I am assuming that this is the last year for 1-888-OOPS-JEW and Stephan Colbert’s Atone Phone. On the air, the Atone Phone plays Hava Nagila as a ring tone and Colbert says, “Shalom, how have you wronged me?” I called and, after a lot of legal boilerplate, I confessed how I had wronged him and said I’d repented. I don’t know, it felt like a Catholic confessional this time.
Yes, Yom Kippur approaches. Spiritually, we’re supposed to afflict our souls (“practice self-denial” in the JPS translation of Numbers 29:7, but I think that sounds wimpy), but I came across two somewhat overlapping articles about surviving physically: “The science of Yom Kippur fasting” and “14 tips to make the Yom Kippur fast easier.” If you read those too late, save them for next year. The morning Torah reading is Leviticus 16:1-34, the Yom Kippur rites of the High Priest; and Numbers 29:7-11, on holiday sacrifices. In contrast to the details of the ancient rituals of the Torah reading, the morning haftarah, Isaiah 57:14 – 58:14, insists on the need for ethical behavior in addition to (not in place of) prescribed ritual. The traditional afternoon Torah reading is Leviticus 18:1-30, about forbidden sexual relationships (mainly incest), while the haftarah is the Book of Jonah, which, beyond the fish story, illustrates the universality and forgiveness of the Lord, plus Micah 7:18-20, about casting sins away, which we just read last week on Shabbat Shuvah and on Rosh Hashanah if you performed the Tashlich ceremony.
The prescribed observance of Yom Kippur in modern times includes a total fast, traditionally 25 hours, and sitting through, or feeling (slightly) guilty for not sitting through, synagogue services in the evening, introduced by Kol Nidre (an Aramaic legal formula for release from unfulfilled vows which caused Jewish communities a lot of grief over the centuries and is chanted with a memorable mournful melody) and continuing the following day until sometime after sundown. At my shul, with a break before minchah, figure on 11-12 hours of services total. We pray for forgiveness in collective confessional, over and over, silently and aloud in unison. And we pray that we will be sealed in the Book of Life for another year.
But that won’t cut it for sins between people, just between people and God. You need to apologize to people you’ve wronged. There’s a nice discussion of this by Marjorie Ingall in (“How to say you’re sorry” , Tablet Magazine, September 29, 2014). Abridged excerpts:
“The mechanics of good apologies aren’t difficult. The 12th-century sage Maimonides said that true repentance requires humility, remorse, forbearance, and reparation. Basically, you have to take ownership of the offense. Name your sin, even if it makes you squirm. Use the first person, and avoid passive voice (“I’m sorry I kicked your Pomeranian,” not “I’m sorry your dog got hurt,” or worse, “I’m sorry it was impossible to ignore the incessant yapping of your undersocialized little hellbeast”). Acknowledge the impact of what you did. Be real, open and non-defensive. Offer a teeny bit of explanation if it’s relevant.
“And when you’ve said your piece, let the wronged party have their say. If they remain mad, well, you’ll have to sit with that for a while. Maimonides said that if your first apology isn’t accepted, you have to try twice more. If after that the person won’t forgive you, you’re free to stop trying.
“Finally, you have to make reparations. In your heart of hearts, you know what to do to try to make things right. Apologizing well requires both humility and bravery.
“Apologizing poorly is a lot easier. Look!
“The “Sorry if”: Don’t be “sorry if” anyone was hurt by your words or actions. Be sorry that you were hurtful. “If” is cowardly; “that” takes responsibility. Similarly, “it distresses me that you’re upset” is weasel-y: You’re implying that their reaction has caused you grief. A good apology is not about you.
“The “Sorry but”: “There’s a lot going on in my life” and “I was exhausted” diffuse responsibility. They’re excuses.
“The poisoned apology: Susan coined this term for an insult wrapped in an apology, “like a cupcake with mud filling.” When you say, “I’m sorry I rolled my eyes and cut you off during the meeting, but you just kept repeating yourself,” you’re blaming the other person for triggering your bad behavior. “I’m sorry if I hurt your feelings, but you tend to take everything personally” not only puts the onus on the other person, but also makes their sin a habitual one. You’ve insulted them twice in one apology! Well done!
“The “I was just being funny”: Saying you’re sorry while telling the other person directly or indirectly that she’s overreacting or has no sense of humor isn’t apologizing.
“The extraneous words: Two words that have no place in any apology: “Obviously” and “misconstrued.” Here’s why: The word “obviously” is not a humble word. If you obviously didn’t mean the horrible thing you said, why did you say it? The word “misconstrued,” on the other hand, puts the onus on others for failing to see your good intentions. In a good apology, you do not present yourself as the aggrieved party.
“The case of the missing nouns: In a lot of public apologies, the politician, celebrity or cretinous CEO never actually says what he did wrong. He apologizes for “what happened” or “the events of last week.” Sometimes the passive voice is favored, as in “unfortunate things were said.” To apologize well, you must name the sin. How else can you show that you understand the harm and won’t repeat it?
“The “You are so sensitive!”: Apologizing while telling someone she’s overreacting is like giving her a delicious homemade cookie, then snatching it back and stomping on it.
“Let’s move forward.” Ban this phrase from your apologies. It’s code for “Let’s forget this ever happened.” You have no right to make that request; the person you wronged gets to decide it’s time to move on.
