It’s Erev Yom Kippur. This is a holiday I have always loved, despite all the traditional jokes about fasting = suffering. I have always tried to reflect and repent of things I’ve done wrong in the last year. I resolve to do better – and I think of specific behaviors and relationships where there is a lot of room for “better” and what “better” entails. I love the feeling of cleansing my spirit of negativity, hate, anger, cruelty. I try to embrace a positive outlook, a commitment to acting in a way that brings about tikkun olam, not just to the world as a whole, but specifically to the micro world about me. *smile* Because of course, the world DOES revolve about me, right? Oops. Back to reflection and repentance. And a warning to you, dear reader. This post will probably be in the too-long-didn’t-read category. Yom Kippur does that to me.
I read a post this year that captured SO MUCH of how I feel about the holiday, and what I’ve tried to do. I don’t think I was ever quite as “obnoxious” as the author (“Eventually I grew into a slightly less earnest, hopefully less obnoxious human, but the rituals of Yom Kippur still held a special place in my heart.“) but I certainly have sent many an email in the last several years asking for forgiveness for any harm or wrong I may have done that person.
This year, however, much like the cited post, I find that I am not quite ready to forgive everybody. Perhaps more accurately, I find that I am not ready to BE forgiven. I have 2 friendships that went on the rocks. In one case, I feel that I am the wronged party. In the other, I have been told that I erred grievously.
I’ll start with my sin. I was visiting friends. At dinner, after having shared a bottle of wine, I told the husband my dumb blonde joke while the wife was away from the table. I’d just done something “dumb”, which reminded me of the joke, and it is a very vaguely off-color joke, and I knew my friend (the wife) wouldn’t like it anyway, so I told it to the husband. I prefaced it by saying “oh let me tell you my dirty joke”. It’s NOT really a dirty joke. The punch-line carries an implication (if you “get it”) that is sexual in nature but it’s NOT dirty. It’s a “dumb blonde” joke. (I’m blonde, by the way. Neither husband nor wife are blonde.) The husband may have laughed, or smiled, I don’t even remember. It was a non-event to me. Jump ahead a week or so. I returned home. I sent the wife (my friend since we were 6 years old) an email telling her how much I enjoyed the visit, thanking her and her husband for such a wonderful wonderful time, telling her more about the stress and craziness in my life (which is why I fled to visit them in the first place). No response. A week later I sent an email wishing the husband a happy birthday. No response. Two days later I received an email from her, addressed to my son, wishing my son a happy birthday. That was it. No other message. I picked up the phone and called. She sounded taken aback to hear my voice. I asked what was wrong, what had happened between us. She told me that she and her husband were offended by the dirty joke I had told (please keep in mind SHE never heard it). That my behavior was inappropriate and out of line. That they did not understand why I would tell such a joke. I must tell you now that NO ONE to whom I have related the joke thinks it’s a “dirty joke”. Everyone ELSE has laughed and said – that’s not a dirty joke. It’s a DUMB BLONDE JOKE. Sigh. I apologized profusely. I explained it was never my intent to offend or insult them. That I’d told him the joke because I’d just done something ‘dumb’ and so was being a ‘dumb blonde’ and told him the joke. She was still cool and cold and repeating that they could not understand why I’d ever tell that kind of joke. We ended the call. Immediately I composed a truly sincere apology email, restating I’d never intended to hurt, offend or otherwise insult them. No reply. About 6 weeks later, next Jewish holiday, I received an email. It said “Apology received. Happy holiday.” Apology “received”. NOT accepted. At that point, still deep in the craziness that was my life at that time, something in me broke. Decades of friendship were tossed aside by her because of one 2 line joke. No allowance for my life was crazy, maybe that was why I told such an “inappropriate” joke. No allowance for a bottle of wine at dinner. No allowance for forgiveness. No, my crime was so heinous that I could not be forgiven.
So it’s Yom Kippur. Tradition says that I must ask 3 times for forgiveness from those whom I have wronged. “The Shulhan Aruch writes that if the victim does not grant forgiveness when the offender first approaches him, the offender should return to him, as many as three times. He then earns atonement even if the victim still refuses to forgive. “ Here’s the problem. I no longer want to be forgiven. I have asked for forgiveness. I’m not even listing all the times I feel she has wronged me in major life events and yet I forgave her and moved on. I am obviously still in disgrace as my birthday came and went and no birthday greeting. I don’t want her forgiveness. But I’m torn here between how I try to live, and how I feel. My coworker (also Jewish) has said that what I need to do is forgive myself.
I think, having written this, that I have reached a decision. I AM sorry that I offended her so deeply that she can’t forgive me. I no longer care if she forgives me. But I think that I will write again today, asking for forgiveness. I will be clean, and perhaps she can begin the process of forgiving me as well.
Because my other Yom Kippur story is about learning to heal once you begin to forgive. (I did warn you this would be a tl;dr.)
I had a friend. I thought we were very very close. We shared many interests. We discussed family, work, relationships. Then he stopped talking to me. No emails, no chats, no nothing. No response when I tried to reach him. (We are not co-located.) I was hurt. Extremely hurt. I did not know what had happened, why he stopped talking to me. Over the course of 18 months, we had email interaction perhaps 4 times, each time when I initiated it because of business with/from mutual friends. His responses were terse, to the point, no indication of any former closeness. I was angry. I was hurt. I was confused. I did a lot of thinking.
I thought about friends to whom perhaps I had done this very behavior myself. I tried to think what I might have done to warrant this reaction. I tried to think of ways to let go of the hurt and blow to my self-esteem so that I could heal and move on. I hurt. And hurt. Finally last Yom Kippur I decided I would send him an email, asking for forgiveness. I spent WEEKS composing that email to make sure it said exactly what it was meant to say, and not an emotion more. It was to clear the slate. If I had indeed done something so egregious, I needed to apologize and be forgiven even if I did not know what I had done. If I had not done anything and it was HIS mishegas, then I would be clear as well. I sent the email. It is a year. I’ve had no response. But I finally began to heal. I can think of him without wincing. Even better – mostly I don’t think about him at all. When I think I might be slipping into worrying and fretting about what I did or didn’t do or WHY???, I am able to take a deep breath and say, I have moved on, that is in the past. I have tried sincerely to make amends. I have forgiven myself for whatever I have done or not done. I have forgiven HIM. I do not know why things happened as they did, but I do not blame him anymore, I have let go of the anger for the hurt. I am healing, because I have forgiven him. “Finally, the Sages also emphasize the importance of granting forgiveness to others. The Rabbis teach that one should not be “cruel” by refusing to grant forgiveness to somebody who offended him. A person who willingly grants forgiveness to others will earn God’s forgiveness for whatever sins he may have committed.”
To me, this is what Yom Kippur brings. It is my chance to repair the rips and tears in my life. It is my time to let go of anger. It is my time to accept people for who and what they are, and free myself from my expectations of how they should behave. It is my time to clear my slate as best I can and to hope for a better year to come.
An easy fast and Chag Sameach! And to everyone, member of the tribe or not, G’mar Hatimah Tovah (May You Be Sealed for a Good Year in the Book of Life).
Note: quotes on halacha:© Copyright 2010 Torah Learning Resources.
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