or not?
Maybe there’s just one name on the list, and maybe there’s a dozen or more. The most important ones, like pains in the body, will make themselves known.
Prepent 15 task: Choose one name from the list, and, with honesty, courage, compassion, and humility, pick up the phone. (I know, it’s harder than an email, but go for it.) I think that even committing myself to just one such conversation will be following the sacred recipe of Rabbi Kook, and will lead me into the new year with a lighter heart, at the very least.
Follow along with the Scroll’s daily Prepent series here.
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