“Bad apologies are cagey, ungenerous, grudging attempts to avoid taking full responsibility for whatever you’re putatively apologizing for. Good apologies are about stepping up. And sometimes that means apologizing even if you feel you’re the wronged party. A good apology means putting yourself in the other person’s position, giving them what they want and need. It’s not about you.”
So let me (IGP) try to do this correctly: I do not know who among you was offended or hurt by something I wrote here over the past year. I tried hard to keep the humor in while not offending, which sometimes isn’t easy. But it is likely I stepped over a line once or more, so I apologize for my sensitivity and your discomfort. I also apologize for leaning on reruns a little too much. If I committed any other wrongs that I may be oblivious to, including matters outside this blog, please contact me privately.
G’mar chatimah tovah and shanah tovah,*
* a good final sealing (in the Book of Life) and a good year
App Lets You Atone From Your Smartphone (abridged)
Inspired by Leviticus, eScapegoat lets users offload sins onto a virtual goat
Image from eScapegoat app. (G-dcast)
As you prepare for Yom Kippur this year, you don’t have to look much farther than your iPhone for an opportunity to atone for your sins.
The eScapegoat app created by Jewish media production company G-dcast in 2013, allows users to unload their sins onto a virtual, animated goat. It’s modeled after the Yom Kippur ritual described in Leviticus, in which the community’s sins were figuratively placed onto a goat that was then sent off into the desert. G-dcast creator Sarah Lefton happened upon the story of the scapegoat while glancing through the Torah portion in synagogue one Yom Kippur. And so she came up with the idea for the eScapegoat app, a virtual recreation of the ritual.
After watching a short video summarizing the scapegoat story, users can submit their own sins in approximately the length of a 140-character tweet. The sins are placed onto the goat, and the user can then pass the goat along to others. There’s also an option to enter one’s email address to see the goat go off into the wilderness before Yom Kippur.
The goat has been sharing anonymous sins on the app’s Twitter account, @SinfulGoat. Lefton hopes that by bringing attention to the scapegoat story, the app can inspire collective atonement.
You can download the eScapegoat app here.
(I tried this and it’s actually pretty lame. IGP)
A Case of Mistaken Identity
submitted by: David Minkoff
Nathan works for the Post Office and his job is to process mail that has been posted with incomplete or illegible addresses. One day, Nathan comes across a letter addressed in shaky handwriting to Hashem (the Lord) with no actual address on the envelope. So Nathan opens the envelope and reads the letter inside:
Shalom. I’m a widow of 79 and all I have to live on is a small pension. Unfortunately, someone stole my purse yesterday with $110 inside and this was all the money I had left until my next pension payment. As you know, Yom Kippur is approaching, and I have some friends coming over for a break the fast dinner. Without money, I can’t buy any food or drink. I don’t even have any family to help me out. You, dear God, are my only hope. Please can you help me?
Nathan is very touched and shows the letter to all his work colleagues. When they read it, each one generously gives Nathan a few dollars to donate to Sadie. Very soon, his collection reaches $100 and the Post Office workers feel very proud (and so they should) to have been able to help an old lady in distress. Nathan puts the money carefully in an empty envelope together with a short anonymous note:
Here is some money to make up for the stolen money. Enjoy!
He then addresses it to Sadie and posts it.
Soon after Yom Kippur ended, Nathan comes across another letter addressed to Hashem. So he opens it. It reads:
Shalom. How can I ever thank you enough for what you did for me? Because of your gift of love, I was able to put together a lovely meal for my friends. I told them of your wonderful gift and we had a super day thanks to you. By the way, there was $10 missing from the envelope – I only received $100. I think it might have been those shnorrers at the Post Office.
Category: On 1 Foot by S. Galena Posted: 07-11-2006(Viewed 1895 times)
Book of Jonah
Jonah Runs away
3 days later
From Actual Personals which Appeared in Israeli Papers
Sincere rabbinical student, 27. Enjoys Yom Kippur, Tisha B’av, Taanis Esther, Tzom Gedaliah, Assrah B’Teves, Shiva Asar B’Tammuz. Seeks companion for living life in the “fast” lane.
Humor for Yom Kippur
with thanks to George Relles
A few (selected) thoughts on sinning and atonement:
“A sense of humor keen enough to show a man his own absurdities will keep him from the commission of all sins, or nearly all, save those worth committing.”
– Samuel Butler
* * * * *
“Most people repent their sins by thanking God they ain’t so wicked as their neighbors.”
– Josh Billings
* * * * *
“Sin is sweet in the beginning, but bitter in the end.”
– The Talmud
* * * * *
Sign on a synagogue just before Yom Kippur: “Your sins are not so many that you should stay out…
Or so few that you shouldn’t come in.”
* * * * *
“It ain’t no sin if you crack a few laws now and then, just so long as you don’t break any.”
– Mae West
* * * * *
“Should we all confess our sins to one another we would all laugh at one another for our lack of originality.”
– Kahlil Gibran
* * * * *
“Few sinners are saved after the first twenty minutes of a sermon.”
– Mark Twain
* * * * *
from the Sept.-Oct. High Holiday 2009 Edition of the Jewish Magazine